Comedian Sean Patton’s Guide to the Funniest Rooms in America
Sean Patton is a stand-up guy. You’ll forgive us the dad joke, but both meanings are very true. He’s also a guy who ends almost every night in a comedy club somewhere in the expanse of America and he was nice enough to give us his take on some of his favorite rooms to play and the places where he’d go to see stand-up. But as a guy who’s always on the move, he wasn’t that easy to find. Several two-drink minimums, a run-in with a sarcastic bouncer battling a Napoleon complex and a stay in some dubious road-side motel later, we caught up to Sean over a few whiskey sours late at night in the lobby of Holiday Inn. These are some of stand-up’s sacred spaces, according to Sean.
The Stand-Up Comedy Club
To some, it’s just another place to go out and get shitfaced on the weekend. Somewhere to get a group together and celebrate a birthday or the ever infamous bachelorette party. A lot of bachelorette parties end up at comedy clubs. I’m not sure why. Unless it’s because the bachelorette is a huge fan of the comedian performing, it’s usually annoying for everyone involved. No comedian enjoys having to take time out of their set to address the tiara-and-sash table. The same goes for birthday parties. Those can actually be worse. The birthday person’s boyfriend/ girlfriend/wife/husband/partner/fuck-buddy/bestie/ mom will reach out to the club, like, “It’s their birthday!” as if anyone else gives a shit. We get it, you want the comedians to “roast” them. Trust me, whatever we’ve prepared to share with you onstage has been years of honing and trial and error in the making. Give it a chance. I guarantee it’ll be far more enjoyable than making an “867-5309” joke because your daughter’s name is Jenny and it’s her 30th! (Actual request I was once emailed by a stranger). To fans of stand-up, the comedy club is a special place.
It’s where their favorite comedic minds get onstage to push boundaries, to expound upon their observations and ideas, and to share their soul-blushing stories of human folly. To pick apart the human condition and revel in our own flaws, which is the one thing that unites us all. If I can make you laugh at my shortcomings, maybe you can accept yours and feel better about your life. On a good night, a comedy club is a religious experience. And on a bad night, it’s still pretty great … Well, depending on the club of course.
These days, I spend almost every night of my life in a comedy club. I live in New York, the Mecca of stand-up. I count 13 clubs in Manhattan alone, and there’s probably a few I don’t know about. I don’t perform at all 13 of those clubs. I don’t think any comedian does, but I could be wrong, as there are probably over 300 comedians in New York whom I’ve never met. That’s how huge the scene is. I’ve lived here for over a decade. When I’m in town I perform multiple times a night and I still don’t know everyone or everywhere to get up. It’s pretty amazing. We all have our favorite spots. Here are mine, starting in my hometown.
The Comedy Cellar
It’s the SEAL Team 6 of comedy clubs. Three showrooms in the West Village: The original Comedy Cellar on MacDougal, the Village Underground around the corner on 3rd, and the Fat Black Pussycat just upstairs. So many greats have earned and continue to earn their chops here. The staff all appreciate comedy and are fans themselves, as well as fantastic drinking buddies (when they’re off the clock, of course). The shows are electric. If scientists ever figure out how to convert laughter into clean, renewable energy, The Cellar would make a battery large enough to power all five boroughs.
Having just opened up their new location last year on 16th at Union Square, The Stand really stepped it up. The main room downstairs is beautiful. A perfect place to record an album, as I’m sure more and more comedians will be doing in years to come. The side room upstairs has a very “bar show” feel, which opens the door for more experimental sets. The staff here are top-notch. As a comedian, being able to do a set downstairs, then run upstairs and do another, then head right back down to do one more is a wonderful feeling. God, we are such self-centered lunatics. Which I suppose is what makes us interesting to watch.
New York Comedy Club
Basic name, not at all a basic club. The original location is up on 24th and 2nd. Very old-school room is full of new-school talent. A tiny gem in the back of an inconspicuous entryway, it’s a great place to catch up-and-comers and veterans alike. The new location, down on 4th and 2nd, is such a fantastic room. It’s larger than the original, but still intimate and the only club in the East Village.
But I only spend about half the year in New York, as I make my living performing on the road. Do I love it? Absolutely. Is it stressful? Uh-huh. Lonely? From time to time. Do I find myself drinking too much and sleeping even more? You know it. Do I sometimes wake up at 4:37 a.m. in a hotel room somewhere in Michigan and have to take a few seconds to remember where I am … before noticing that I also wet the bed? Only twice. Would I trade it for anything else? Fuuuuck no. I love it.
And a huge part of the reason is the following clubs. These are, in my opinion, the best comedy clubs in the country outside of New York or LA.
Acme Comedy Co.
Just a dream come true of a comedy club. The owner and I had dinner once, where he laid out his theory of running a comedy club, and I teared up a little. He REALLY gets stand-up and what is necessary to facilitate it in the best way possible. There is no food served in the showroom, and I know that may seem like a bummer to anyone who likes to watch live comedy while scarfing down a plate of chicken marsala, which makes you an amateur audience member. Because there’s no food in the showroom, there’s also no tables, so every seat is facing forward, theater-style (with smaller arm tables between the chairs for those sweet sweet alcoholic beverages). You’ve got the entire room’s full focus on you, so you best not waste it. The staff here is one of the best. It’s one of the longer runs (seven shows, Tuesday–Saturday) and they are more than willing to hang out and drive you around Minneapolis on their purple motorcycle (true story).
Comedy on State
This is a club where the moment you walk in, you feel like an extended family member. Because it’s a family-run business after all. And they are quite an exceptional family. The club was started by the dad in the ’90s and is now run by his two daughters, who have impeccable taste in stand-up. They care about who performs on their stage. They also do not serve food in the showroom. Every show feels like an event, as it often sells out no matter who the comedian is. THAT is amazing: A club that sells out on its own name because audiences know the quality of comedians will be that good! (The Comedy Cellar in New York and The Comedy Store in LA are the only other clubs I can think of that also manage that feat.) When you perform here, you dig deep and pull out your A++ game. The staff here? You guessed it: Awesome people (see a pattern emerging?). And Madison is one of my favorite cities in the country to get D-R-U-N-K-A-F. Also, hands down, unequivocally, the absolute best green room in comedy.
Speaking of green rooms, in the green room of this magical cave in the hills of Blue Ash is a sign that reads, “To the host: Don’t ask if anybody is celebrating anything. We don’t give a shit.” Fucking Gospel. Now, you may think that’s a bit harsh, but if you’re a comedian or fan of comedy, you’re out of your mind. That sign isn’t a dig at the audience. It isn’t saying, “Fuck the audience,” either. It’s frankly saying, “Stand-up is not about the audience, it’s about the stand-up.” And that is why I say, “Fucking Gospel.”
When the show becomes about one group in the audience, it severely limits what’s possible on stage, which is what the rest of the audience paid to see. Go Bananas not only prides itself on the local comedians, but it is also in many ways run by the local comedians. There is a passion and love permeating in that club that engulfs the audience, too, leading to—some nights— comedic elation. And you’ll never find a more unique island of commerce (four Asian restaurants, a wonderful dive bar and the club itself) in the middle of the woods than where Go Bananas resides. Which is part of the reason it’s so special: It’s a destination. One you won’t want to leave … till around 2:30 a.m. when they legally have to stop giving you booze.
(DOWNTOWN) DENVER, CO
An amazing comedy club in an amazing city. This place will knock your socks off, then replace them with a nicer pair after it gives you a full pedicure. The showroom is designed in a way where every joke finds its way clearly into every eardrum in the room, and each laugh booms like the roar of a very high lion. I swear the place is aerodynamically designed for comedy. They do the audience a huge favor by locking away phones in bags. I know, that stresses you out just reading it. Well it shouldn’t, because:
- Your shit should be in airplane mode anyway, thus unable to receive calls.
- If your phone vibrates and you need to answer it, you can step out of the showroom and they’ll quickly unlock the bag so you can answer.
- You’ll enjoy the show more not having to think about or tinker with your phone at all.
- We can perform a bit more freely knowing some jagoff isn’t filming our set to post without our permission. (The Comedy Cellar also bags up phones.)
Comedy Works is to stand-up what the Rockies are to skiing/tumbling down a blue run because you were going way too fast for someone who only snowboards for five days every other year.
Most clubs put comedians up in a hotel. Comedy Works is one of the handful that put you up in a condo they own. In my experience, there are only three nice condos in comedy, and the Comedy Works condo takes the cake. I’d move in full-time tomorrow. It’s reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ adult apartment in Big.
P.S. And per usual, the staff are Jedi-level cool.
On paper, this club would seem decent at best. It’s in a strip mall 15 minutes outside of downtown Austin. The showroom is huge with high ceilings, and the audience sits at long, cafeteria-style tables. Despite all this, Cap City is just plain awesome. It’s the one club that doesn’t need the perfect set-up because the people of Austin make it so great. Some major-league comedy fans in that city. When the club can trust the audience to hold up their end of the bargain, you get a functional relationship between them and the comedians. And it has the largest stage of any club in the country. You may think that it wouldn’t matter if the comedian has a deadpan delivery or is low energy, but believe me, it does. That stage challenges you to use it all, and it makes for a more involved performance.
To fans of stand-up, the comedy club is a special place.
SALT LAKE CITY, UT
Wait, how can a comedy club be good in a city known primarily for being under the rule of Mormons? Same reason a Broadway musical about Mormons could be so hilarious. Salt Lake City is just that, a CITY. There are tons of rational-minded people looking to laugh at the human condition and Wiseguys is their church. The owner did stand-up for years and really gets every aspect of the craft. He’s built a temple for comedians. It’s a holy ground of hilarity.
If you could model every club in the world after one club, it would be this one. It’s a flawlessly designed comedy club. Perfect-size room. Grand without being vacuous and intimate without being tiny. A recessed stage that acts as a natural speaker. And a calendar full of the top names in comedy. Also, they pay attention to the little things. The green room leads right onto the stage, which is a huge deal for me personally. (This is also the case at Acme. The owners of these clubs are in cahoots and clearly share ideas.) Sometimes after a 45-minute set (or longer) I just need a few minutes to myself. Especially if I just ate shit, but even more so if I just killed it. Having a green room I can immediately retreat to from the stage is huge. I can take a few minutes to slap the mounting insecurities out of my rosacea-rife cheeks before rolling out into the bar area to greet the handful of fans who weren’t completely weirded out by my ramblings.
If Rudy Ruettiger were a comedy club … well, actually that’s a bad analogy because he sucked at football and Dead Crow is magnificent at being a comedy club. It’s the perpetual underdog though, and truthfully let’s hope it stays that way. It’s better to be underrated and striving than overrated and boring. Nestled in the quaint Wilmington downtown, this place truly is the wardrobe leading to Comedy Narnia.
Zanies in Nashville is what I imagine the Double Deuce in Road House was like the day after they shotgunned Brad Wesley. It has that almost Wild West saloon vibe, in an alternate reality where everyone slings jokes instead of peacemakers. Zanies holds its own as the comedy club in The Music City. Also, the second-best condo in comedy.
Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase
ANN ARBOR, MI
This place feels less like a comedy club and more like an underground fight club where we comedians do battle with our demons for the enjoyment of the highly intelligent denizens of Ann Arbor. The seating area is even layered like an indoor amphitheater, and while on stage, you feel like a gladiator of glee. The Ann Arbor comedy showcase is designed to give the comedian full dominion and confidence over the audience, and you know if you fire off a stinker like “gladiator of glee” the audience will stay with you, trusting you to make it up to them.
This is the sister … I mean, non-binary fraternal twin club of Helium in Philadelphia. The Portland club is a bit larger but maintains that same attention to detail. The Helium clubs all have a mural of the city they’re in painted on the stage wall, and Portland is my favorite. I don’t remember exactly why at the moment, probably because every time I’m in Portland I find myself cerebellum-deep in local IPA, but I just know it’s my favorite mural. Go see why for yourself!
I mean, how can you not like this place? It’s a tiny, hole-in-the-wall club in Old Town Chicago, and it’s a pure slaughterhouse (metaphorically). Also, the third-best condo in comedy.
The Secret Group
A stand-up comedy venue founded by stand-up comedians? What could go wrong there? Absolutely nothing, for starters. This place pumps out great shows. If The Houston Improv is the better known, more successful club in town, then The Secret Group is the Solange of comedy clubs.
The name says it all. This place is pure comedic independence. It’s the kind of venue where anything funny can and does happen. It’s percolating with excitement, onstage and in the audience.