If laughter is indeed the best medicine (thanks, endorphins), there’s nothing quite like the live, raw energy of a comedy club to get your dose—or check America’s cultural pulse.
Radio and television may have brought mainstream comedy to the masses, with I Love Lucy and Milton Berle paving the way for Carol Burnett and Saturday Night Live. Yet it’s the unpredictability and adrenaline-fueled energy of in-person performance that continues to spur it forward. Why else would the likes of Tina Fey and Jay Leno still perform regularly to sharpen their skills and test their material?
It’s in comedy clubs, with nothing but a microphone and brick wall, that careers soar on applause or die by heckles, and sticky subjects get addressed in a humorous way.
Trailblazing performances at Chicago’s The Second City gave comics like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Sam Kinison a stage to tackle race, religion, and politics with an irreverent spin that wasn’t yet allowed on the airwaves.
Times have changed, but stand-up comedy’s next wave continues its gig-by-gig push of the envelope with often unfiltered, hilarious results you’d be hard-pressed to find on an HBO special.
From a surprising ab workout in Nashville to the mainstays of New York and Los Angeles, the following comedy clubs are surefire places to get your giggle on.