Whether you know the difference between “bit,” “sketch,” and “set,” or think that the only funny thing that ever happened in a “club” was in the Meatpacking District back in 2008, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually end up seeing some comedy in this city. There are tons of improv, sketch, and stand-up shows happening all the time, usually at one of the venues on our guide. And as much as we endorse laughing in a room with strangers, you should probably get dinner elsewhere. So when you’re looking for more than just an order of microwaved french fries and a gin and tonic, keep these nearby spots in mind.
the comedy cellar
The Comedy Cellar is where you should go if you’re looking for the Top 40 version of the NYC comedy scene. This club has about seven shows a night, and three different venues within about a block of each other. We’ve enjoyed our fair share of french fries here, but for a quick dinner in the area, you can’t do better than Joe’s Pizza on Carmine Street. No seats, just excellent slices and a table with condiment shakers. There’s a good chance you’ll recognize someone on stage later as “the person who got two slices of pepperoni at Joe’s!” And when it’s nice outside, we like to bring our pizza to Washington Square Park.
If you have slightly more time than the three minutes it takes to eat a slice of pizza and throw away your greasy paper plate, try Hao Noodle on 6th Ave. It’s only a few blocks from the Cellar, and the Chinese food here is really good - we especially like the spicy shredded Le Shan chicken and the clay pot dumplings. This is a sit-down spot, but the service is pretty fast, in case you’re feeling anxious about getting to the show on time (on top of already worrying that a comedian named Dave might ask about your last first date in font of everyone).
Caroline’s On Broadway
There are several hard truths when it comes to comedy in NYC. One is that taking UCB classes is like paying a second rent, another is that most open mics are full of nervous people reading prank text exchanges with wrong numbers, and a third is that Caroline’s is located smack in the middle of Times Square. But whenever we come here for a show, we actually look forward to getting a few $3 tacos afterwards at Los Tacos No 1. How it works: order at a counter and eat at a counter. The upside: you get to leave Times Square faster.
A casual neighborhood sushi place can only be so casual when it’s this close to the M&M store - but in comparison to a lot of the other restaurants in the area, Natsumi is relaxed and relatively affordable. The regular rolls here are almost all under $10, and there are daily Happy Hours from 4-6pm and from 10pm until closing. It kind of feels like a kitschy lounge from a time when people wore Von Dutch trucker hats and airbrushed T-shirts, but come to think of it, so does Caroline’s.
Gotham comedy club
Your older brother once told you that an address was the only thing you two had in common, and it was an excellent diss, but it hurt you deep down. Sushi Seki and Gotham could say the same thing to each other, but probably without leading to years of therapy. This is one of our favorite sushi spots in the city, and it happens to be located in the same building as one of the best-known comedy clubs around. But while Gotham is where you go to watch stand-up and drink whiskey sodas, Sushi Seki is the kind of place where you can drop a ton of money on excellent raw fish. That being said, if you just order a few rolls and some udon here, Seki doesn’t have to be the most expensive part of your evening. You can thank Gotham’s two-drink minimum for that.
If you’re looking for something quicker before or after your show, go to Lions & Tigers & Squares for your own personal Detroit-style pizza. Each one costs around $7, and the thick-crusted, square pie you get is filling and cheesy enough to potentially make you fall asleep in your chair during the show. Sort of like your grandpa used to do during your living room productions of Aladdin In Space.
The Pit is (mostly) an improv theater with a few different spaces (including one on 29th Street), but the main building is just a few blocks from Studio - an American/Middle Eastern all-day restaurant in the Freehand Hotel. If you’re trying to prove that you know about all the coolest things around the city, we’d suggest coming here before or after a show (as opposed to just telling your date, “I know about all the coolest things around the city”). You’ll have to walk through a well-decorated hotel to get to your table, and it’s the kind of place where you might briefly consider re-doing your entire wardrobe while you eat Turkish dumplings and a burger with harissa.
Comedy shows are generally funny in the same way that The Little Beet Table is generally healthy - both still have some room for variation. So while you can come here and eat things like tofu bowls and brussel sprouts, you can also get rigatoni, carnitas tacos, and a $15 margarita. Just like you might see three great comedians, then one painfully bad one who spends the whole set talking to a tourist couple from Indiana about their jobs as dentists.
UCB West is now in Hell’s Kitchen. Which is fine, because so are a lot of restaurants (and crossfit gyms, if you’re into that kind of thing). Sake Bar Hagi 46 is a great place for a casual meal with a couple friends you convinced to come see a show. Between the records on the wall and the Japanese fried chicken and $11 noodle dishes, they’ll probably like it here - even if they absolutely hate the night of musical parodies of The Social Network and Forrest Gump you all paid $9 to see.
You’ve done it again. This is the third activity-based date you’ve planned this month. We’ll leave it to you and your journal to unpack that. Meanwhile, try Dianne & Elisabeth before or after whichever UCB show you picked. It’s a wine bar from the people who own The Marshal (on the same street), and it’s comfortable without being too romantic. Exhibit A: They serve corn dogs. Come for Happy Hour, order corn dogs, laugh and fall in love, etc.
The Bellhouse has all kinds of shows, from live comedy podcasts to surprise Michelle Wolf and Jim Gaffigan drop-ins. It’s massive, mostly standing-room and located on a street with more warehouses than visible humans. The closest spot is Bar Tano - a casual Italian restaurant with Happy Hour deals on both food and drinks. If you’re waiting for a friend who’s (always) late and you get a text that says, “the R has a mind of its own!!” just stop in here and hang out at the bar with some pasta and a glass of wine.
Depending on how fast you walk (and therefore how evolved you are as a New Yorker), you can get to Surfish from the Bellhouse in about five to eight minutes. And you should, because this is a Peruvian restaurant with really great ceviche. So bring a friend, eat some raw fish, and you’ll be at the Bellhouse before you know it.
the creek and the cave
Mu Ramen is on the same street as The Creek And The Cave, and it’s where we go for really good ramen in LIC. The broth here is on the lighter side, which means that later on you’ll be able to pay attention to the person on stage talking about their daddy issues, rather than your impending urge to lie down. The only catch is that this restaurant is pretty small, so there’s a chance it’ll be busy.
If Mu Ramen is busy, Tournesol probably won’t be. This is a dark French bistro that’s about a four-minute walk from The Creek And The Cave. We’re fans of the goat cheese croquettes and escargots, both of which cost less than $10. If you’re just looking for some wine and small plates, Tournesol is the best you’re going to do this close to a club that has pinball and a weekly open mic show called Power Hour. Plus, it’s right by the 7 train.
the cobra club
Cobra Club is a little less mainstream than some of the other venues here, and if you’re prepared to see some people potentially bomb, it’s one of the best rooms in Brooklyn. The space is small, intimate, and located in the back of a dive bar. For small plates with a Japanese influence beforehand, go to Momo Chicken Shack. It’s right next to the Jefferson L Train exit, and works for sharing a bunch of great fried food with a group.
If you’re with just one other person, try walking into General Deb’s - a casual Szechuan restaurant about two blocks from the venue. The food here is easy to split, and there’s a disco ball in the bathroom that you could maybe definitely work into your dinner banter/stand-up set. If you just want to sit at the bar with some spicy cocktails and wontons in chili oil to share, that’s not a bad idea, either.
Littlefield is an all-around arts venue in Gowanus, but they have a bunch of comedy events every week (like Butterboy Comedy on Mondays and other various shows with headliners you’d recognize from sitcoms or the D train). For something quick and casual, try Ghenet. This Ethiopian spot is open every day, but they close at 11pm on the weekends and 10:30pm during the week - so it might be wise to have a meal here before the show.
Freek’s Mill is on the more upscale side, and if you’re not in a rush, it’s a great spot for a date. Not only will your date think you have an incredible sense of humor (since you’re going to a show called “Goonies Entirely From Memory”), but they’ll also (hopefully) be impressed by the seasonally-focused food here. Just keep in mind that Freek’s Mill is closed on Mondays.
Brooklyn Comedy Collective at The Brick
As you surely remember from Monopoly and internship stipends, spending less on one thing leaves you more to spend on something else. Most of the shows at The Brick are $10 or less, which might make you feel like you can spend more money on a big group meal. If that’s the case, go to Kings County Imperial for a fun dinner with friends that involves cocktails and dim sum.
On the other hand, if the fact that shows are under $10 makes you want to keep saving more money, try Samesa. This is a useful place to know about for any and all situations that might bring you to Williamsburg. You can get a lot of Middle Eastern food here for around $15, and in addition to the meat platters like chicken shawarma and za’atar roasted salmon, they have a bunch of vegetarian and kind-of-healthy options.
Eastville Comedy Club
Mile End is an annoyingly utopian neighborhood in Montreal where you’ll probably want to move after one visit, but it’s also the name of a Jewish deli in Boerum Hill where you can get massive sandwiches, poutine, and platters of smoked meat. This place is about two blocks away from Eastville, and on Fridays and Saturdays, it’s open until 11pm. Which means you’ll have ample time after the show for a meat-filled dinner.
Not only is Tacombi always a reliable choice for tacos and palomas, but the Fort Greene location is about a six-minute walk from Eastville (and convenient if you’re taking the G train). So come here on your way home - or to wherever you’re going to process the comedian who spent 20 minutes on the floor doing a roomba bit.