Best Comedy Empire

Underground Comedy
Photograph by Charles Steck

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” According to the old vaudeville joke, “Practice, practice, practice.” The punchline holds true for comedians, and a local comedy scene isn’t worth its salt if there aren’t shows where stand-ups can find their voices and sharpen their acts.

Luckily, D.C. has Underground Comedy, an independent production company run by comedian-promoter Sean Joyce that hosts shows at a variety of venues six nights a week and just wrapped up its second Underground Comedy Fest. Most shows are free, whether at bars with longstanding comedy calendars like Wonderland Ballroom or new spots like Petworth’s Slash Run. UC has also carved out a semi-permanent home in the dark, brick-walled basement of the Big Hunt.

The Big Hunt hosts up-and-coming locals four nights a week, and patrons can catch touring comics like Weekend Update anchor Michael Che, ex-D.C. resident Rory Scovel, and 2 Dope Queens podcaster and author Phoebe Robinson on Fridays and Saturdays. And word of Underground Comedy shows is making its way through the stand-up grapevine: Kevin Hart featured the Big Hunt on an episode of Comedy Central’s Hart of the City, and headliners like Louis C.K. and Patton Oswalt have dropped in for surprise sets at Big Hunt and Wonderland. C.K. and Oswalt know a thing or two about getting to Carnegie Hall—they’ve both sold it out—and they wouldn’t have gotten there without countless hours at open mics and free shows.

For a region that has produced not just Oswalt but also Dave Chappelle, Martin Lawrence, Wanda Sykes, and Mike Birbiglia, Underground Comedy is the perfect platform for comics who won’t be underground for long.