The Complete Guide to the Comedy Scene in San Francisco
The first thing you’ll notice about the comedy scene in San Francisco is that it’s as diverse as the city’s population and unique neighborhoods.
San Francisco is where you’ll find a wide range of comedic styles and cultural backgrounds. On any given night of the week, there are comedians running through funny monologues, doing stand-up, or performing laugh-out-loud improv all over the city.
There’s an “anything goes” mentality and self-deprecating quirkiness in San Francisco that makes the comedy here that much more relatable and enjoyable. It’s a combination that truly makes San Francisco comedy one-of-a-kind.
With so many different types of comedians and comedy clubs in San Francisco, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the number of options for a hilarious night out in the city. Because of this, we decided to put together a guide to give you the full rundown of everything to know about comedy in San Francisco, all in one place.
In this detailed guide, you’ll learn the best places to see the different types of comedy in San Francisco, and how taking in or participating in the comedy scene of the city is just one of the unique things to do in San Francisco at night.
The History of Comedy in San Francisco
The start of good comedy in San Francisco goes back to just before the Summer of Love in 1967. Chicago comedians started moving to San Francisco to test out more politically-angled jokes and skits in a city that was all about open-mindedness and political discourse.
Several talented Chicago comedians ended up staying in the city for close to a decade. They helped set up San Francisco as a major player in the national comedy scene.
The US had never seen comedy like what was coming out of San Francisco in the 1960s. The jokes were politically and culturally charged and even pushed into a new area of comedy – improv and audience participation. Since the 1960s, the comedy scene in San Francisco has only become more popular and world-renowned, on par with Chicago and New York City.
The city is known as the place to experiment with new jokes and new styles of comedy. San Francisco has helped some of the world’s most famous comedians get their start in comedy.
Comedians like Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Margaret Cho, and Ali Wong all got their start in San Francisco, and the city continues to nurture up-and-coming comedians every year.
Dylan’s Comedy Bus Tour
One of the best ways to experience stand-up comedy in San Francisco is to hop on Dylan’s Comedy Bus Tour.
Bring your own drinks and be whisked away to explore the city at night while listening to hilarious stand-up from a local comedian.
This tour is an ideal introduction to the San Francisco comedy scene and a funny way to learn more about San Francisco’s culture and history from a comedian. If you’re looking for a break from the usual comedy venues and a reason to explore how beautiful San Francisco can be at night, this tour is a great option.
Punch Line SF
- What to Know Before You Go: two-drink minimum at shows and they have a full dinner and drinks menu.
- Address: 444 Battery Street
- Price of shows: $20-$40
The most popular comedy club in San Francisco, Punch Line SF is the city’s oldest running comedy club. Along with Cobb’s Comedy Club, this is where most of the big-name comics perform when visiting San Francisco.
Most notably, the Punch Line is a popular hangout and performance spot for Dave Chappelle, who has been telling jokes here since the early 1990s. Robin Williams also used to be a regular performer, as well as Dana Carvey, Jerry Seinfeld, and Margaret Cho.
This is the San Francisco comedy club to visit If you’re looking to see international acts in a relatively intimate setting (their capacity is 182 people).
One thing to note is that Punch Line isn’t just unique to San Francisco, even if it’s an iconic comedy venue in the city. It’s a national chain, with locations in Sacramento and Philadelphia as well. Their sister comedy club is San Francisco’s other most popular comedy venue, Cobb’s Comedy Club.
Cobb’s Comedy Club
- What to Know Before You Go: Two-drink minimum and full dinner and drinks menu. Open Wednesday through Sunday.
- Address: 915 Columbus Avenue
- Price of shows: $20-$50
The sister comedy club to the Punch Line SF, Cobb’s Comedy Club is another staple in the San Francisco comedy scene that has been around since 1982. Whereas the Punch Line features big-name headliners in a relatively intimate setting, Cobb’s Comedy Club hosts famous acts but in a much larger venue (its capacity is 400).
Located in the North Beach neighborhood, Cobb’s Comedy Club is one of the best spots to visit if you want to see a comedy show with a larger group. It’s also ideal if you prefer seeing comedy in larger venues where there’s less of a chance of audience callouts and participation.
At Cobb’s, you can see a variety of different types of shows – from traditional stand-up to drag queen brunches, and open mic nights. Famous comedians who have performed here include Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Dave Attell, and Dave Chappelle.
Cheaper Than Therapy
- What to Know Before You Go: No drink minimum for shows, full bar, and open Thursday through Sunday.
- Address: 533 Sutter Street
- Price of shows: $20-$25
Located at the historic Shelton Theater and right in the heart of the city next to Union Square, Cheaper Than Therapy is a convenient spot to see quality live stand-up in San Francisco.
This intimate comedy venue is one of the best spots for a hilarious date night in San Francisco and doesn’t break the bank with ticket prices hovering around $20. It’s not unusual for the comics to interact with the audience and throw a little improv into their practiced set.
Their shows are usually 70-90 minutes and feature a handful of comics who perform for 15-20 minutes each. This means there’s a lot of energy and different styles of jokes to go around.
Cheaper Than Therapy is one of the more popular local comedy venues in San Francisco, so it’s best to get your tickets in advance. Tickets tend to sell out at least a couple of days before shows.
- What to Know Before You Go: Shows are Friday through Sunday, limited bar and snack menu, no drink minimum.
- Address: Landmark Building B, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture
- Price of shows: $20-$40
BATS Improv, also known as Bay Area Theatresports, is the longest-running improv show in San Francisco. Since 1986, this non-profit theater company has been an iconic part of the West Coast improv scene and the most well-known improv schools in Northern California.
This is all to say that their improv shows are not to be missed, they offer up a lot of quality Bay Area comedic talent.
BATS Improv features both short-form and long-form weekend shows at the historic Fort Mason Center. Their short-form shows are fast-paced and include more audience interaction, while their long-form shows focus on improv that has more narrative and character development.
If you’re looking to experience improv in San Francisco, BATS Improv is one of the originals and a good option to start with.
Secret Improv Society
- What to Know Before You Go: Full bar and no drink minimum.
- Address: 533 Sutter Street
- Price of shows: $15-$25
Located at the same venue as Cheaper Than Therapy, Secret Improv Society features late-night comedy in the form of weekend shows and a good dose of audience participation.
This is one of the best spots for improv in San Francisco, with award-winning theatrical improv comedy and song shows that go for about an hour. Plus, they’re known for giving out free Oreos to the audience.
The shows at Secret Improv Society resemble an episode from “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and the comedians have a talent for taking even the most mundane audience recommendations and turning them into hilarious skits.
Because it’s a small venue, it’s recommended to buy your tickets in advance. It’s not uncommon for shows to sell out.
And as a bonus, if you’ve ever wanted to learn improv, Secret Improv Society offers free drop-in improv classes on the last Wednesday of every month at 8 pm at St. Cyprian Church.
Moment Improv Theatre
- What to Know Before You Go: Limited drinks menu for shows and shows only happen once a month.
- Address: 533 Sutter Street
- Price of shows: $10-$15
Although Moment Improv is best known for their improv school, they also offer monthly improv comedy shows at the Shelton Theater.
They have some of the least expensive improv shows in San Francisco, starting at around $10, and their one-hour shows offer up a good introduction to improv comedy in the Bay Area.
For anyone interested in learning improv in a beginner setting, they also have Open Jams, which are two-hour improv jams that happen once a month for $5 per person.
- What to Know Before You Go: Full-service bar, good tap list, and cocktail menu. Open Monday through Saturday.
- Address: 144 Taylor Street
- Price of shows: $20-$50
If you’re looking for a diverse night of comedic entertainment, PianoFight is the place to go. At this venue, you’ll have access to two theaters that feature sketch comedy skits, cabaret, live music, and plays.
Combine a night of entertainment with a full-service bar, tasty cocktail menu, and a divey and laid back feel, and it’s easy to see why PianoFight is such a popular comedy destination in San Francisco.
Just make sure to arrive at least an hour before showtime if you want to eat dinner since the service can be slow and busy.
Marrakech Magic Theater
- What to Know Before You Go: Open Thursday through Sunday and full food and drinks menu available.
- Address: 419 O’Farrell Street
- Price of shows: $55-$70
Marrakech Magic Theater is one of the more unique comedy options in San Francisco. Shows are hosted by magician Jay Alexander, who puts on high energy performances of mentalism, magic, and comedy.
The historic Marrakech Magic Theater was once a San Francisco speakeasy in the 1920s, before being turned into the first Moroccan restaurant in the US. In 2017, Jay bought the building and turned it into the West African themed entertainment venue it is today.
Make sure to get to the show an hour early for dinner and drinks and a pre-show sleight-of-hand performance by Jay Alexander at your table.
- When: January
- Price: Varies by venue and performance, with some free performances throughout the festival.
San Francisco’s original comedy festival, SF Sketchfest was founded in 2001 as a way to showcase the best local Bay Area sketch comedy groups.
The festival has since transformed into a major American comedy festival that features some of the most popular comics in North America, as well as the best local up-and-coming comedians.
SF Sketchfest is a mix of sketch comedy, improv, stand-up, and alternative comedy acts that happen at different venues throughout San Francisco over a few weeks. Last year, there were 250 performers, including Margaret Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
SF Sketchfest also gives festival-goers the chance to interact with their favorite comics through panel discussions and small live performances.
- When: June
- Price: $99-$300
Clusterfest was only started in 2017, but it’s already making waves as a must-see comedy festival in San Francisco. Last year, there were appearances from popular comedians such as John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt, and Issa Rae, and each year the festival only seems to get bigger and better.
What makes Clusterfest unique compared to SF Sketchfest is that it’s a comedy festival that is formatted like a music festival. This means you buy passes for a 3-day festival where you have access to all the comics who perform on multiple stages throughout a long weekend.
In addition to plenty of stand-up comedy, there is also music, drag shows, and interactive experiences with TV comedy sets to enjoy at the festival.
Comedy Day in the Park
- When: September
- Price: Free
Comedy Day in the Park is the best free comedy festival in San Francisco. Running for five hours at Robin Williams Meadow in Golden Gate Park, this one-day festival features over 40 comedians and usually a surprise big-name comedian or two each year. Past surprise comedians have included Robin Williams, Dave Chappelle, and Ellen DeGeneres.