If you’re on the hunt for humor, look no further than Downtown Santa Monica’s M.i. Westside Comedy Theater, the hottest comedy club west of the 405. The cozy club, which is tucked away in an alley behind Third Street Promenade, has hosted some of the craft’s biggest stars, including Dave Chappelle, Zach Galifianakis, Gabriel Iglesias, and Howie Mandel.
Comedy Central has even taken notice, using the theater to scout new talent for their television network.
“The momentum is really starting to grow and we are starting to sell-out most shows,” said Mike Betette, director of marketing for the club and a member of Mission IMPROVable, the Chicago-created comedy troupe that founded the club in 2009.
The group met in the Windy City, headed west seeking fame and fortune and decided to plant their flag in Santa Monica, where they noticed a lack of comedy clubs. Their tagline is “We Own Comedy West of the 405.” And they do, garnering a reputation for producing an eclectic mix of stand-up and improvisational acts that foster young talent while providing a welcoming place for established comedians to test out new material.
The Westside Comedy Theater may be hard to find at fist, but it has built a strong following with those who like that it’s off the beaten path.
“That’s the cool thing about it,” Betette said of the location. “It makes people feel hip when they find us. It’s kind of like a comedy speakeasy. They get to show off the place to their friends and say, ‘Hey, look what I’ve found.’”
There’s plenty of parking right outside the door as Parking Structure No. 3 is located just on the other side of the alley. The first hour and a half is free, as are many of the theater’s shows. Others cost only $10 bucks. The theater has a bar stocked with quality craft beers, but there’s no drink minimum, a rarity in the business.
It’s an intimate performance space, with room for just 75 people, but the benefit is audience members get in on the act. For the improv shows, participation is not only encouraged, it is required as guests shout out prompts for the comedians. Other times performers will just pick out members and playful tease them.
“The audience is half the act,” Betette said. “You’re so close to the stage that you influence what happens.”
Another cool feature is that the founders, who are also comedians, offer classes at a reasonable rate. Once students get the basics, they are encouraged to come back to the theater to test out their material in a friendly environment. It seems crowds on the Westside are more forgiving and willing to roll with whatever happens. Perhaps it’s the cool ocean breezes or that many in the audience are tourists who stumble in looking for a good time and have no expectations.
“Audiences here give you the benefit of the doubt,” Betette said. “They’re here ready to laugh. Those on the Eastside are like, ‘Prove it to me.’ They’re not always there to have fun. It’s nice to work in an area where people are happy to be here and aren’t in a funk. That influences the shows.”
For more information on the theatre or to score some tickets to a show, visit www.westsidecomedy.com
M.i. Westside Comedy Theater
1323 A-Third Street
Santa Monica, Calif.
*All photos courtesy M.i. Westside Comedy Theater