What’s not to love about laughing, being funny or about learning how to be funnier? I always say that one of my favorite sports is laughing, which is why I’ve taken many Improv classes (more about that later) and gone out to see loads of stand-up comedy. It takes the edge off and it’s one of the best remedies for the soul. And while LA is tough on actors, and on comedians for that matter, the comedy scene in Los Angeles sure has plenty to offer.
If you are a newly landed Canadian, British or Australian actor with a knack for comedy, or if you are curious about tapping into your own comedic talents, you’ll be happy to know that your new home (Los Angeles) is one of the best markets in which to explore comedy.
Los Angeles comedy clubs are bursting with activity and it’s surprisingly affordable to see a great show. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out to a comedy club and laughed my butt off for $20 for an entire night! You’ll have to buy water instead of drinks to stick to a budget, but I promise you’ll be plenty entertained.
What’s also pretty cool is that well-known comedians will stop by random venues to practice new material on a regular basis: I’ve seen Ali Wong, Dave Chapelle, Arsenio Hall, John Mulvaney, and many more pop up and perform an impromptu set in the tiniest of venues and on any random night. How cool is that?
The Comedy Scene in Los Angeles: Check Out Improv Shows & Training
All Improv schools in Los Angeles (see examples below) offer excellent and affordable comedy shows that can be seen on any night of the week.
As far as training goes, most schools have classes that are open to the public, as well as classes that can only be attended by auditioning (what schools refer to as their “core” programs). Most core programs consist of four or five levels, and their terms (levels) consist of eight classes spread over four or eight weeks. Most schools offer multi-day intensives as well. Since core programs involve auditioning to get in, as well as “passing” levels before moving up to other levels, Improv can be a pretty competitive sport. Also, the core programs in all schools lead to a sketch writing program. Here are the most renowned improv schools:
The Groundlings is considered the “Harvard” of Improv comedy. I’ve enrolled there myself and even Level I was a serious challenge. They are heavily focused on character creation and it did feel competitive from the get-go since you can only make it to the next level (Level II) if you show proficiency with their curriculum in Level I. I didn’t make it to Level II, but it sure was a hoot watching people in class. There are some incredibly talented individuals trying Improv at the Groundlings.
Unfortunately, there are only a couple classes you can attend without auditioning. They are fun but they provide very limited exposure to Improv and to their school. If you are serious about taking classes there, you’ll have to audition.
Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB) has more of a “street-kid” vibe but offers a well structured program nonetheless. I did notice that, overall, the students were slightly younger than at Groundlings (though there were still a couple oldies like me). No auditions are required to take the first level of classes, but students must be invited to move on to two more advanced levels. This school grew out of an Improv group in which Amy Poehler was a member.
I really enjoyed Level I there, probably because it felt more relaxed than Groundlings since we all knew we were moving on to Level II regardless of our individual proficiency levels. I also like that they trust their students enough to throw them in the ring right away; we had to do a live show at the end of our first term. Sure, it was nerve racking (I didn’t think I had the skills to pull it off) but it was a healthy kind of scary, and our group did well. I personally got a lot of confidence out of the experience.
Second City is my personal favorite. The school has a small branch in Los Angeles and students tend to be of all ages. What I love about this school is that they have many, many classes available to the public. In other words, there are many classes you can attend without auditioning and without needing to “pass” the levels before moving up (you still have to do classes in a certain order). I’m a slow learner, so I even took one of their levels twice without even worrying about it, so that was a big bonus for me (and I still got to participate in shows). That said, those public classes seem a little less structured than Groundlings and UCB classes. Having taken a few classes at SC, I would say that the quality of classes really depend on the teacher.
Still, there are many excellent classes including Musical Improv, which is a riot if you are musically inclined (and you don’t even need to play an instrument).
One musical show produced by Second City alumni that is worthy of note for Canadians is Canuck as Fuck. Just brilliant. Aside from being thoroughly entertained, Canadians will feel more at home knowing plenty of other Candians roam the streets of Los Angeles and produce great shows.
Beyond these schools, there are many smaller schools that run comedy sports and that are open to the public.
If you are new to Los Angeles, Improv classes are great places to make new friends. I found it common for students of classes that really gelled together to stay in touch after the terms were over. Some groups even manage to get together to practice their skills. So, if you are serious, you can certainly find a comedy gang to practice with. And if you are into creating comedic content, Improv is a pretty great way to find inspiration.
As far as how much acting work you can get once you have solid Improv training, I am of the opinion that to be a working actor in Los Angeles, you should study acting pretty seriously (theater training is ideal). Improv is great, but you may be limited in your overall skills if that’s all you can do.
That said, it is common practice these days to call upon Improv school alumni to attend commercial auditions, and it’s hard to deny the benefit of strong comedic skills in that kind of environment. If you are trained in Improv, and once you are doing more advanced Improv shows, you can certainly invite commercial agents to see your shows. Why not?
To learn more about Acting in Los Angeles, read Get Clever About VO Acting In Los Angeles Part I: The Business of Acting.
Enjoy Great Stand Up Comedy
Note that The Laugh Factory is quite a bit more expensive than other venues and given that the same comedians perform at all the venues, this jump in price rarely feels warranted.
If you don’t mind driving a few extra miles, the Comedy & Magic Club, Virgil, Dynasty Typewriter, Flappers, Ice House, Comedy Union, Tao Comedy Studio, and West Side Comedy Theater all have excellent lineups as well, and most have been a comedy home to celebrities at some point, and may even still be.
While many venues enforce a two drink minimum (beyond the entrance fee), bottled water counts for a drink, so you don’t have to spend a ton of money to familiarize yourself with the scene, have a good laugh, and find inspiration for your own material.
Try Stand Up Comedy
If you want to perform stand-up in a club, get ready to fill some seats (unless you are very well known). Unfortunately, for beginners, the scene is less about the quality of your act than it is about the number of people you can bring to your show, every single time you perform. If you bring many people, you will also get a better time slot on the nights you perform. If you don’t fill many seats during your shows, you’ll have difficulty getting on a bill anywhere.
Note that most comedy shows are produced by other comedians who are trying to expose their own material to your audience (and vice versa), this can make it extremely competitive. I’ve followed a few of my friend’s careers and stand-up in Los Angeles is a very tough business. It takes a steely determination and an army of friends to continually support you.
Test Your Skills at Open Mics (If You Dare!)
If you wanted to test your stand-up skills and materials, there is an Open Mic somewhere in Los Angeles every night of the week for you. To find them, take a look at this map.
Keep in mind that on Open Mic night, rooms are usually populated with other comics. While you won’t be building an audience there (not directly anyway), you could meet other comics who run their own comedy nights elsewhere. As we’ve discussed, most comedians who run their own nights are primarily interested in recruiting comedians who can bring in a crowd. In the end, comedy hosts and producers need to fill the seats of the venues they host their shows at. This is the only way these venues will allow them to return and host more comedy nights.
You can certainly go to Open Mics by yourself, but having friends support you on the nights you are performing may help you get on good comedy shows.
Find a Comedy Coach
As far as stand up comedy training, there are many coaches in Los Angeles who can help you home in on your material and style. Here are a few names to get your started:
As with any acting school, ask if you can audit. If you can’t, make sure you feel a connection to the coach you are working with. Comedy is subjective, so you’ll want someone who gets you and supports you.
Regardless of whether you are mildly interested or fully determined to make comedy part of your career, you won’t regret trying any or all of these suggestions. You can:
- See Improv shows produced by Improv schools;
- Enjoy affordable and excellent stand up comedy;
- Find an open mic that appeals to you; and if you’re game,
- Find a comedy coach
My name is Lili Wexu, I am a Canadian-American actress. I moved to Los Angeles some years ago and I’ve written a few e-books about acting in Los Angeles to help other actors who are considering relocating here (or have recently relocated).