The Comedy & Magic Club
This place is legendary, plain and simple. Everybody from Jerry Seinfeld to Robin Williams (Are you pouring one out? You should be pouring one out) has played this club, so any night you’re there, you’ll have a solid shot at seeing an icon. And Leno is there most Sundays as well, if you’re looking just for the big dogs.
By far one of the most underrated clubs in the city due to its deep-Valley location, Flappers has become a favorite of the comics that perform there because of the high-caliber shows it puts on. Expect to see Jeff Garlin on Sundays, quality showcases, and a smaller back room full of up-and-comers. You’ll also find a not-too-expensive bar and some actually-not-awful food (like portobello fries, personal pizzas, and even a $29 pre-fixe dinner).
Some of the best improv you’ll see happens at iO West (Called West because the OG spot is in Chicago). iO’s improv & writing classes are top-notch (and less expensive than UCB). If you’re looking to get into the scene, iO is an excellent place to start in classes as their house teams tend to breed talented writers and actors (like Chris Farley, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert).
The Comedy Store
You’ll feel the magic of the Store the minute you walk up and see the countless names scribbled across the building’s exterior. Everybody has played here. There are actually three rooms at the Comedy Store, so definitely don’t be afraid to see a show in the Original Room or the Belly Room since there’s great stuff happening in all of them. Expect to see panel-show regulars like Bobby Lee and Brody Stevens floating around at most times, though the shows in the Main Room have known to have surprise headliners like Russell Brand and Sarah Silverman. Also expect to have a few drinks on their iconic outdoor bar, which looks right out over Sunset.
The Laugh Factory
If any of the shows at the Store are sold out, you might have better luck at The Laugh Factory, which is just down the street. Sitcom-dude Chris D’Elia seems to be permanently up on the marquee, so if you’re a fan, The Laugh Factory is where you’ll catch him. This is another one of those clubs where the anybody-could-walk-in factor is high with people including, but not remotely limited to, Kevin Nealon and his holiness Dave Chappelle.
If you ask somebody about where to see improv in LA, you’ll probably get the same answer: go to The Groundlings. If you’re not too familiar with long-form improv, get the image of Whose Line Is It Anyway? out of your head. These shows aren’t games (though certain shows are), but more of a tour de force of how talented some of these improvisers can be. “Cookin’ With Gas” is a Groundlings institution that delivers some of the best audience-suggestion-based improv you can find. Each week features a different surprise guest and includes cast members like Jordan Black and Community’s Jim Rash.
Los Feliz & Hollywood
Upright Citizens Brigade is chicken soup for the improv and standup lover’s soul. Though most of their shows are improv based, you’ll also see standup both from people you already love and people you are about to love. There’s nary a bad show you can see at either UCB campus, but we recommend you get in on Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer’s “Crash Test” for a comedy show that is truly hard to categorize (they’ve done everything from sketches to standup to Huebel convincing the audience to text weird things to their friends). Also: they “allow” BYOB (discreetly).
Nerdist Showroom at Meltdown
The buried-in-the-back-of-a-comic-book-shop room NerdMelt has graduated from underground hero to mainstream mainstay, thanks to some of the best shows in LA, period. Their best show, surprise surprise, is The Meltdown, featured on Comedy Central and hosted by Jonah Ray and Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani every Wednesday. You never know who you’ll see, but you know it’ll be great, as the guests have ranged from John Mulaney to Fred Armisen to Maria Bamford to... well, anybody you can think of.
ACME Comedy Theatre
Perhaps your taste is more of the sketch comedy variety -- in that case, ACME is for you. They have different shows happening at both locations, so anything you pick will be a winner. Plus, no standup means no two-drink-minimum, and, c’mon, we can all praise the lord for that.
Hollywood & North Hollywood
The Hollywood Improv is perhaps the most famous club of all. If you’re a comedian, you’ve dreamt of performing at the Improv (though it makes us all cringe that they painted over the iconic mural on the side), and if you’re not a comic, you’ve probably been told you need to see a show at the Improv. Though the food used to be the worst in the galaxy, they’ve recently upped it big time (once a menu has a chef’s playful take on Brussels sprouts, you know it’s serious). Name a comedian -- they got their start at the Improv, which means they’ll walk in and do a set any time they feel like it (recent comers include Chappelle, Louis C.K., and perpetual drop-ins from Dane Cook).