We really like watching good stand-up comedy.
It’s about the only thing we like to do more than watch reruns of the best sitcoms of the ’90s. And there are some really influential comedy clubs around the United States to thank for much of that talent. Some of the most famous comedy clubs in the country are as well known as the careers they helped launch. Typical fans probably don’t know where their favorite comics got their start. But in stand-up circles, the clubs below are considered shrines to the craft.
Are some comedy clubs really better than others?
On one hand, that’s a loaded question. It’s like asking whether some comedians are funnier than others. We might think the answer is an obvious yes. But talking to someone with a different sense of humor might result in a different response.
But that being said, of course some clubs are better! What a ridiculous question. We can’t believe we remained diplomatic for so long. Look at some of the famous comedy clubs in New York City alone. Consider the raw talent refined on those dark stages to be released to the rest of society. Then go down to the cheesy “Laff Hut” or whatever your neighborhood open mic bar is called.
We want to tread very lightly here because we know many of the aspiring comics paying their dues in humble clubs. We also know many who rose in the ranks to find their own success. Basically, clubs are an incubator for talent. The simple fact is that some have the influence to attract and nurture that talent better than others. But if you’re pursuing a stand-up career, don’t let that discourage you. Just like in any industry, quality always finds a way to stand out wherever it finds itself.
Whether you’re a comic yourself or just enjoy laughing like we do, check out our list. You might just find out something about these famous comedy clubs that you never knew.
1. Caroline’s on Broadway
Caroline’s isn’t quite as old as some of the most famous comedy clubs. But it has a reputation that will go up against almost any of its competitors. The club itself has moved around a bit after it opened in 1981. When it set up shop in Times Square, it really made a splash. The Broadway location gives it lots of exposure. And it still attracts big names while launching some promising young comics. And yes, if you watch much stand-up on television, you probably recognize the name. It was the backdrop for one of the genre’s early hits, “Caroline’s Comedy Hour.”
2. L.A. Improv
For a while, The Improv maintained iconic locations on both coasts. The original, in New York, closed and left its Los Angeles counterpart. That location easily earns its rep as one of the most famous comedy clubs in the country. It has launched some of Hollywood’s most incredible careers. And not all of them started on the stage. One of its early bartenders, Les Moonves, now runs CBS. And Jim Carrey got his foot in the door — literally — as a door manager. To this day, you can still see the influence of former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno. He helped paint the ceiling!
3. The Comedy Store
Another unmistakable L.A. comedy spot is known for giving a voice to some of the greatest American comics. Even though the Comedy Store hosts some of the industry’s big names, even bigger ones got their start there. It’s easy to tell this is one of the most famous comedy clubs in the country. Take a look at the names who came up through the ranks. You have legends like Sam Kinison and a trio of late night comic icons. Jay Leno, David Letterman and Arsenio Hall kick started their careers on that stage. Mitzi Shore founded the club, which gave her son, Pauly, and other young comics room to experiment. And it’s also one of the most recognizable comedy stages. The Comedy Store has served as the backdrop on several TV shows and specials.
4. Helium Comedy Club
If you’re looking for something different, even by stand-up comedy standards, check out Helium. Portland, Oregon, already has a reputation for a quirky and progressive vibe. And a club like Helium really fits into the eclectic environment. You’ll find a great mixture of comics, too. Aspiring comics aim to make you laugh on open mic nights. But then you’ll find big name acts there performing the same week. And Portland natives, even those who have moved away, return regularly to engage crowds. It’s only been around in Portland since 2010. But you can find other Helium locations around the country.
5. The Punchline
What would the comedy world be without its southern charm? Well, depending on your thoughts on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, maybe you don’t want to answer. But if you love your jokes chock full of country music references, Atlanta’s oldest club might be for you. Not to say the Punch Line only features southern comics. In fact, it’s one of the most famous comedy clubs because it caters to all comedy tastes. But it also gave legends like Jeff Foxworthy a place to hone their craft. Except for a short break in 2015, it’s been going strong since the early 1980s. And you’ll still find some of your favorite stand-up comedians performing there today.
Are these really the most famous comedy clubs in the U.S.?
That really depends on who’s asking. To be sure, we could write a list longer than this one just on the clubs of New York City. Or Los Angeles. Or Chicago. The point is, there are great clubs across the country where you can find new comics or enjoy your favorites. But some have influenced the industry more than others. We’re not saying our list is anywhere near exhaustive. And there are arguments for other deserving clubs that we’re fully aware of. But this is our list, take it or leave it. And if you’re still reading at this point, looks like you took it!