If you take a walk through Times Square, you’re likely to be approached by one of those in-your-face guys (and a few gals) asking you, “Do you like to laugh?” Well, who doesn’t? But watch out! These guys/gals are going to offer you “free” tickets to a famous name comedy club. But what they don’t tell you is there is a 2-drink minimum, per person. And what if you don’t drink alcohol? Even if you order seltzer water the price tag on that starts at $10. You will end up paying for that comedy show in spades as well as dropping on an average $75 for a two people and a lot more for a group.
I want to tell you about some alternative comedy venues where the tickets are $5, $10, $15 (maximum) or -for real- free! The quality is just as good as at the “famous” venues, and, just like all comedy shows, there’s some hit and miss moments, but almost always an overall good time filled with lots of laughs. And on any particular night there’s a potential surprise bonus lurking of big deal comedians making an appearance to try out new material in these underground’ish venues! You might witness the best show you’ve even seen, or you might have just an okay time. But in either case, you will not not bust the bank. Plus, you will have an authentic New York experience.
Here are some of my favorite venues:
[NB: The Experiment Comedy Gallery was shut down in December 2016 and we mourn its loss.]
The Experiment Comedy Gallery, or The Ex as locals affectionately refer it to, was founded in 2013 by Mo Fathelbab, Derek Smith, and Ben Trandem as a comedy collective. They continue to produce the best in live standup, improv and sketch shows in New York City. Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at 272 Grand Street, Basement Level, The Ex is a cozy venue with a casual vibe. You can often find comedian and local favorite Elsa Waithe behind the makeshift bar serving beer, water and soda along with zingers that have you laughing before the show even starts!
The Upright Citizen Brigade Theatre, founded by Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh, is a staple of the NYC (and LA) improv scene. With shows several times every night, most of which run for only an hour and generally cost $5-$10, the UCB is a bargain on many levels. Many graduates of the UCB Training Center have gone on to write for or appear on Saturday Night Live, Inside Amy Schumer, The Jon Stewart Show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and many other comedy shows. Follow UCBNY on Twitter for the most up-to-date performance info. They have two locations to choose from: UCB East is located at 153 E 3rd Street in the East Village and UCB West is at 307 W 26th Street.
The Magnet Theater, founded in 2005 by Del Close, Armando Diaz, Ed Herbstman, Shannon Manning and Alex Marino, is an improv comedy theatre and school. The Magnet has shows seven nights a week and prices range from free to $7 for special single shows to $10 for an entire evening of performance. Its school has spawned talent working on Broad City, 30 Rock, The Colbert Report, The Onion, and more. The Magnet is located at 254 West 29th Street 8th Avenue in Manhattan.
The Creek and the Cave is a combination restaurant, bar and comedy club in Long Island City. With a broad array of comedy and other performance, the offerings are a mixed bag that is often a very fun surprise. They host regular shows and comedians traveling through NYC often have a chance to perform to a new audience. The Creek and Cave is located at 10-93 Jackson Avenue near the 7, G, E & M trains. Many of the Creek and Cave’s comedy shows are free and the venue provides a free PBR to each attendee for supporting the space! And, if you sit in the front row you get a free shot!
And one of the VERY best comedy shows in town is Runnin’ on Empty, a monthly stand-up show stealthily curated by Lisa Franklin and Yotam Tubul and performed at (le) poisson rouge. They host headliner comedians as well as writers and comics from Elite Daily, The Nightly Show, Broad City, Comedy Central and many more of the best comedy shows on TV and online. And get this – the show is FREE! Keep your eyes peeled on (le) poisson rouges’ events calendar or search “Runnin’ on Empty with Yotam and Lisa” on Facebook for their latest show.
You can buy drinks at all these alt venues, sure, but you won’t be bullied into purchasing overpriced and watered down booze. So if you like to laugh, take a risk and see a free show or even spend a five- or ten-spot to see emerging and established talent doing the best comedy in NYC.
~ By Local Expeditions Team Member Stephanie Schroeder