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The Humor Code’s Five Best Comedy Clubs In The US

April 1, 2014 6:00 AM

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

 Dr. Peter McGraw is a marketing and psychology professor and an expert in the interdisciplinary fields of emotion and behavioral decision theory. He conducts experiments with the help of his team at the Humor Research Lab. Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword, and has also written for Wired, Bloomberg, Businessweek, Slate, and more. His work has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards, among others. Together, Pete and Joel are the authors of THE HUMOR CODE: A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny, which was recently published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS.

comedy club The Humor Code’s Five Best Comedy Clubs In The US

Photo Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

While traveling the world exploring the science of what makes things funny, we stumbled on an important question: What makes a good comedy club? According to many of the comics we interviewed, a “good room” is one that’s dimly lit, densely packed, with hard chairs, low ceilings, a red curtain, and nothing at all that’s blue.Such ideas might sound like superstitions, the sort of preferences and illusions developed from years on the road. But according to behavioral science, these comics might be on to something. For one thing, experiments have shown that people exposed to warm color schemes, especially those with red, are more likely to become aroused and excited, while cool colors like blue are calming and sedative. And the last thing you want of a comedy audience is everybody feeling relaxed and sleepy – which is why those uncomfortable chairs could come in handy, too.

Plus, the darkened clubs preferred by comics might help their audience feel more concealed and therefore less inhibited in what they’re willing to laugh at. In experiments, people in poorly lit rooms and wearing sunglasses were more likely to do devious things because they felt anonymous. Being packed into a comedy club might have the same disinhibiting effect. When people are in large groups, researchers found they were more likely to do embarrassing things such as act like monkeys, make rude noises, and suck on baby bottles. The low ceiling could have the added effect of spreading the laughter through the room by bouncing the sound back to the audience. The two-drink minimum purchase required by a lot of clubs? That surely helps loosen people up, too.

Using this time-tested and scientifically corroborated criteria, here are some of the best comedy clubs nationwide, as judged by those who know them most.

The Comedy Cellar
117 Macdougal St., New York, NY 10012
(212) 254-3480
www.comedycellar.com

There’s a reason Jerry Seinfeld’s documentary Comedian take place at the Comedy Cellar, and why Louis CK’s hit FX show Louie begins with CK walking into this club. This tiny, subterranean place is legendary. “I know the Comedy Cellar is a great club by the fact I’ve never performed there,” cracks comic Ben Kronberg. “I’ve lived in NYC for 4 years and been doing comedy for 11 and have appeared on two late night shows, and have my own half hour on Comedy Central all while having an agent at big company that couldn’t even get me in. I think it must be the pinnacle of performing comedy in that Cellar.”

RelatedThe 5 Best Places To See Stand-Up Comedy in NYC

The Ice House
24 N Mentor Ave., Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 577-1894
www.icehousecomedy.com

According to Jordan Brady, a comedian turned director whose cult 2010 documentary I Am Comic explored comedy-club designs, “A great club experience is best served dark and intimate.” That’s why he raves about the Ice House in Pasadena. “It’s a dank, lackluster, no-frills venue where the comedian can almost touch the ceiling,” he says. “Awesome laughs that ricochet around and infect the crowd.”

Comedy Works
1226 15th St., Denver, 80202
(303) 595-3637
www.comedyworks.com

Denver comic Adam Cayton-Holland isn’t just a fan of Comedy Works because of hometown pride; he’s performed all over the country, so he knows Comedy Works ranks among the best anywhere. “Comedy Works does right what so many clubs do wrong: a dark room with a low ceiling where the people are packed in tightly together, ready for a communal experience,” he says. “Something about that small, almost-cramped space creates the feeling that we’re all in this together. Couple that with an awesome staff who are quick and unobtrusive and quick to silence a moron and you’ve got yourself a great club.”

Zanies Comedy Club
1548 N Wells St., Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 337-4027
www.chicago.zanies.com

Zanies’ long and skinny room, which can seat 175 when bursting at the seams, “Looks like a hallway on steroids,” says comic Chad Daniels—and that’s why he likes it.Because of its depth,” the laughter seems to get a running start from the back, picking up strength as it moves towards the stage,” says Daniels—who adds that the environment can have the opposite effect, too: “I was once booed so badly there I could feel my hair moving.”

RelatedChicago’s Best Nightlife Spots For The Under 21 Crowd

Comedy Club on State
202 State St., Madison, WI 53703
(608) 256-0099
www.madisoncomedy.com

Madison’s Comedy Club On State may be the best comedy club in the country, declares LA comic Shane Mauss. “It does a lot of things right,” he says. “It has low ceilings for the laughs to bounce off of; it’s a nice size, probably around 300 seats; it’s in a basement; and has kind of a hip and classy feel to it.” Plus, adds Mauss, it’s in a killer location, right in the city’s social center. “They get a good mix of tourists, locals, and college kids,” says Mauss. “The audiences are a rare mix of both intelligent and energetic, so they are bright and get everything and at the same time, almost over the top with their enthusiasm.”

Does your favorite local stand-up club rank among the best? Tell us which comedy rooms we’ve missed.

Dr. Peter McGraw is a marketing and psychology professor and an expert in the interdisciplinary fields of emotion and behavioral decision theory. He conducts experiments with the help of his team at the Humor Research Lab. Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword, and has also written for Wired, Bloomberg, Businessweek, Slate, and more. His work has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards, among others. Together, Pete and Joel are the authors of THE HUMOR CODE: A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny, which was recently published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS.

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