The City of Angels. La-la Land. Lipstick City. Tinsel Town. Hollyweird. I could list hokey nicknames for LA all day long, but maybe it’s just best to describe the town as an overcrowded mess of traffic, pollution, street gangs, broken dreams, and one of the most vibrant and active live comedy scenes in human history.
Because Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world, most of your favorite comedians from movies and TV live here, and a lot of them make it a habit to, despite their busy day jobs, continue to perform live stand-up or improv to keep their chops up. Celebrities aren’t the only ones taking part in the live comedy scene though. In LA, you get an even mix of unknowns, up-and-comers, and industry veterans. Right now, you can find just as much live comedy here than in any other big city (if not more).
LA has tons of cheap or free shows every night of the week that are well worth your time, running the gamut from punk rock-style indie shows like the one stand-ups Alex Hooper and Eric Sheffield host on the roof of their apartment building to live comedy happenings at well-known clubs like the Laugh Factory and UCB.
Here are some highlights from LA’s comedy landscape:
Best Weekly Shows
Arranged in chronological order, Mon.-Sun.
Best Monthly, Biweekly, and Irregular Shows:
Comedy Store: This historic stand-up venue is one-third of L.A.’s trifecta of big mainstream comedy clubs (the other two are listed right below). Founded by Pauly Shore’s dad and operated by Pauly Shore’s mom, the Comedy Store features popular big-name acts every week.
The Hollywood Improv: One of many West Coast branches of the Improv comedy club chain, the Hollywood location boasts one of the most historic stages in the L.A. area. The Improv also operates another room right next to it called The Lab, which features an eclectic lineup of new and experimental shows booked by the incomparable Jamie Flam.
The Improv owns franchises at strip malls all across the Greater L.A. Area, including venues in Brea, Ontario, and Irvine. There’s no better environment for comedy than a strip mall.
Laugh Factory: The final member of L.A.’s trio of mainstream stand-up juggernauts, the Laugh Factory has occupied a prime piece of real estate on the Sunset Strip since the late 70s. Stand-ups like Kevin Nealon, Tom Arnold, and Tim Allen are regulars here, and the club is also home to a lot of talented lesser-known acts.
The Groundlings Theatre: Historic improv and sketch club that birthed the careers of Hall of Famers like Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, and Laraine Newman, as well as more recent comedy stars like Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, and Chris Parnell. The Groundlings was the main LA venue that SNL pulled its cast members from before the UCB arrived in town, but it’s still a fervent breeding ground for comedic talent with a list of recent alumni that includes Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy, Oscar-winner Jim Rash, and SNL’s Taran Killam.
UCB Theatre: The hub of LA’s alt-comedy community, UCB features cheap or free improv, sketch, and stand-up shows every night of the week. In addition to those listed at the top of the piece, you can’t go wrong with excellent improv shows/groups like Shitty Jobs, Facebook, Soundtrack, Convoy, Hot Sauce, and Sentimental Lady and the monthly sketch shows The Midnight Show and Sketchcram. No show is more than $10. The UCB’s prices make every other club in town look bad.
iO West Theater: The West Coast branch of the iO theater, this improv-centric venue boasts three stages and hosts a spectacular comedy festival every year (see below). For one of iO West’s best, check out The Armando Show on Saturday nights.
Nerdist Theater: The stage in the backroom of the comic book store Meltdown Comics, the Nerdist (or NerdMelt) Theater is a recently-opened venue that hosts live (mostly stand-up) shows seven nights a week. NerdMelt features monthly shows from Dana Gould and Dan Harmon, Kevin Allison’s Risk! Storytelling shows, and the wildly (and deservedly) popular stand-up showcase The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail.
The Ice House: A folk music club in the 60s that was converted to a comedy club in the 70s, the Ice House is one of the oldest comedy venues in town and a great place to find live mainstream stand-up.
The Second City Hollywood: The West Coast branch of the famed Second City theater isn’t as popular as rival improv and sketch havens like Groundlings, UCB, and iO, but it’s still one of the best places in town to see comedy in the Second City mold.
The Little Modern Theater: A new small theater in Hollywood that hosts comedy shows of all stripes. The Little Modern features a diverse array of popular and new shows like the popular monthly stand-up/sketch hybrid Hamclown, Dominic Dierkes’s live podcast The Anytime Show, Eliza Skinner and DC Pierson’s stand-up showcase Magic Bag, and the new indie improv show Hot Improv Nights.
Other places that occasionally host comedy shows
Downtown Independent: Home to Holy Fuck, a free weekly stand-up show that’s a cornerstone of Downtown L.A.’s burgeoning comedy scene, and Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab’s long-running monthly film festival Channel 101.
The Comedy & Magic Club: A club that offers exactly what its name promises — stand-ups and magicians. Members of the old guard like Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano have performed here frequently, and you can see Jay Leno play this club (doing comedy, not magic) every Sunday if that’s something you want to subject yourself to.
Largo at the Coronet: The music and comedy venue Largo was a bastion of the L.A. alt-comedy community in the 90s before being relocated to the Coronet Theater in 2008. Largo features regular comedy shows from Paul F. Tompkins, Nick Offerman, Sarah Silverman, and Jeff Garlin’s conversation series in which he sits down and chats with comedy luminaries like Judd Apatow, Tim & Eric, and Larry David.
The Palace Restaurant: The Chinese restaurant The Palace in Los Feliz hosts amazing stand-up shows every Thursday night. Even-numbered Thursdays host the show Comedy Palace, which has featured big-name guests like Kyle Kinane, Patton Oswalt, and Matt Braunger, and odd-numbered Thursdays feature the aptly-titled show Odd Thursdays, which I blurbed above. The Palace is also home to an open mic night every Monday night.
Training and Classes
UCB, Groundlings, iO, and Second City all teach multi-level improv and sketch classes. UCB and Second City each offer musical improv courses and UCB also has a storytelling class. If you want to go outside of the Big Four, you should check out veteran improviser Miles Stroth’s workshop. UCB, iO, and Second City’s curriculums are all based on the teachings of improv guru Del Close, whereas Groundlings’ study has its roots in the work of Viola Spolin. Groundlings is the most competitive of the four, featuring a program that takes several years to complete and is full of rejection at every turn. Groundlings puts the emphasis on character work, whereas UCB’s theory is based on the concept of “game” (as UCB founder Matt Besser puts it, “focusing on a funny thing, and heightening and exploring it, rather than focusing on narrative”).
Open Mic Nights
There are several comedy open mic nights in town each night of the week, and Jake Kroeger does an excellent, superhuman job of keeping track of all of them on his website, The Comedy Bureau. Among the standouts are the open mics at the Nerdist Theater in Hollywood (Sundays at 7:15, signup at 7), The Palace Restaurant in Los Feliz (Mondays at 8, signup at 7:30), Westwood Brew Co. (Tuesdays at 8, signup at 7:30), the Spot Café in Culver City (Wednesdays at 7, signup also at 7), and the Silverlake Lounge (Fridays at 7, signup at 6:30). While some open mic nights require you to pay a cover or satisfy a drink minimum, these ones don’t. Still, there are plenty of amazing open mics all over town and you’re best off consulting The Comedy Bureau’s handy guide to determine which one’s right for you.
While opportunities to perform stand-up at open mics are pretty common, there also several weekly shows where newcomers can try their hands at improv and sketch. UCB has a weekly Friday night show called Not Too Shabby in which students can submit their own sketches and perform if chosen. Some of the better improv jams – the improv equivalent to an open mic night - include Crashbar (Sundays, booked show at 7, jam at 9:45), Tuesday Night Thunder (Tuesdays, booked show at 8, jam at 11), and Room 101 (Wednesdays, booked show at 8, jam around 10:30).
The L.A. comedy community bandied together earlier this year to fund the city’s first alternative comedy festival, RIOT LA, via Kickstarter. The event’s organizers Abbey Londer, Jeff Wattenhofer, and Chris Register have booked quite an impressive roster of comedians, including Todd Glass, Patton Oswalt, Bob Odenkirk, Megan Mullally, Marc Maron, and plenty more. Check out RIOT LA’s Kickstarter for more info, and be sure to attend the exciting weekend-long festival in Downtown L.A. this Fall!
LA Improv Comedy Festival
The iO West hosts this annual week-long comedy extravaganza each June, but it doesn’t just feature iO performers. Folks from neighboring comedy theaters like UCB and Acme participate too, as do big-name guests. Last year drew Drew Carey, Joel McHale, Broken Lizard, and some of Conan’s writers performed, with the Del Close Lifetime Achievement Award being handed off to Jeffrey Tambor.
The UCB’s Ultimate Comedy Marathon
The UCB’s neighborhood, Franklin Village, has been hosting a street tair annually for years, but in 2011, UCB took over creative control of the event, offering up comedy shows on two stages – one inside and one outside – all day long. All of UCB’s popular regular groups, including Facebook, The Smokes, and Shitty Jobs, performed, as did stand-ups like Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, and Rob Delaney. It’s nowhere near as impressive as UCB NY’s Del Close Marathon, but it’s the closest the West Coast branch’s got.
LA Podcast Festival
In the wake of RIOT LA’s successful fundraising efforts, Graham Elwood and Chris Mancini, hosts of the Comedy Film Nerds podcast, created a Kickstarter for LA’s first podcast festival. A three-day-long event this October, the LA Podcast Festival will feature live recordings of Marc Maron’s WTF, Jimmy Pardo’s Never Not Funny, Todd Glass’s The Todd Glass Show, and more. Despite the odd absence of Earwolf podcasts, the LA Podcast Festival should be a must-see for fans of comedy podcasts.
Edit: Elwood and Mancini created the LA Podcast Festival with Dave Anthony and Andy Wood. The Earwolf podcast Who Charted? has been added to the bill since the event was originally announced, so the Earwolf show void has been filled!
Film and Video
Well, the whole movie and TV industry is located here, so there’s that. You can check out live tapings of the few sitcoms that still film in front of an audience or various L.A.-based talk shows, like Conan, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
One of the benefits of the film industry being in L.A. is that you can see old movies at various revival theaters around town. There’s The New Beverly (call it “The New Bev” if you’re hip like me), a historic theater that was quietly saved from the brink of financial ruin by Quentin Tarantino. The New Bev plays a wide range of “classic, independent, cult and foreign films,” many of them comedies. Earlier this year, the theater played Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day as a double bill (get it?) and has been regularly showing Scott Pigrim vs. the World as a midnight movie. From time to time, folks like Tarantino, Patton Oswalt, and Edgar Wright will program the theater, choosing their favorite movies to show on the big screen. Or in Edgar Wright’s case, he’s been playing movies he should have seen but hasn’t.
L.A. is home to some of the Internet’s best sketch groups, like Good Neighbor, The Birthday Boys, A Kiss from Daddy, Tremendosaur, and CREAM, and amazing web series like Eddie Pepitone and Matt Oswalt’s Puddin’ and David Wain’s Wainy Days. It’s also the headquarters of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s comedy video empire Funny or Die and where most of the videos for that site are shot. The members of now-defunct groups like Human Giant and Derrick also live in L.A. but are too bogged down with movie and TV projects to make web videos – living the dream for all of these other web comedy outfits.
Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab’s long-running monthly film festival, composed of viewer-submitted 5-minute pilots, is headquartered in L.A. Although you don’t have to be in L.A. to submit your show to Channel 101, you do to attend the monthly screenings at which voting takes place and winners are announced.
L.A.’s the epicenter of the podcast boom. It’s where 90% of major comedy podcasts are based. The likes of Marc Maron, Doug Benson, Jimmy Pardo, Superego, Paul F. Tompkins, and Joe Rogan record their shows here and podcast networks like Scott Aukerman’s Earwolf, Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist, Jesse Thorn’s Maximum Fun, Adam Carolla’s Ace Broadcasting , and Kevin Smith’s SModcast. This is where the incestuous comedy podcast industry lives and breathes.
Sure, you can listen to these podcasts from anywhere, so it doesn’t really matter that they’re coming from L.A. – unless you’re looking to see live podcast tapings. Live recordings of shows like Doug Loves Movies (at UCB), The Indoor Kids (at NerdMelt), Dead Authors (at UCB), The Long Shot (at the Improv Lab), The Anytime Show (at the Little Modern) and more are a regular occurrence here. L.A. is also the home to Jimmy Pardo’s annual for-charity 12-hour Pardcast-a-thon and Doug Benson’s jam-packed, podcasted live show 12 Guests of Christmas.
Things to bookmark
Like I said in the intro, LA has more live comedy than pretty much anywhere else on Earth ever. It’s overwhelming trying to boil it all down, and I’m sure I missed a lot of great stuff. If I failed to mention your show, theater, sketch team, or comedy festival, feel free to e-mail me. I’ll check it out, and maybe I’ll end up covering your thing in Splitsider in the future.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in the town that this piece is about.