The Best Cities for Comedy Shows in North America
When you’re thinking about comedy cities in North America, three powerhouses usually come to mind: Chicago, home of Second City and the stomping grounds of future SNL stars; Los Angeles, the birthplace of The Groundlings and Judd Apatow scripts; and New York, where comedy clubs and comedy theaters abound. But where do comedy lovers outside these cities go for comedy shows? Thanks to funny performers in multiple zip codes, there are plenty of options, from Oregon to Massachusetts. Read on to find a few near you:
This counterculture jewel of the Pacific Northwest is known for its green living and rich, off-kilter arts scene. In recent years, that’s grown to include standup comedy. Amy Miller, who made a delightfully edgy splash on the most recent season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, moved to Portland from California and has only watched her star rise since. In addition, the city boasts open mics and independent showcases every night of the week as well as sought-after comedy festivals: Bridgetown Comedy Festival takes over Portland each spring, and the all-female All Jane Comedy Festival delights audiences every fall.
Boston was the home of a giant comedy boom in the ‘80s, incubating future stars including Janeane Garofalo, Steven Wright, and Paula Poundstone. These days it’s the host of festivals such as the aptly titled Boston Comedy Festival and the Women In Comedy Festival, which bring in headliners and burgeoning performers who hit stages at The Comedy Studio, Laugh Boston, and myriad independent shows throughout the city and its suburbs.
Though Acme Comedy Co. is a gem of the local comedy scene—its headliners include Hannibal Buress, Maria Bamford, and Dave Attell—it’s not the only one. Thanks to DIY showcases in bars, intimate theaters, and breweries, the City of Lakes is quickly becoming a go-to destination for laughs. One frequent performer at the city’s annual 10,000 Laughs Comedy Festival, Maggie Farris, was even recently named The Advocate magazine’s Funniest Queer Comedian.
Though Chicago is the birthplace of The Second City, Toronto may be home to the comedy club’s second most famous outpost, thanks to a string of celebrities who got their start there. The Kids in the Hall co-founder Dave Foley, frequent Christopher Guest collaborator Catherine O’Hara, and American Pie’s Eugene Levy all whet their comedy chops north of the border. Second City Toronto continues to cultivate comedic talent—check out actress and solo sketch performer Alanna Reoch—and the city as a whole plays host to a variety of independent showcases and homegrown festivals, including SheDot.
The younger sibling of the Twin Cities makes the list again thanks to its comedy institution Brave New Workshop, which has been staging original sketch comedy shows since 1958. The city also has a vibrant theater scene that helped birth the famous Minnesota Fringe Festival.
The City by the Bay has always welcomed the hilariously offbeat. Ellen DeGeneres and Margaret Cho both honed their acts there, and today, burgeoning comedians such as Dhaya Lakshminarayanan blend standup and storytelling into their own one-of-a-kind form. Because of this, sketch comedy is perfectly at home here, as evidenced by the renowned SF Sketchfest and sketch institution Killing My Lobster.
“The beauty of improv comedy,” declares CBS Philly, “is that if you find a place you enjoy, you can go again and again, since it’s never the same show twice.” Stop into Philly Improv Theater, which has made a name for itself in the last nine years, and also teaches the performance style to newbies. Other notable Philly improv outposts include The N Crowd and ComedySportz Philadelphia.
Each year, improvisers from all over the country descend on the Mile High City for the annual Denver Improv Festival. There, they find a town rich with improv hotspots in addition to the fest. Among them: Bovine Metropolis Theater, the family-friendly Impulse Theater, and Madcap Theater, which models itself closely after Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Travel to Indianapolis, and you’ll get the chance to see Indyprov—Indy’s own Emmy-nominated comedy troupe. (The comedians nabbed a local Emmy nod in 2007 for a TV segment they created.) Indy is also home to Claire Wilcher, a long-time ComedySportz Indianapolis performer who packed up her RV and zig-zagged to 23 other ComedySportz cities on a 16-week comedy quest.