Things to do in San Francisco

San Francisco Comedy Clubs

San Francisco’s comedy clubs are temples of wit. Irreverent comedians push boundaries, blend raw humor with satire, and invoke pure delight.

Down on the West Coast, one of the best things to do in San Francisco is visit a comedy club where laughter is heard around the clock. The city at night is a diverse canvas at the cutting edge of culture. Worldwide influences mix, and people with stratospheric ideas connect and question the status quo.

Innovation and intelligence drive local comic talent and audiences, resulting in edgy, smart humor that reflects SF’s techy vibes. Places like North Beach are communities for comedians, and San Fran is a comedy capital. It's full of venues where amazing comedians, such as Robin Williams and Dana Carvey, cut their teeth.

Which of these awesome comedy clubs in San Francisco has the best banter? Find out for yourself.

Variety and Stand-Up Comedy in San Francisco

Ah, stand-up comedy. It’s like watching your favorite musician perform in an intimate setting with nothing but an acoustic guitar. Raw, personal, and intense. It relies on one person’s charisma and timing to strike a chord and hit the right notes.

The jokes, punch lines, and rhythm have to flow like a lyrical melody, create tension, and then offer a release at just the right moment.

A variety show, on the other hand, is like watching a symphony orchestra. There’s an ensemble of different acts with distinct talents, coming together to create a rich, intricate, captivating piece. In a night of entertainment like no other, you see each act play their unique tune and experience how the sinfonietta comes together as a whole.

Lose yourself in hilarity at one of the best variety and stand-up comedy clubs in SF.

1. Cheaper Than Therapy

Laughter is the best medicine at Cheaper Than Therapy, located in the historic Shelton Theater on Union Square in the Bay Area. Founded by purveyors of puns, Scott Simpson, Eloisa Bravo, and Jon Allen, it began as a comedy night at the Purple Onion back in 2013 and has been growing ever since.

With an official home, full-service bar, and no drink minimum, you can escape here to get merry five nights a week and witness comedians deliver work-in-progress sets or classic material.

Leave your cares and worries at the door for an unforgettable evening of fun and folly. Enjoy storytelling, silliness, and satire from the likes of Michael Che, Emma Willmann, and Laurie Kilmartin.

Photographer: Michael Discenza

2. Cobb's Comedy Club

Once a hard-rocking club in North Beach and still shining with old-school charm, Cobb’s Comedy Club is a 400-seat comedy club in San Francisco.

Seating is never assigned, so to get a good seat, you’ll need to head down early. This is especially important for large groups looking to share an evening of laughter, food, and drinks.

Locals love this intimate venue for its cozy pub bar restaurant menu almost as much as its status as a magnet for awesome comedians. Dana Carvey, Dave Attell, Russel Peters, Ryan Sickler, and Anjelah Johnson are a few examples of headline acts who’ve graced the Cobb Comedy Club stage.

That said, it’s not just stand-ups who set the atmosphere alight here. You’ll find everything from drag brunches and comedy acts to open mic nights and award-winning theatrical improv at this variety club.

3. The Punch Line SF

Head down to the Financial District in San Fran to see talented and up-and-coming comedians at the intimate venue, the Punch Line.

This amazing venue has seen sets from icons like Chris Rock, Ellen Degeneres, Margaret Cho, and Robin Williams. This SF stand-up comedy powerhouse boasts excellent service, and the two-drink minimum includes soft drinks.

We love coming here to get up close and personal with comedy’s biggest names as we wind down after a night of enchanting captivated audiences. Maybe we’ll catch you there sometime!

4. Safe Word Queer Comedy Showcase

Wonder Dave is the awesome host of Safe Word Queer Comedy Showcase. This sanctuary for queer audiences and acts is embedded in the heart of SF’s leather and LGBTQ district.

Join this subversive bunch for an evening of thrills on the last Wednesday of every month, and hear enough quips and puns to make your belly ache with laughter.

If you’re looking for affordable comedy in San Fran, you’ve struck gold — Safe Word operates a "pay what you can" policy.

Previous headliners include Chelsea Bearce, Emily Van Dyke, Michael Foulk, and local Marga Gomez, who SF legend Robin Williams referred to as the "Lesbian Lenny Bruce." What’s more, attending a Safe Word show is more than a rip-roaring good time. When attending one of these shows, you support queer artists.

Photographer: Erin With

Magic and Illusion Shows in SF

San Francisco is a beautiful city, where mist and fog flirt with the skyline, the streets whisper tales of sorcery, and stages serve as portals to other worlds. Witness illusions that shimmer like specters, conjured by real-life wizards seeking to enchant you with unforgettable spectacles.

5. San Francisco Magic Theater at the Marrakech Magic Theater

Let the architects of illusion at the San Francisco Magic Theater whisk you away from the ordinary and transport you into a dream world. Surrender to Jay Alexander’s extraordinary magic-meets-comedy performance at one of the most fun nights in town.

Jay bewitched Bono and the Rolling Stones with his mystical mind-reading, card tricks, and number games. We can’t even wrap our heads around his feats of magic and mentalism.

Arrive early, and you might even be treated to a personal show at your table as you sample the Moroccan-inspired cuisine at this former speakeasy.

San Francisco Improvisational Comedy

Seeking spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime events filled with fun and frolics? Join the ambassadors of amusement at San Fran’s improv comedy clubs, and cut loose as they spin off-the-cuff yarns and weave webs of wit straight off the dome.

Audience interaction is encouraged as you and the actors exchange energy and co-create awe and delight out of thin air. We’re firm believers in making each night unique, dynamic, and special when we perform feats of acrobatics, dance, music, and showmanship.

Every crowd is entirely different, so every show should deliver something exclusive and memorable!

6. Secret Improv Society

Friday and Saturday nights, the Secret Improv Society rolls with the punches at the cozy Shelton Theater. At this awesome venue, the chance of audience callouts is practically 100% — as each sketch and joke is inspired by you and your fellow attendees.

The quirky actors are warm and ultra-sharp, and the show is polished after two decades, so you’re guaranteed an awesome comedy club experience.

Get your giggle on as comedy skits, stories, songs, and entire scenes unfold before your eyes at one of Secret Improv Society’s award-winning theatrical improv comedy shows.

Photographer: Lee Soo Hyun

7. The Setup Speakeasy

The Setup Speakeasy is a beautiful venue set in a dimly lit basement with exposed brick walls and no tables — just audience members on stools gathered around the intimate stage. Here, amazing comedians with comedy specials on Netflix and Comedy Central showcase their latest material and try out improvised routines.

To locate the Setup’s entrance, mosey on through a secret entryway at the Sam Lee Laundry on the left side of China Live.

Theatrical Comedy in San Francisco

In SF, you’ll find cozy theaters, black box theaters, arts theaters, and every type of theater in between. Each one can be a breathtaking setting for the harbingers of hilarity, who regularly regale San Fran audiences with their talent for stagecraft, laughter, and theatrical flair.

At theatrical comedy shows, the costumes and makeup are as important as the characters, plots, and punch lines. It’s like watching your favorite sitcom unfold before your very eyes, with all the drama and irreverent storytelling you could dream of.

Once you’ve laughed and rolled on the floor, why not check out a different type of entertainment? Like karaoke in San Francisco, these venues are havens of musical talent.

8. Neck of the Woods

Neck of the Woods might be best known as a music venue and nightclub that’s hosted the likes of Etta James and Metallica, but it’s also a stalwart for comedic entertainment.

Every Sunday is HellaFunny Sunday, when the hottest hand-picked local talent tease, taunt, and tickle crowds, while Wednesday is open-mic night, open to musicians, comedians, rappers, and magicians. Every New Year’s Eve, you can pop in for a comedy show followed by champagne and dancing — sounds like a match made in heaven!

9. Milk Bar

Walk into Milk Bar, located at the entrance to Golden Gate Park, and you’ll instantly realize why locals call this a San Francisco hotspot for new talent.

With a vibe that isn’t unlike the Comedy Store in LA and a reputation for attracting world-famous musicians and comedians, it’s a must-visit for all connoisseurs of comedy. Seating is general admission only, and comedy events typically have a two-drink minimum.

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10. Killing My Lobster

Killing My Lobster is a raucous troupe of entertainers specializing in sketch comedy since 1997. Smile seekers, enter this chuckle chamber to escape your worries and get immersed in pure joy as these masters of their craft surprise and delight you with perfectly timed sketches.

KML embraces diversity, with a mission to make “fast, smart, inclusive, and fearless sketch comedy that makes people laugh.” Come for a show, class, or event, and experience the kookiness personally.

11. Shelton Theater

The Shelton family, and Jean Shelton especially, are local legends of San Francisco, and this theater is just one of their legacies.

Many comedians have graced the Shelton Theater’s stage, and numerous big names have risen up through the ranks of Shelton Studio’s famously grueling acting school, including Danny Glover, Francis Ford Coppola, and Tommy Wiseau.

This dazzling venue is home to Cheaper Than Therapy, Secret Improv Society, and regular one-off comedy nights throughout the year. Budding performers can try a beginners’ acting class — who knows, maybe you’ll be the next Robin Williams?

12. The Palace Theater

The Palace Theater is North Beach’s best-kept secret, but that’s not stopping us from sharing this gorgeous theater with as many people as possible.

With special events, weekly comedy from The Setup, and an immersive speakeasy experience, starring flappers, gangsters, and bootleggers, it’s a wonderfully zany location for date night or a group night out in San Francisco.

You won’t find white tablecloths, but there are bar tables and couples tables, and the venue is delightfully intimate and romantic.

13. Comedy on the Square

Vaudeville extraordinaire, Fred Anderson’s Comedy on the Square was born after a trip to the biggest comedy event of the year, The Edinburgh Festival. Inspired by the Fringe’s edgy DIY energy, he set an intention to keep that spirit alive year-round in San Francisco by showcasing the best of comedy, art, improv, and sorcery at this adorable venue.

Performances that were born here have gone on to wow crowds at global festivals, including Edinburgh, Prague, Montreal, and more.

14. Polite Chuckle Comedy

Polite Chuckle Comedy goes to painstaking lengths to bring you the very best in up-and-coming San Fran comedic talent — and the results are sidesplitting. The producers are art-loving comics with a passion for showcasing the funniest, most frivolous shows, making it abundantly clear how much they adore attending comedy shows themselves.

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Why San Francisco's Comedy Clubs Are a Must-Visit

Get your fill of famous comedians and tomorrow’s superstars at one of San Francisco’s comedy clubs, where crowds leave spellbound and relaxed every night. As a melting pot of different styles, perspectives, and values, the Bay Area has a distinctive energy that breeds some seriously killer comedy.

The scene is diverse, with classic joints, such as Cobb’s Comedy Club and Punch Line, side-by-side with grassroots spots where up-and-comers fine-tune their funny.

At first glance, a comedy show might seem worlds apart from what we do. They’re all about punch lines and laughs, while we perform jaw-dropping stunts and otherworldly visual spectacles. However, we both serve up the finest live performances, create a provocative and evocative atmosphere, and draw audiences into our worlds.

We understand that art has the power to inspire, invoke, and amaze — stirring feelings of nostalgia, excitement, and opening minds. Jump headfirst into a whimsical adventure of color, music, and superhuman feats in one of our shows in San Francisco.

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