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4 Comedians Who Got Their Start in New York City

New York City is known for many things, including its ability to churn out hilarious and talented comedians. Whether these individuals were born and raised in one of the city’s boroughs or if they traveled to NYC only to be discovered there’s no denying that some of the world’s most memorable and iconic comedians have roots back in the comedy clubs of NYC.

Richard Pryor

You can’t talk about famous stand-up comedians without first including Richard Pryor (1940-2005). Pryor, born in Peoria, Illinois, was one of four children who had a tumultuous upbringing in his grandmother’s brothel. After a short stint in the army, Pryor moved to New York City in 1963 and began regularly performing in nightclubs, including Greenwich Village’s Village Gate. Pryor appeared on the same bills as iconic performers such as Bob Dylan and Woody Allen and began regularly appearing on popular television shows of the time including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

His success as a comedian known for his authentic and compelling storytelling devices led him to Las Vegas stages and eventually the west coast. Pryor earned the number one spot on both Comedy Central and The Rolling Stone’s lists of greatest stand-up comedians of all time.

Photo Credit: Center for Jewish History

Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers (1933-2014) may have been controversial on the E! fashion show, Fashion Police, but she cut her teeth in Greenwich Village performing at iconic comedy clubs such as The Bitter End, The Duplex, and The Gaslight Café.

A native New Yorker, Rivers was born in Brooklyn to Russian Jewish immigrants and spent her formative years in local New York schools where she found her knack for performing. In her 20’s, Rivers began appearing in off-Broadway shows starring alongside the likes of Barbra Streisand. Once she began regularly performing at Greenwich Village nightclubs, her career quickly accelerated and she began breaking down the perception that women can’t be funny. Eventually becoming the first woman to have her own late-night talk show, Rivers continued to be known for her controversial, self-deprecating comedic style until her death.

Photo Credit: ‘Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus 1997‘ by Alan Light under CC BY 2.0

Jerry Seinfeld

Perhaps one of the most mainstream comedians to come out of New York City, is America’s favorite, Jerry Seinfeld (1954 – ). Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, Seinfeld developed an interest in comedy after trying his hand in college productions. His first open-mic took place at NYC’s Catch a Rising Star. After that, he could be found doing stand-up at The Comic Strip, as well as appearing with a Rodney Dangerfield HBO special. Appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman ultimately led to him creating Seinfeld, the iconic television sitcom that ran for 9 seasons on NBC. Since Seinfeld ended, Seinfeld has continued stand-up tours and is based out of NYC.

Photo Credit: ‘Amy Schumer‘ by Maryanne Ventrice under CC BY 2.0

Amy Schumer

One of the latest comedic products to come out of New York is Manhattan native, Amy Schumer (1981 – ). Growing up she discovered her natural comedic tendencies and was voted “Class Clown” and “Teacher’s Worst Nightmare” in high school. After graduating Towson University in Maryland, Schumer returned to NYC and began studying performing arts and in 2004 did her first stand-up comedy routine at Gotham Comedy Club. It was at this club that she filmed a Live at Gotham episode for Comedy Central, which Schumer considers her “big break” and led to her being cast on the talent show, Last Comic Standing.

Like Seinfeld, Schumer has transformed from a stand-up comic to a big screen star, but still maintains her stand-up routines and frequently works new material in NYC’s local comedy clubs. Schumer considers Joan Rivers one of her comedic influencers and is known for using a style of observational, blue, insult, and sketch comedy to win over audiences.

An inspirational and creatively-juiced neighborhood of New York City, it comes as no surprise Greenwich Village has long been a place of nurture for iconic comedians to legendary musicians. Greenwich Village and Washington Square Hotel celebrate the performing arts; the hotel presents the Village Nights salon series hosted and curated by Richard Barone. One Sunday evening a month, the North Square Lounge transforms into one of the small iconic clubs that once lined Macdougal and Bleecker streets. You may just be lucky enough to be in the audience of the next entertainment superstar of our generation. View the line-up and purchase tickets through our website.

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