Boston's best: Comedy nights
Boston has produced some of the country’s most notable comedians. Comics from Dennis Leary to Janeane Garofalo to Conan O’Brien to Louis CK spent their formative comedic years working the city’s numerous clubs. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the sketch and television writers that have come out of area colleges. But any barroom can put up a sandwich board and claim: Comedy Tonight! So where are the city’s best stand up, sketch, and improv shows? Here’s a primer on where and when to find the best comedy in the city.
Mottley's Comedy Club
Mottley's sits in an unassuming 80-seat basement next to Faneuil Hall. What the club lacks in fanciness, it more than makes up for in quality. For their line-ups, Mottley's cherry-picks the best local headliners (think Kelly MacFarland and Tony V) as well as some national up-and-comers (like Hari Kondabolu, Shane Mauss, and Myq Kaplan). The result is an unprecedented chance to see some of the best comics in the the country perform full-headline sets in a venue the size of a living room. Throw in some friendly staff, and you've got yourself a cozy night of terrific comedy. Thursday nights showcase theme nights and one-person shows. 61 Chatham St, Faneuil Hall, Boston (877-615-2844, mottleyscomedy.com)
The Comedy Studio
This Harvard Square spot carries on the tradition of top-notch Boston Comedy in seedy Chinese restaurants. Perched atop the Hong Kong, the Studio features stand-up comedy Wednesday through Sunday (magicians take the stage on Tuesdays). The shows move quickly, with several comics doing short, punchy sets. Each weeknight features numerous gems, but on the weekends you get the highest caliber of talent. Club owner (and frequent host) Rick Jenkins showcases ten of the best local comics, and there's always the potential for a drop-in from national acts like Mike Birbiglia, Gary Gulman, or Joe Wong. Shows start at 8pm and cost $8-$10. Tickets can be reserved online. 1238 Massachusetts Ave, Harvard Square, Cambridge (617-661-6507, thecomedystudio.com)
The Gas at Great Scott
Allston is like the fifth-year senior of Boston neighborhoods, perpetually refusing to grow up, but still charming in a thrown-together sort of way. The Gas embodies the same charm. Geared toward the student set, The Gas provides cheap (as in $5 per ticket) laughs. Each week, Rob Crean hosts a lineup of his favorite local and out-of-town comics, with bigger names like Todd Barry and Marc Maron popping up on the bill a few times a year. Given the price and the grimy rock-club ambience, the comedians are freer to be playful and experimental. The show starts early (7:30), and the cost of admission also gets you into The Pill, Great Scott's weekly dance night. What more could you ask for, hipsters? 1222 Commonwealth Ave, Allston( 617-566-9014, greatscottboston.com)
Comedy Lab at Improv Boston
Five nights a week, Improv Boston is a clearinghouse for improv, sketch, and standup comedy. Wednesday night, you can get a sampling of all three at the Comedy Lab, which features experimental shows getting ready for a shot at the prestigious Friday night showcase. Recent offerings include "Twitterprov" "The Bigfoot Monologues,” and "Discount Shakespeare: As You Like It in 45 Minutes.” The Comedy Lab lets the top local talent breathe life into their weirdest comedy experiments, and you get to watch. 40 Prospect St, Central Square, Cambridge (617-576-1253, improvboston.com)
The Wilbur Theatre
When the big names in comedy come to Boston, you'll find them at the Wilbur. Since the closing of the Comedy Connection in 2008, the Wilbur is your best bet if you want to see nationally renowned comics like Jim Gaffigan, Lisa Lampanelli, Patton Oswalt, and Margaret Cho. The room is classy, and has recently acquired a liquor license (we all know that this is key), and it’s always exciting to see a great comedian in a packed 1,100-seat theater. Spring for the floor-level seats if you are tall (see: above 5'6"), as the balcony does not afford a lot of legroom. 246 Tremont St, Theater District, Boston (617-248-9700, thewilburtheatre.com)
Improv Asylum is primarily known for its improv and sketch comedy revues, and is almost always worth the stress of parking in the North End. The shows rotate throughout the year, with the main stage cast performing every Thursday through Saturday. Midnight on Saturdays is the "Raunch" show, which provides a much-needed late-night entertainment option in sometimes-sleepy Boston. Improv Asylum also accommodates private events and groups shindigs like bachelorette parties; so ladies, please keep your penis tiaras out of stand-up shows. 216 Hanover St, North End, Boston (617-263-6887, improvasylum.com)
The Cagematch at Castle Bar
The Castle Bar in Oak Square, Brighton is an unassuming neighborhood joint: Beer on tap, sports on TV. But on the third Wednesday of every month, the little function room in the back turns into the Cagematch, a no-holds-barred improv showdown between some of Boston’s top improvisers. Tickets are just three dollars, and proceeds go towards beer money for the winning team. The players have serious chops—many are cast members (or former cast members) of the best improv troupes in the city. Even when the action gets silly and slapdash, it’s never frantic and always entertaining. Plus, there’s always a drink special on Dark and Stormies (Castle Bar's are allegedly the best in the city). Third Wednesday of every month. 8pm. $3. 575 Washington St, Brookline (617-783-5722, bostoncagematch.com)
Giggles Comedy Club
Though not quite within the city limits, Giggles is an institution of Boston-area comedy. Giggles showcases many of the legends of Boston’s rich comedic tradition (Don Gavin, Kenny Rogerson, Lenny Clarke) and performers who have been at the top of their game for years. Many of these comics are booked solid with engagements on the road or corporate work and don’t get to perform around home much, so Giggles is the spot for classic, no-frills stand up. No weirdos with PowerPoint presentations here. Just jokes, and lots of them. Look for the replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa off the side of Route 1. 517 Broadway, Saugus( 781-233-9950, gigglescomedy.com)
The American Repertory Theater’s space in Cambridge is primarily known for its provocative and super-gay theater. Turns out, they also do some provocative and super-gay comedy. Though there are no regular comedy shows scheduled at Oberon, it has hosted such diverse offerings as variety show “Jerkus Circus” hosted by the Steamy Bohemians, Mehran’s “Criscoteque,” and Andy Ofiesh’s “Naked Comedy Showcase” (yes, for real). If you want to see stand-up that doesn’t fit any of your preconceived notions, check out the schedule at Oberon. 2 Arrow St, Harvard Square, Cambridge (617-547-8300, cluboberon.com)
Open Mic Nights
A good open mic night is the lifeblood of a standup comedy scene. It gives a forum for new voices to refine their talent. Sometimes, though, it also opens the floor to the criminally insane, the criminally unfunny and the oddballs with nowhere else to go. Here are some of your best bets for seeing real, raw talent.
Sally O'Brien's (Mondays at 7:30pm, 335 Somerville Ave, Union Square, Somerville; 617-666-3589, sallyobriensbar.com) and Grandma's Basement at the Howard Johnson's by Fenway Park (Thursdays at 8pm, 280 Fenway, Boston; 617-566-1401) provide a fascinating window into the lifestyle of an up-and-coming comedian. More formally, Dick Doherty’s Comedy Vault (124 Boylston St, Back Bay, Boston; 800-401-2221, dickdoherty.com) is the only comedy club in town with its own open mic (Sundays at 9). You’ll get to see people step onstage for the very first time, plus local working pros who often drop in to hammer new jokes into shape. Added Bonus: If you get the inclination to try some comedy yourself, you can get onstage and give it a whirl.