Where to Get In On the Action
The N Crowd, 257 North 3rd Street, Old City
The N Crowd specializes in short-form improv comedy, the kind that you might know from Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Following a few simple rules and based on audience suggestions, the performers put together hilarious sketches out of thin air. Participation is very much encouraged, both by the small room and by the possibility of getting a free ticket, so don’t be afraid to shout something out or even volunteer to go onstage.
Where to See a Big Star in a Small Room
Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse Square
Helium is the simplest kind of comedy club: round tables, two-drink minimum, low lights, and comics saying funny things into a microphone. What makes it stand out is that, on a regular basis, those comics are television stars and nationally famous standups. Over the years they’ve played home to Norm MacDonald, Kevin Nealon, Patrice O’Neal, and Demetri Martin. Helium also hosts open mics and features local talent, so don’t feel pressured to shell out for the biggest names—often the unknowns are the funniest of all.
Where to See Old-School Standup
Comedy Cabaret, 11580 Roosevelt Boulevard, Northeast
It’s a small room in a hotel bar in a Ramada Inn in the Northeast, so the Comedy Cabaret is not exactly the place to go for glamour. But the headliners are usually experienced pros, sometimes with national appeal, and the openers tend to be local up-and-comers. It’s a good place to go for no-frills, unfiltered standup that makes you laugh—and you never know, you might be the first to spot a diamond in the rough.
Where to Bring the Kids
ComedySportz, 2030 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse Square
If you think “clean comedy” is bland, smiley, and unfunny, then you clearly haven’t seen ComedySportz. These skilled improv performers are sometimes sharp and sometimes goofy, but they’re pretty much always hilarious. To be sure, the sports uniforms and whistles are a little kitschy, but get into the spirit of it and no matter how old you are, you’ll be shouting and cheering in no time (it doesn’t hurt that the venue is BYOB).
Where to See Comedy’s Cutting Edge
Philly Improv Theater, 2030 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse Square
PHIT, as it’s affectionately known, showcases every kind of comedy, from sketch and standup to improv and innovative forms (like A Few Short Answers, a monthly gonzo game show). As the name might suggest, though, PHIT really excels at improv—in particular, it’s the best place in town to catch a long-form improv show, where performers improvise long scenes or even whole plays based on a few audience suggestions.
Where to Get Cozy with the Comics
Crazy Cow, 4414 Main Street, Manayunk
Crazy Cow is not exactly a typical comedy club. In fact, it’s not a comedy club at all. It’s an ice cream shop and restaurant. But on Friday and Saturday nights, in a tiny upstairs lounge, local standups perform their best stuff for an appreciative audience. The comics change night t -night, so you can never be sure what you’ll get, but no matter what it makes for a cheap date and a good story. The ice cream isn’t bad, either.
Where to Relive Your College Days
Mask and Wig, 310 South Quince Street, Midtown Village
Every year, this venerable society of Penn kids set aside midterms and binge-drinking to put on a full-length comedy musical—which they wrote from scratch. Without fail, the production is professional, the singing is passable, and the jokes bring down the house (which just happens to be a beautiful old theater). Some nights, the audience will largely consist of very vocally enthusiastic Penn students, but that only contributes to the experience.