New York’s Funniest Annual Comedy “Show” You’ve Never Heard Of, Plus Five Spots to Catch Some of the City’s Best Comics

On January 12, the funniest comedy show in New York City won’t be happening at any of the usual clubs—and there will be plenty of great shows that night in the country’s number one comedy town. But there’s one unusual show that will be happening underground, in your favorite public transit system: the subway.

All day long, subway passengers will share cars with city-dwellers who, in their morning rush out the door, will seem to have forgotten a crucial element of clothing, particularly when it comes to living in New York in mid-January: their pants.

Pants are good. Pants make sense. Pants are important. As a society, we agree on a daily basis that life will be better for everyone if we all wear them. But for one day, a yet-to-be-determined number of New Yorkers will forgo the longstanding tradition of wearing pants in public, a sight that will be all the more confusing for commuters who spot a pants-less traveler on a day when the wind chill could be pretty brutal. One can understand the decision to shed excess clothing in the midst of a hellish experience like a crowded train in August. Riding the subway without pants in January doesn’t appear to have as much upside.

The upside, of course, will be the reactions. No Pants Subway Ride, an event that has grown year after year ever since its inception in 2002, began gaining notoriety on the internet thanks to video footage in which various New Yorkers become increasingly bewildered at the number of people casually boarding the train sans pants and going about their talking/reading/scrolling as if their underwear wasn’t on display.

Now, 18 years later, NPSR enthusiasts will gather at six different locations around the city (you can find all the information you need here) and begin their bizarre but strategic takeover of the city. 

The original No Pants Subway Ride started with only seven people, according to Improv Everywhere’s website. In the following years, the event was covered by ABC News, This American Life, MSNBC and The Late Show with David Letterman. By 2007, 300 people were participating in the event. By 2012, that number had reached 4,000. The No Pants Subway Ride has now spread to 25 other cities around the world, including Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Munich and more.

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It was 17 degrees yesterday.

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The No Pants Subway Ride, in addition to being one of the funniest gags that has garnered global participation, is also a perfectly fitting way to begin a year that will almost certainly be huge for comedy. We’re in the midst of the biggest stand-up comedy boom since the 1980s, and there isn’t a better place to be than New York City, whether you’re looking to catch your favorite star on a big stage or local comics in an intimate venue.

“Caroline’s is a fun place to perform at because it’s a traditional club setting, audiences are international,” said Melissa Diaz, a comedian who was featured as a breakout artist at Caroline’s last year. “You get more Middle America audiences to perform for, so you can see if your stuff works on them.”

Diaz also says Greenwich Village Comedy Club is one of her favorite spots to hone material and just be herself on stage. 

“There was a trend for a number of years of building out these larger comedy rooms that can seat 300-plus—Gotham, Caroline’s,” said Al Martin, owner of Greenwich Village Comedy Club. “Greenwich Village has held to what stand-up comedy is, which is a small, intimate venue. It’s really a great throwback to the village days of Lenny Bruce and Joan Rivers…they were always working out in small venues, and this is that.”

When Greenwich Village Comedy Club first opened, it was considered a “real underdog,” Martin said. Opening just down the street from one of the most legendary clubs in the world—the Comedy Cellar—was a risky move. But eight years later, the club is still chugging along, largely due to the opportunities it gives to young, up-and-coming comics.

“That’s a home base for me,” Diaz said. “It’s a good place to get a consistent flow of audience members…work on new stuff, hone old stuff.”

Young stars like Mark Normand and Marina Franklin were regulars at Greenwich Village before gaining more widespread notoriety. 

“The ones who aren’t working (at the Comedy Cellar) are working for us,” Martin said. “A lot of the young people we develop end up, a couple years later, on their lineup. We’re developing the next wave of comedians that are coming along.”

Our Top Five

As 2020 kicks into gear, it’s the perfect time to take a look at some of the best spots around town to experience stand-up comedy as it’s meant to be experienced: live. From the legends selling out New York City’s most historic venues to the most intimate comedy clubs in town, we’ve got you covered.

1.     Caroline’s on Broadway

This legendary room in Times Square is widely known as one of the premiere comedy clubs in the world, with 300 seats and a dynamic environment that has been a favorite room and launching pad for world-class comedians ever since it opened in Chelsea in 1981 (it’s been located in the heart of Times Square since 1992). Caroline’s has no shortage of talent on stage this month–Sinbad kicked off the new year and the fun continues with headliners including Donnell Rawlings (Netflix’s The Degenerates), Hari Kondabolu (Netflix special Warn Your Relatives) and more.

Get Your Tickets to Donnell Rawlings
Get Your Tickets to Hari Kondabolu

2.     Jerry Seinfeld at the Beacon Theatre

What better way to kick off 2020 than to see one of the greatest comedians alive in one of New York City’s most historic venues? If you can’t get to the Seinfeld star’s January shows at the Beacon Theatre  this week, not to worry; Seinfeld will be back for more laughs at the iconic theater in February and March.

Get Your Tickets to Jerry Seinfeld

3.     EastVille Comedy Club

For every killer comedy show in Manhattan, there’s another in Brooklyn, where the stand-up boom has given birth to a thriving scene, particularly with young people. Among the most popular comedy venues in Brooklyn is EastVille Comedy Club, which relocated from Manhattan in 2008. With plenty of open mic nights to test your comedy chops, EastVille is an entertainment destination. Not feeling your funny bone?.Catch the pros featuring New York favorite Janeane Garofalo throughout January and February.

Get Your Tickets to Janeane GarofaloGet Your Tickets to Hari Kondabolu

4.     Impractical Jokers at Radio City Music Hall

2020 could be a big year for the stars of the hugely popular hidden camera prank show Impractical Jokers. In addition to a ninth season of their hit show on TruTV, the four-man comedy troupe (also known as “The Tenderloins”) has a feature-length film that is expected to premiere in 2020. Why not add a run at Radio City Music Hall to the mix? Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano will bring “The Cranjis McBasketball World Comedy Tour” to the heart of Rockefeller Center this month.

Get Your Tickets to Impractical Jokers Live

5.     Greenwich Village Comedy Club

Tucked away in the heart of the comedy scene on MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village Comedy Club has been a training ground for legendary names like Sarah Silverman and Tracy Morgan but is also a fun, intimate spot to catch New York’s young talent. Plus, you’re a short walk away from comedy shows at The Comedy Cellar, The Grisly Pear and The Lantern. Don’t miss Greenwich Village Comedy Club All Star Stand Up Comedy. It’s the club’s signature show featuring top headliners and a star-studded array of special guests.

Get Your Tickets to the Comedy All-Stars Showcase

featured photo: Ian Young