The comedy scene in L.A. has never been stronger than it is right now. Stand-ups are moving to the city in droves, improv comedy is starting to become (gasp!) a viable way to kick in the entertainment industry door, and sketch comedy is leading to deals at Saturday Night Live, IFC, Comedy Central and beyond. The wealth of hometown success that has risen from L.A.'s storied comedy history is remarkable. And what's better still: It's all available for you to see, live and in person, seven nights a week.
The list below represents the 10 best comedy venues in Los Angeles. There are stand-up rooms, improv spaces and long-running stages that have been defining comedy here for a generation. Depending on the night and the show, you can catch a national headliner for five bucks or be across town working through a two-drink minimum when Louis CK walks through the door, looking for some stage time. But if you're just looking to laugh, any of these places will do.
Here are the 10 best comedy venues in Los Angeles.
10. iO West
The link between Hollywood's iO West and Chicago's Improv Olympic — one of American comedy's great meccas — isn't just in name only. Just try walking into the front bar any time the Cubs are playing; pitch after pitch, performers and bartenders will cheer the good and bemoan the bad, while the faces of luminary Chicago comedians hang from the walls. iO (pronounced “eye-oh”) has helped push the world of sketch and improv into the mainstream, mostly under the on-and-off guidance of improvisational guru Del Close. You can actually buy a t-shirt with his face on the front from the box office, or step through the black curtains to the theater in the back to see what the man is responsible for. Seven nights a week, iO plays host to long-running improv house teams, sketch comedy performers currently working through the curriculum levels, and old standby shows featuring the links of David Koechner, Bob Dassie and beyond. For students within the iO education stream, there are two black box theater spaces in the back, where a lot of the real experimentation goes down. 6366 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323)962-7560, ioimprov.com/west.
See also: 10 Best Standup Comedy Shows in L.A.
After working to get its footing west of the 405, Westside Comedy Theater is now firmly entrenched … in a back alley off the Third Street Promenade. If anything, the exposed brick and low stage create a fun, easygoing atmosphere for performers and audience members alike. The shows are a mix of improv born from their small program and stand up comedy that routinely pulls in big headliners. Neal Brennan, co-creator of Chappelle's Show, hosts a weekly night that's played host to Aziz Ansari, Demetri Martin and Chappelle himself. Ali Wong is regularly around, as is Kevin Pollack's podcast taping, while Ed Galvez' Punk House remains one of the longest-running stand up shows around. The theater itself is owned by Mission IMPROVable, a touring improv collective that still plays every Saturday night. 1323-A Third St., Santa Monica; (310) 451-0850, westsidecomedy.com.
Lots of folks are surprised to hear that Comedy Central runs their very own comedy venue here in Los Angeles. For better or worse, the Comedy Central Stage on Santa Monica Boulevard is a bit under-appreciated, but certainly not under-utilized. A quick check of the stage's calendar reveals a wide array of constantly rotating shows, with equal preference given to sketch and stand up comedy. The monthly Sit N' Spin writers' reading series is the closest the Comedy Central Stage gets to a “house show,” while heavy hitters like the three-man improv team Dasariski tend to make several appearances a year as well. Some nights are a mixed bag of material that works and comedy bits that fall flat, but it's a lot easier to suffer the up-and-comers when you don't have to pay a dime to get inside. 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.; (323) 462-2400, hudsontheatre.com/backstage.html.
South Bay folks already know about the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. The seaside comedy spot has been providing laughs to underserved residents for years, mostly with stand up nights that feature nationally-recognized names. Jon Lovitz and Kevin Nealon are regulars, and touring heavyweights like Gabriel Iglesias and Dom Irrera tend to kill here. Of course, Jay Leno is always around, having worked out a weekly Sunday night deal with the owners. Whatever your thoughts about Leno and his television show may be, the long time stand up comedian is undeniably masterful with a microphone in his hand. 1018 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach; (310) 372-1193, comedyandmagicclub.com.
“The Store” has been an important home for young stand up comedians for decades. Under the watchful eye of Mitzi Shore (yes, Pauly Shore's mother), the dark Sunset Strip comedy haunt came to make and break generations of stand ups, from Sam Kinison to Marc Maron. Their Original room still pulls plenty of nationally recognized names and indie darlings alike — Brody Stevens, anyone? — but the Main and Belly rooms are where the truly experimental stuff goes down. Most nights though, expect the typical two-drink-minimum type of comedy, with the usual rotating list of a dozen comedians that you may or may not have heard of. But all of them are working hard, some will inevitably go on to reach the upper echelon of Hollywood, and the rest are just hoping to become a regular headliner long enough to sign their name on the outside of the building like all of the legends that have come before them. 8433 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood Hills West; (323) 650-6268, thecomedystore.com.
Everyone, from neighbors in West Hollywood to folks in Minnesota, knows about the Laugh Factory. It's what everyone thinks of when they imagine in a comedy club: red velvet drapes, small round tables for the all-important two drink minimums, that swooping arch behind the stage and the glowing orange-yellow Laugh Factory orb that hangs inside. This is where longtime comedians like Kevin Nealon and Tim Allen come to just talk (while filling the seats with out-of-towners). It's also the place where less nationally recognized comedians come to put in work outside of the indie comedy rooms; guys like Eric Andre, Dan Levy, Chris D'Elia and Maz Jobrani seem to pop in nightly. If the Comedy Store has the history, the Laugh Factory has the memories. This place is what most people think of when they ponder stand up comedy in Los Angeles. 8001 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 656-1336, laughfactory.com.
The Groundlings is a factory for talent, having pushed out a roster that includes everyone from today's Melissa McCarthy and Jim Rash to yesteryear's Laraine Newman, Phil Hartman and John Goodman — not to mention all of the Will Ferrells and Kristen Wiigs in between. For character-based sketch and improv classes, the Groundlings use a rigid, years-long school structure to teach students the value of hard work and patience, and they certainly have a light at the end of the tunnel to shine in the face of prospective students. For anyone just looking to sit in the audience and laugh, the rotating Sunday Company shows are the cream of the crop, featuring character-driven sketches that have been hashed out as previously improvised scenes for weeks beforehand. At around $15, Groundlings tickets are no weight on your wallet either, which means you can get a glimpse of tomorrow's talent for less than it would cost to eat dinner next door on Melrose. 7307 Melrose Ave., Fairfax; (323) 934-4747, hollywood.improv.com .
See also: 6 of L.A.'s Most Fascinating Comedians
Anyone with even a passing interest in stand-up comedy hopes to some day play the main stage at the Hollywood Improv. It's the iconic brick wall, the proximity to Hollywood success, the feeling that everyone around you is succeeding so you'd better go up and kill: The Hollywood Improv is fear and hope and comedy all mixed into one. That's precisely why almost every show here is a hit; it's one of the most sought-after bookings in the stand-up world, and will feature road legends like Ralphie May doing Tuesday night sets, former professional wrestler Mick Foley telling stories on a late Sunday night and unstoppable indie darlings like Andy Kindler, Maria Bamford and Rob Delaney sprinkled throughout the week. If you're looking for a drop-in by Louis C.K. or some other living legend, there's a better than even chance it'll happen here. The Hollywood Improv is just that kind of place. 8162 Melrose Ave., Beverly Grove; (323) 651-2583, hollywood.improv.com.
Simply put, the UCB on Franklin is comedy in Los Angeles. It's not the oldest, the biggest or (as this list will tell you) even the best single comedy operation in town, but ever since Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts dropped their school on Hollywood (after starting out with a New York branch earlier), things have been different around here. Improv comedy — both theatrically and as in independent medium — has skyrocketed, challenging stand up comedy as the medium of choice for writers and performers looking for a way into the biz. There are dozens of weekly indie improv shows, from Santa Monica to the valley, thanks in large part to the rise of UCB. There are endless numbers of sketch performers on The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, Parks & Recreation, Key & Peele, Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Birthday Boys who owe large chunks of their career to UCB. And every night, still, you can stand in line with aspiring actors, veteran performers, new improv students, Hollywood agents and comedy tourists for the chance to potentially witness something magical. And all for ten bucks or less. 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood Hills; (323) 908-8702, franklin.ucbtheatre.com.
With the catapultic rise of the NerdMelt Showroom in the back room of Meltdown Comics on Sunset Boulevard, indie comedy in Los Angeles has finally arrived. Yes, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater on Franklin has been home to more underground acts, crazier nights of not-for-everyone comedy and still acts as a revolving door for young comedians about to climb the entertainment ladder. But there is a certain type of indie comedy — stand-up, mostly — that exploded into every corner of Los Angeles a few years back. There were (and often still are) shows above Chinese restaurants in Los Feliz, shows at bowling alleys and fish taco stands, in backyards and on rooftops; the NerdMelt showroom is the full realization of DIY comedy in L.A., with Comedy Central backing and plenty of big industry names to show for all of their hard work.
Originally began as an occasional experience in the unused space behind Hollywood's nerdiest hangout, Kumail Nanjiani, Jonah Ray and Chris Hardwick have all done an astounding amount of work to bring the musty space to the forefront of Los Angeles' current comedy culture. Now, with the addition of a sketch and improv school, the NerdMelt era enters a new phase. Where their do-anything mentality goes from here is anyone's guess, but it's already been an amazing climb. 7522 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.; (323) 851-7223, nerdmeltla.com.
See also: Best Comedy Club 2013: Nerdmelt Showroom
Disclosure: The author is a comedian in Los Angeles who has performed at some of these venues.