Comedy thrived in San Francisco in the 1980s, with open mikes all over the city. But during the next decade San Francisco stopped laughing as many of the great clubs—the Holy City Zoo, the Improv, and the Other Café—shut their doors. Comedians migrated south, hoping to get their laughs under the bright lights of Los Angeles.
"Comics come to Los Angeles, motivated to take their act to the next level," explains Greg Behrendt, stand-up comic and host of the radio show Manversation. "Here you can get jobs writing, in television and radio, or consulting." Behrendt consults for HBO's popular show Sex and the City.
While San Francisco's Punchline and Cobb's sustain some laughs in the Bay Area, Los Angeles has benefited from an influx of talent. The result is a vibrant comedy scene ranging from dark and edgy to experimental to mainstream.
The Comedy Store, Hollywood, (323) 656-6225. Epicenter of the 1980s comedy boom on Sunset, this club sparked the careers of some of the more blue comics—Richard Pryor, Sam Kinnison, and Andrew Dice Clay.
The Ice House, Pasadena, (626) 577-1895. A pioneer of Southland comedy clubs, today it leans toward family-oriented, PG-rated material. Veterans include Tim Allen, Steve Martin, and Robin Williams.
The Improvisation, West Hollywood, (323) 651-2583. This club is a destination for out-of-towners and industry types alike. Material tends toward the mainstream. It hosts frequent showcases.
Comedy & Magic Club, Hermosa Beach, (310) 372-1193. Plush interior, mostly PG humor. The shtick here involves three acts, the second of which is always a magician, juggler, or hypnotist.
Groundling Theater, West Hollywood, (323) 934-9700. In the tradition of Chicago's Second City, this improv company spawned comedic greats, including many graduates to Saturday Night Live—Phil Hartman, Chris Farley, Jon Lovitz, and Laraine Newman.
Laugh Factory, West Hollywood, (323) 656-1336. TV stars, including Jerry Seinfeld, have performed here. Tuesday night's open mike encourages fresh talent.
Largo, Hollywood, (323) 852-1073. The Monday night showcase is the hottest comedy scene in town. Ten to 12 of the best and brightest strut their stuff every week. A recent night saw these talents: Patton Oswald, Dana Gould, David Cross.
HBO Workspace at the Melrose Theater, Hollywood, (323) 461-3256. This experimental theater is a renowned laboratory for rising talent. Catch one-person shows and works in progress. Call ahead as space is limited here—most shows are free.
Photography by Dan Dion
This article was first published in March 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.