Four hours North of New York City, Boston proper exists in the perpetual shadow of one of the largest comedy scenes in the country. Boston Proper is a smallish city but its comedy scene is spread out amongst two interconnected cities: Cambridge (The People’s Republic Of) and Somerville. There’s not much of an entertainment industry in Boston, but with over fifty colleges in the greater Boston area that provide ample audiences, and a large and growing number of shows and venues, Boston is a great scene for comics to develop. It’s a scene that responds to innovation, but also respects the past. Boston’s audiences vary from Harvard students to drunk townies with Red Sox hats and Celtics break-away pants who’ll tell you your set was “wicked fahkin’ awesome” as they crank butts after the show.
Best Weekly Shows
Arranged in chronological order, Mon.-Sun.
Middlesex Lounge - Every Wednesday the Middlesex Lounge is host to a rotation of innovative donation-only comedy shows. From first to fourth Wednesday the curators and hosts are Lillian DeVane (The Horse’s Mouth), Union Square Round Table, Ryan Douglass (Rodney’s Medicine Show) and Anderson Comedy (The Rob Crean Talk Show). Not a showcase show among them, most shows feature multimedia, music, characters and other difficult-to-categorize styles of comedy.
Wednesdays, 7:30pm • Donation • Middlesex Lounge, Central Square Cambridge
Awkward Compliment - Each Thursday the small screening room in the basement of an independent
movie theater hosts one of the best marriages of stand up and improv comedy. Hosted by the eponymous improv troupe Awkward Compliment (made up of house team cast members of Improv Asylum), comics perform stand-up black box theater style, with one of the most cohesive improv groups in the city.
Thursdays, 8pm • $5 • Somerville Theater Screening Room, Davis Square Somerville
Ken Reid’s Secret Menu - Hosted by arguably Boston’s best storyteller at one of Boston’s most respected comedy venues, The Secret Menu gives local and national stand ups the chance to loosen up, go off script, and be part of the joke. Reid’s segments include interviewing comics about their high school yearbooks and auctioning off personal items accompanied by a tantalizing story.
Thursdays, 8pm • $10 • The Comedy Studio, Harvard Square Cambridge
The Gas - Anderson Comedy’s stand up showcase has been running for almost four years in this gritty rock club in the most college-y neighborhood in this college-y city. The regular showcase format is sometimes interrupted to welcome visiting headliners such as Todd Barry, Hannibal Buress, Tig Notaro, The Whitest Kids U’ Know, Marc Maron, and Jamie Kilstein.
Fridays, 7:30pm • $5 (with some exceptions) • Great Scott, Allston
The NightCap - At just over a half hour long, this 11:30 show gets out in time for folks to catch the last train of Boston’s notoriously early closing subway system. Featuring a rotating line-up of hosts, stand-ups and the occasional improv troupe, this show works as a third act to IB’s MainStage show, or as fun diversion on the way home from one of Central Square’s many bars and clubs.
Fridays & Saturdays, 11:30 • Free • Improv Boston, Central Square Cambridge
Best Monthly and Irregular Shows
Slaughterhouse - This top secret show in a secret warehouse loft space in the Roxbury/Dorchester area. Ask around.
Extra Helpings - The hilarious Alingon Mitra and Al Park host this show in the side room of a gourmet pizza restaurant. They open the show with a powerpoint presentation and then welcome up a showcase of some of their favorite local comics.
Third Wednesdays, 9pm • Donation • Milky Way/Bella Luna, Jamaica Plain
Union Square Round Table at Midway Cafe - Somerville’s hipster comedy collective brings their unique brand of multi-media comedy across the river to Boston’s free-spirited and dog-filled neighborhood. Each show features a band, a poet or artist, videos and faux performance art.
Last Wednesdays, 9pm • $5 • The Midway Cafe, Jamaica Plain
The Comedy Studio - The world famous Comedy Studio where comedians like Eugene Mirman, Brendan Small, Myq Kaplan, Joe Wong, and Shane Mauss honed their acts. Conan producer Frank Smiley has called The Studio “The comedy club of your wildest dreams.” For the last 17 years, it’s where new comics aim to perform and where pros like Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, and David Spade drop in to do spots when they’re in town. The Studio is also home to the Tuesday night “Mystery Lounge”, the Boston area’s only weekly professional magic show, 12 years running.
Wednesdays to Sundays (Magic on Tuesday), 8pm • $8-$12 • Hong Kong Restaurant, Harvard Square, Cambridge
Dick Dougherty’s Bean Town Comedy Vault & Nick’s Comedy Stop - Located a block apart “Nick’s” and “Dick’s” are the old watch dogs of Boston Comedy. Younger comics participate in bringer shows on Wednesdays and Sundays and then watch local headliners like Harrison Stebins or Tony V. on the weekends.
Tuesdays-Sundays, various times • $15-$25 • Downtown Boston
Improv Asylum - Located in Boston’s touristy North End, IA offers shows from Tuesday to Sunday. Most shows are a mix of improv and sketch and tend to focus on local color for the tourist crowd performed by some of the most skilled and talented improvisers in the Northeast.
Tuesdays-Sundays, various times • $5-22 • North End, Boston
Improv Boston - This non-profit theater (located, confusingly, across the river in Cambridge), houses two theaters, the main stage and the smaller studio theater. IB has at least two shows every night from Wednesday to Sunday, and as many as six shows on Saturdays. Regular main stage shows are complemented by special short run theme shows and variety shows such as The Jam and Sketchaus shows that allow for more experimental acts.
Wednesday to Sunday (and some Tuesdays) • $5-$20 • Central Square, Cambridge
Grandma’s Basement - Located in a tiki lounge in a decrepit Howard Johnson hotel in the Fenway area of Boston, this comedian run room has shows from Wednesday to Sunday (unless there’s a Red Sox game) and a clubhouse feel. This hotel can’t last much longer! It’s a money pit sitting on very valuable real estate. Make sure to visit while you still can. Most shows start at 9, excpet the Thursday open mic.
Wednesday to Sunday (unless there’s a Red Sox game) • $5 • Howard Johnson Hotel, Fenway
Classes and Training
Both Improv Boston and Improv Asylum offer six levels of improv classes and three levels of sketch. Each level is $199 at IB and $260 at IA and both have classes taught by some of the most experienced and respected performers in the Boston area. Improv Boston also offers occasional master classes by instructors from all over the country. Stand up classes are offered by Improv Boston and by Rich Gustus at The Comedy Studio.
Boston has at least one open mic every day from Sunday to Thursday, a full list can be at Unscene Comedy. Here are a few highlights:
Sunday: Smoking comedy, Michael’s Bar, Somerville
Monday: Sally O’Brien’s, 7pm, Union Square, Somerville
Tuesday: The Middle East Corner, 9pm, Central Square, Cambridge
Wednesday: King’s Bowling Alley, 8pm, Back Bay, Boston
Thursday: Grandma’s Basement, 8pm, Fenway, Boston
Boston is host to several prominent festivals and a few other smaller ones. The Boston Comedy Festival and the Women in Comedy Festival draw big crowds and famous headliners, while festivals like Improv Boston’s Boston Comedy Arts and College Comedy Festivals also bring in many performers from all over the country to the city.
Two great podcasts that deal with the Boston comedy scene are Unscene Comedy hosted by Shawn Carter and Comics Coming Up hosted by Matt Kona. Silent Cal Radio is a sporadically released podcast by members of the Union Square Round Table parodying public radio. The Over Thinking It podcast and 8-Bits and Pieces podcast are both national podcasts that feature contributors to the conversation from Boston. The Matt Filipovich Show is a political comedy show produced here in Boston.
Two series getting some attention are Quiet Desperation, a faux-reality sitcom produced by musician and comedian Rob Potylo which features many other local musicians and comedians, and Gayle, a show featuring Chris Fleming, a former Boston comedian now based in Los Angeles. Though Fleming is now based in L.A., the show which is based on a certain type of intense suburbanite is still filmed in Stowe, MA, Fleming’s home town.
There’s not much TV going on in Boston, other than the Comedy Central Half Hour recordings that have been taped here over the last two years. Other than that there is cable access, and many comedians have performed on amateur talk shows like The Steve Katsos Show and The Shawn Hansen Comedy Corner.
Things to Bookmark
Unscene Comedy is the most comprehensive local listing of open mics in the city, and Cheap Thrills Boston lists fun and interesting things to do in Boston for $10 or less, and often features great local comedy.
Rob Crean is a comedian and comedy promoter living in Boston.