Andrew Hankinson

The five best comedy clubs in New York

The five best comedy clubs in New York
John Oliver performs at Carolines On Broadway (Getty)
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New York’s comedy clubs are back in fashion thanks to being championed in films and on television by superstar comedians such as Louis CK, Chris Rock and Amy Schumer. Here’s where to get the most from your two-drink minimum

Comedy Cellar, MacDougal Street

The comedy club ideal: low ceiling, brick wall backdrop and about 130 seats. It’s a showcase club, which means half a dozen of the city’s best comedians do short sets each show. Louis CK (you might recognise the club from the intro to his TV show Louie), Chris Rock and Amy Schumer sometimes turn up unannounced to work on material, and the comedians hang out between shows at a table upstairs in the Olive Tree Cafe (part of the same business). The downside: almost all shows sell out, so reserve tickets in advance.

Village Underground, West 3rd Street

The sister club of the Comedy Cellar, it opened in 2013 to make hay during this stand-up boom. It’s just around the corner from the Cellar and mimics the original venue – brick wall, similar furniture, the same comedians and a showcase format. Also, the Underground and a lounge in the Fat Black Pussycat bar upstairs are used by the club’s regular comedians, such as Robert Kelly and Colin Quinn, to run through one-hour specials before they end up on Netflix, so you can pick up tickets for works-in-progress cheaply.

Trevor Noah onstage at Gotham Comedy Club (Getty)

The Stand, Third Avenue

Like the Village Underground, this is a boom time venue (it opened in 2012). It’s small (the way stand-up venues should be), offers a showcase format, and it books some of the city’s best comedians – look out for the likes of Joe List, Bonnie McFarlane and Mark Normand. Every Tuesday the club hosts Roastmasters, where newer comedians battle each other using the art of insults – the jokes have bite, the unique host (Luis J Gomez) revels in awkwardness, and the judges (usually Jay Oakerson and Rich Vos) are hilariously scathing.

Carolines, Broadway

This is a bigger venue than the showcase clubs (it has about 300 seats) and its full name – Carolines on Broadway – hints at its inclination towards the theatre model. There are all kinds of shows during the week, but its specialty is booking in-demand comedians to perform full-length shows several times over a weekend. Headlining here is still a big deal for most comedians, the majority of whom will be familiar from US television (though they may leave Brits a little in the dark), so expect to see a polished performance.

Gotham Comedy Club, West 23rd Street

A strikingly decorated club, as with Carolines it has a variety of comedy shows on during the week, but at the weekend the focus is on a headliner, so it’s worth checking out the acts on YouTube before booking – it’s no fun being in the front row of an intimate club watching a comedian you don’t find funny. Also, there’s always a chance you might get lucky. This is also one of the clubs where Jerry Seinfeld drops in to work on his material, partly because they let him park his car right outside.