Legend has it that there once were as many as seven full-time comedy clubs running in San Francisco -- that’s one for every night of the week, if our math checks out. These days, we manage with fewer than half that number, but you’ll be happy to learn that the comedy scene itself is thriving: we kicked over a few stones and discovered plenty of solid comedy nights in this city -- perfect if you’re looking to get your laughs on.
The Best Comedy Clubs & Shows in San Francisco
Sometimes there’s a thing that defies reason and is also so perfect for its place and time, and BrainWash is that thing. In a city hellbent on hyper-simplification, there is no better testament to an "eff it, do everything" mindset than a laundromat-plus-cafe-plus-live-event space. This place boasts a robust roster of diverse comic talent, and it’s been around for more than twenty-five years. Seven nights a week, ladies and gentlemen: Wash. Fold. Laugh. Check out their live webcams.
This place is many things to many people. Mostly, it’s a solid bar at the tippy-top of Haight St. However, it’s also a haven for bizarro, high-concept comedy showcases that’ll make a scene kid out of even the least likely comedy fan in your cadre. Jury Duty, for instance, is a show that happens most Mondays and involves comedians arguing cases in defense of and against pointless topics on the fly -- so comedy lawyers is a thing. Milk Bar rocks a party atmosphere, and the shows feel almost like they aren’t even really supposed to be happening. See also: Milkin’ It, a free stand-up show that comes around every second and third Tuesday.
Not a comedy club per se (there are only two full-time clubs in the city), The Basement is more a lounge that features comedy on the regular. It’s cool, though: with open mics on Thursdays and a mixed showcase of national and local talent every Saturday, it’s a fine spot to post up at. Think reclaimed wood whiskey bar with bonus points for its storied history as a former jazz club.
OK. This one is a show, not a venue. The venue is the Sports Basement on Bryant, but it feels weird to list the Sports Basement on Bryant as a venue for comedy. That said, the second Friday of every month you can catch GTitG there -- in the basement of said Basement. Calling cards are a diverse lineup of great talent, free admission, proximity to rental ski gear, and -- perhaps most importantly -- free drinks.
Cobb’s is the kind of place a national headliner will book when they come to town. It’s a Live Nation-owned heavyweight, clocking in with the sort of 400-person capacity the touring comedian demands. There’s a two-drink minimum, which feels annoying at first, but who are we kidding -- you’re going to buy two drinks. Beyond the tours, Cobb’s local showcases are a great chance to see some of the city’s top talent, local comics who bust their asses at Cobb’s little sister, Punch Line.
This place by no means does comedy exclusively, but they consistently do it well. Doc’s Lab is a small space (in a basement, natch) with a chill atmosphere, serving up regular chances to see some of the city’s brightest craftsmen along with a solid menu of eats. Check the calendar for the occasional multi-night run of big-shot national talent that they occasionally snag, but the regular free shows on Mondays are worth far more than the price of admission.
As this list goes, PianoFight has one of the most anemic stand-up calendars you’re likely to find, but it’s also one of the best places to catch an excellent set. A relative newcomer to the city arts scene, PianoFight is a collectively run space that promotes all sorts of work, including sketch comedy, drama, and music. It’s also just a damn cool spot -- there’s a live jazz bar and two theater spaces. Relevant to our interests: The Tabernacle, a weekly meeting of local comedy juggernauts Matt Lieb, Torio Van Grol, Steve Post, and Allison Mick, who hold court with guests of varying repute.
Picture every comedy club from every movie ever. Now picture yourself in the audience. Like Cobb’s, Punch Line is a capital-C comedy club. You’re looking at polished material that’s geared towards a crowd with diverse interests and thresholds. You’re also looking at a line to get in -- so it’s prime for a date night. The space is just under half the capacity of Cobb’s, making for a more intimate experience. With shows six nights a week, including a weekly local showcase, this place is the definition of a safe bet.
Rite Spot Café, one of the city's most distinctive (some might say best) dives, programs comedy every blessed Monday. Of particular interest is Jane Harrison's Misery Index, which offers the evergreen delight of comedians reflecting on the collapse of society. Laugh at our collective demise while wrapped in the comforting arms of a cheap drink.
Mutiny is a delightful confluence of live performance space and media production house. As the name suggests, they pump audio out into the world. As the name doesn’t suggest, much of that audio is comedy, recorded live at a place that kind of feels like a storefront. Mutiny is also kind of a scene unto itself: the space is small, the drinks are brownbag, and the vibe is cool.
Sign up here for our daily San Francisco email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun SF has to offer.
Casey Childers is a one man content mill and the punchline of every joke he's ever lived. Unfollow him at @cachilders. Big thanks to @OJPATTERSON of @CourtingComedy and @supatrashedbros for the assist.
1. BrainWash Cafe & Laundromat1122 Folsom St, San Francisco
2. Milk Bar1840 Haight St, San Francisco
3. The Basement222 Hyde St, San Francisco
4. Cobb's Comedy Club915 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
5. Doc's Lab124 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
6. PianoFight144 Taylor St, San Francisco
7. Punch Line Comedy Club444 Battery St, San Francisco
8. Rite Spot Cafe2099 Folsom St, San Francisco
9. Mutiny Radio2781 22nd St., San Francisco
Get it all done at once -- BrainWash Cafe (despite the slightly ominous name) allows you to get your clothes cleaned, caffeinated yourself, grab a bite to eat, see a show or some comedy, or get your work done with free Wi-Fi, all in the same place.
Located at the very top of Haight Street, along the eastern border of Golden Gate Park, this comedy club and music venue features a variety of high-concept stand-up performers and local bands almost every night of the week. Be sure to check out Milkin' It, the bar's semimonthly free comedy show.
This dimly, lit, sexy lounge in Tenderloin is known for its diverse drink menu -- featuring beer, wine, cocktails, sake, and soju -- small plates, and, most important, frequent events. Patrons can enjoy regular comedy shows, open mic nights, and talent showcases among comfortable leather seating in reclaimed-wood digs.
Cobb’s is as good as its headliner on any given night, and has featured comedians such as Jimmy Carr and Nick Swanson (two drink minimum for shows). If you are looking for a night of laughs and don’t might paying a bit more for drinks and food, then you can certainly enjoy a night there. But pre-gaming at a bar and restaurant isn’t the worst idea, either.
Quite literally underground, Doc's plays host to live performances showcasing local talent from comedy to music. With fare that far surpasses what you'd find at an average entertainment venue (shrimp ceviche, tomatillo-braised pork tacos) and a classic cocktail menu to match, it's definitely a one-stop shop for an evening out. If you happen to plan said night out on a Wednesday, you'll find free live jazz.
At this multipurpose venue in Tenderloin, one can find a multitude of performers and live acts, including (but definitely not limited to) sketch comedy, drama, and music. Typically, the venue (which has two intimate theaters and a cabaret stage) features new works by new, local artists. Guests can also enjoy drinks (no minimums) and American grub.
Arguably the younger sibling of Cobb's Comedy Club, this Financial District venue holds a little bit less than 200 people, and has been a stepping stone for giants like Ellen Degeneres, Chris Rock, Robin Williams, and Rosie O'Donnell. Nationally-acclaimed comics continue to grace the stage of this San Francisco centerpiece.
This intimate, candle-lit dive bar in Mission is a casual venue for cheap drinks and simple Italian fare. Guests can also enjoy local, featured art on the walls, live jazz, and regular comedy performances. A non-traditional gallery of sorts, The Rite Spot offers the art for sale.
This unassuming storefront in Mission is home to Mutiny Radio, which functions as both a live performance and media production venue. Although it's first and foremost a radio/podcast station, Mutiny Radio also hosts casual musical performances, poetry, comedy, theater, and interviews.