In just a decade, Atlanta has gone from having one go-to comedy club to over 30 open mic nights in dozens of venues. The Punchline was once the city’s only place to get a good laugh. Now, comedy buffs not only have a laundry list of Atlanta comedy clubs to choose from, but they can also pick what kind of comedy they prefer—big-name standup, open mic nights, improvisational theater (improv) or scripted comedy shows. And these shows aren’t just reserved for comedy clubs. Bars, music venues and even individuals began incorporating comedy acts into their schedules within the past decade.
In those 10 years, Star Bar began its well-respected open mic nights on Mondays, while Relapse Theatre (no longer in operation) hosted open mic nights for comedians on Thursdays. And with more opportunity to practice their craft, more comedians began sprouting, creating higher demand for full-blown comedy theaters as well as weekly shows.
So, what catalyzed the industry’s sudden, exponential growth? Ask around and you’ll usually get the same answer—the opening of Laughing Skull Lounge. There was something about a local comedian making the decision to start his own venue in the spirit of collaboration that caused the first domino to tumble. The rest was history as comedians began working together, critiquing each other’s work and pushing for one another’s success.
The result? Well, it’s still developing. Somehow, the comedy scene has managed to become Atlanta’s best-kept secret, even as massive headliners grace the city’s many stages each month; even as the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival draws over 70 of the nation’s most talented up-and-coming comedians (and bookers from cable’s top-billed talk and TV shows); and even as the city earns buzz as the nation’s next improv mecca coming up on Chicago’s wind-blown coattails. Somehow, Atlanta’s best-kept secret is also its most uproarious industry in which outrageous impresarios aim to make their audiences cry.
It’s time to let you in on the secret. These five venues, encompassing everything from comedy clubs to local bars to theater groups, are the stars of Atlanta’s neverending variety show. At these establishments, you can expect to find the city’s most talented funnymen and funnywomen who go to great lengths all for the same reason—to make you laugh.
This venue has hosted more than 10,000 shows since opening in 1982, making it Atlanta’s longest-running comedy club. In April, the club will move from its original showroom to a new space that’s still yet to be determined. For fans of standup, this may just be the best time to catch a show. Throughout March, this legendary comedy club—often cited as one of the top 10 in the U.S.—is hosting a slew of special events, including an impressive lineup of comedians like Colin Quinn (March 13-14), Billy Gardell (March 20-21) and Demetri Martin (March 27-29).
Atlanta (Buckhead) Improv
This national chain is a go-to for comedy lovers throughout the country. Expect to find a similar experience at this location as you may have had in cities like Miami, Florida, and New York City. The Improv’s lineup is jam-packed with big-name acts—like Pauly Shore (March 5-7) and Gilbert Gottfried (March 12-14)—thanks to the brand’s longstanding reputation in comedy. A full dinner and drink menu is offered, although you’ll enjoy a better meal and craft cocktails in one of the neighboring Buckhead restaurants. We recommend dining at the new Shake Shack around the corner and catching a show at the Improv.
Laughing Skull Lounge
Marshall Chiles opened this 80-seat theater in 2007. Within six months of opening, Laughing Skull had already become the setting for a Comedy Central special. Five years later, almost every major name in comedy has graced the quaint stage, which is now Atlanta’s most sought-after venue for standup. This small-yet-mighty comedy club is behind The Vortex, known for its nearly cardiac arrest-inducing burgers. We recommend arriving early to enjoy dinner at The Vortex before belly laughing into the night at Laughing Skull. Don’t miss the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival (March 25-29).
Dad’s Garage Theatre Company
A departure from the aforementioned comedy clubs, Dad’s Garage sets its stage for improvisational theatre with a few original, scripted productions sprinkled in. At this beloved Atlanta staple, you’ll find the most professional improv shows in Atlanta performed by a group of extraordinary comedic actors. In fact, when the company lost its home in 2013, it held a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a new location. The 501(c)3 ended up running what is now considered the most successful live theatre campaign in Kickstarter history thanks to over 1,200 donors (representing over half of the U.S. and seven different countries). This month, catch a riotous improv show like “Extreme Elimination Improv Challenge” on Thursdays and “TheatreSports Tournament” most Fridays and Saturdays, or opt for the scripted “Battle Space Wars” (March 5-7). Dad’s Garage temporarily performs at the equally fun 7 Stages Theatre, but will move to its new, permanent home (a former church) next year. Don’t miss BaconFest, a swine-filled fundraiser for the theater company.
Star Community Bar
On Monday nights, this live music venue and bar (known locally as “Star Bar”) becomes one of the city’s best comedy clubs. The free “Rotknee Presents Monday Nite Comedy” show features 16 local acts whose wicked humor fits right in with the ultra-eclectic Little Five Points neighborhood. Every other night of the week, Star Bar is known for its community rock-and-roll scene. Did we mention there’s also a great jukebox and even a small shrine dedicated to Elvis?