New York is undoubtedly one of the best cities in which to catch a comedy show, but most people assume they have to shell out big bucks at a major club to do so. Sure, a night at Caroline’s on Broadway and the Comedy Cellar can be fun, but there’s an underground comedy scene that takes place in the smaller back rooms of bars, where the shows range from free to cheap and local stars take the “stage” to work out their material in a more intimate setting. Here, the best small venues where you can stumble upon some of New York’s greatest talents while sipping on a reasonably priced drink. Take it from me, a New York–based comedian and big fan of reasonably priced drinks.
This venue is a café by day and bar by night. You could easily visit the Cobra Club and be completely oblivious to whatever sort of show is taking place, as the performance space is located in the back corner and you have to walk through two different closed doors to get there. But once you discover the snug room, you’ll be happy you did. 6 Wyckoff Avenue, BushwickVibe: If black-box theaters had punk-rock/metal street cred.Who you can expect to see: Shows range from comedy to burlesque. Its two regular shows are the weekly and donations-based Live From Outer Space and monthly We’re Tired. The former is hosted by Erik Bergstrom, Myka Fox, and Max Bruno, and its lineups typically feature comedians you’ve seen on TV. You can catch the show every Friday at 9 p.m. We’re Tired is a monthly show hosted by Irene Fagan Merrow (hey, that’s me!) and Amanda Hurley, and features one of the most diverse lineups in the city, with performers such as Carmen Lagala and Sydnee Washington.Comedian’s take: This is one of the best rooms in Brooklyn. The space is intimate and casual, but the red velvet curtain and spotlight make you feel like a star onstage.
Actor-writer–Renaissance man Alan Cumming opened this venue just last year, and it’s already one of the hottest spots downtown. It’s small, dark, and sexy inside, so be prepared to stand close to your fellow audience members if you want to watch a show. It’s not the cheapest joint in the city when it comes to the cocktail menu, but it’s not unreasonable either. Plus, Cabernet Cabaret is free, and you won’t be able to see these comedians for that price forever. 505 East 6th Street (between First and Second Avenues), East Village
Photo courtesy of Club Cumming
Vibe: Cabaret chic, honey!Who you can expect to see: Club Cumming boasts a few comedy shows, most notably Cabernet Cabaret, a mesmerizing mix of music and comedy every Wednesday hosted by rising star Catherine Cohen.Henry Koperski is on the keys, and local talents such as Patti Harrison and Matt Rogers are likely to grace the stage.Comedian’s take: There’s an undeniable energy in this space; you feel like you're part of scene that will be talked about someday in the near future.
At first glance, this looks like your average hole-in-the-wall bar on the Lower East Side where people come to grab a drink after work. There’s a staircase in the back, though, that leads down to a basement where comedy lives on. 129 Orchard Street (between Delancey and Rivington Streets), Lower East SideVibe: If an antiques store let you and your friends break in for a night of drinking and chaos.Who you can expect to see: Lucky Jack’s is home to the weekly (Sunday at 10:30 p.m.) free roast battle, Comedy Fight Club. The show is hosted by Matt Maran and frequently features New York comedy all-star Maddy Smith.Comedian’s take: Performing in the lounge at Lucky Jack’s feels like hanging out with friends. It’s an all-around blast.
This Ridgewood bar doubles as a performance space, and while it was originally set up for music, it has become a hot spot for indie comedy. The show room is gorgeous and more spacious than others on this list. 465 Seneca Avenue, Ridgewood
Photo courtesy of Kendra L. Saunders/Footlight Bar
Vibe: If Battle of the Bands was still a thing and actually cool.Who you can expect to see: Kady Ruth Ashcraft and Jenny Nelson run a monthly variety show that includes comedy from their friends and peers in the alt-comedy scene. Comedian’s take: Performing at the Footlight is always a treat, as most bar shows don’t entail standing on a legitimate stage with lights and a full sound system. Comedians get the full treatment here, and there’s nothing we love more than undeserved attention.
This neighborhood bar is better known for its wide selection of microbrews, but there’s also an adorable back room where comedy sometimes takes place. 65 Fourth Avenue, Boerum Hill/Park Slope
Photo courtesy of Cherry Tree Bar/Yelp
Vibe: A Park Slope bar with craft beer on tap that’s not douchey? I'll take it.Who you can expect to see: Geoffrey Asmus, Raghav Mehta, Aimee Rose Rangerand Rohan Padhye host a weekly show called Airplane Mode every Thursday at 8 p.m., and its lineups are typically studded with up-and-coming comics such as Dina Hashem, Rebecca O’Neal, and Ayo Edebiri.Comedian’s take: The “stage” here is the small floor space in front of the few rows of chairs, so it really feels like you’re in with the crowd. It’s a fun hang!