The DC area has long had some serious comedy game: household names like Dave Chappelle, Patton Oswalt, Wanda Sykes, and Whitney Cummings all grew up in the metro area, and there’s been no shortage of homegrown, behind-the-scenes talent, either. Local improvisers and stand-up comedians have gone on to write for shows like Saturday Night Live, Last Week Tonight, and The Daily Show.
But in the past five years, the comedy scene in the city has truly exploded. You can catch improv, sketch, and/or stand-up basically every night of the week these days, and our scene is special: DC comedy isn’t afraid to get alternative, with TV shows like Redacted Tonight, podcasts like “You, Me, Them, Everybody,” and recurring shows like Church Night and Summer Camp, which shows off collaborations among comedians, burlesque performers, and musicians. We’ve rounded up the best spots in and around the district to find DC’s special brand of comedy.
DC Improv is lined with framed photos of the many super-high caliber performers who have graced this stage, including household names like Louis C.K., Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, and Sarah Silverman... comedy stalwarts Patrice O’Neal and Jim Gaffigan have even recorded albums even here. In addition to providing a milestone for comics that are on top of their game, this club is a good spot to see up-and-coming local comics. Check out Comedy Kumite, their stand-up comedy tourney, which comes with a serious pro wrestling flair. And if you want to try getting laughs for yourself, maybe sign up for a lesson.
Bier Baron (formerly the Brickskeller) may best be known for its large selection of beer, but the stage on its second floor is put to good use most nights of the week. Last Resort Comedy and Underground Comedy both make use of the space for their (often packed) weekly stand-up shows on Tuesdays and Thursdays. While those shows often highlight up-and-coming comedians from the DC and Baltimore areas, expect some more focused stand-up shows: DC exports like Liz Miele and Elizabeth Croydon -- who have been on Comedy Central and Stand Up NY -- will perform longer sets. Bier Baron is also very friendly to the burlesque and sideshow communities (in case you prefer your laughs to come complete with tassels and straightjackets). If your know your Nintendo, Futurama, or Saved by the Bell, check out Specific Ignorance, Underground Comedy’s live game show, which pits comedians against the audience in a hilarious battle of wits (plus, you could win a free whiskey shot).
When they aren’t showing second-run films or particularly popular sports events (Hello, World Cup!), the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse offers the best comedy shows south of the Potomac. The main room has played host to several SNL and Last Comic Standing veterans, as well as to bigger names such as Trevor Noah and Patton Oswalt. Between Thursday and Saturday, the Green Room off the main entrance is also a hot spot for the best local and regional stand-up comedians... and guests who show up early enough on Saturday night might be able to catch a set from short form improv troupe, Porkchop Volcano.
No, the joke is not that they also sell cut-rate mobile phones. The Park View space has some close retail neighbors (and those “Buy a new phone!” signs are directly under their marquee), but they also have an impressive black box theater that reveals itself upon entry. Dojo is the brainchild of Murph McHugh who has made his name locally as both an improviser and a sketch performer, and as such, he offers workshops in both improv and sketch, as well as an incubator program in which existing improv teams can receive coaching and an opportunity to perform in a series of weekly shows. Pro tip: do not show up late to those shows. The stage is in the front, and you may be walking directly into a scene... not an ideal way to begin your improv career.
While Wonderland Ballroom offers a dog-friendly patio, a competitive trivia night, and an annual celebration where dudes wear sundresses (yay), it’s also home to comedy most Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. While Sundays are purely stand-up (Hannibal Buress even dropped in this past November), the shows on Fridays and Wednesdays are less straightforward. Expect alternative options like Sometimes Pop-Up Comedy and Improv Show, the interactive nostalgia trip Summer Camp, and the musical comedy of Romaine and Lettuce.
We can say definitively that this is the only comedy theater in the area named after a lyric by The Hold Steady. So it understandably also has one of the most punk rock aesthetics in the DC area -- which is just how owners Shawn and Kathy Westfall want it. Unified Scene Theater has been open for less than a year, but it has already played host to a variety of improv teams, and their shows tend to sell out, whether the teams are local or visiting from places like Upright Citizens Brigade. The Bloomingdale space also offers beginning and advanced improv classes.
This Silver Spring space’s motto is “Anyone Can Do Theatre.” In addition to being the only theater on this list that hosts workouts-cum-theater techniques (yes, this exists), it provides many performance opportunities for local improv teams. Their long-form comedy competition, Cagematch is on a brief hiatus, but they’re still hosting improv most Fridays.
This performance space just off U Street is the home stage of Washington Improv Theater (WIT), which hosts WIT’s Harold Night: house teams perform long-form improv, and allow audience members to play in after the show. The Source also serves as more than just a theater space, so should you haphazardly wander upstairs, don’t be surprised to find sketch teams writing or improv teams practicing in one of the rehearsal rooms.
Comedy takes center stage at this black box theater every Monday and Wednesday. On Monday, Laugh Index Theatre hosts a competition called Improv Wars (which is similar to Highwood Theatre’s Cagematch), and on Wednesdays, if there aren’t improv performances by house teams or independent stalwarts Press Play, then there’s a sketch show. On the weekends, Chinese Menu offers monthly shows that function as high-quality play time for some of the best improvisers in the region.
Lovingly known by both comics and patrons as the “Shut the Fuck Up” room, RFD’s Thursday night open mic, simply known as Awesome Thursdays, is notable as one of the most popular and longest running in the city. This show includes the full range of talent, from first time attempts to comedians with television credits. Patrons who have the stamina to stick around until last call might get to see the iconic Dave Chappelle mentor, Tony Woods, who tends to roll in at the end of the night. Just don’t talk during anyone’s set. Host Ralph Cooper has actually trained audiences to tell loudmouth patrons to “shut the fuck up” so he rarely even has to do it himself.
These days, Underground Comedy runs shows everywhere from H Street NE to Columbia Heights, but their biggest stronghold is in the basement of this Dupont bar. The low-ceilinged space has a lot of circus and sideshow paraphernalia on the walls -- including some conspicuously painted legs behind the stage -- and it plays host to both open micers and professional comics four nights a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Don’t be surprised if some of the comics visiting DC Improv, which is right across the street, drop in on the subterranean space.
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