Oh yes, that hoary old rivalry between the Tupac and Biggie of cities. I've personally always hated New York because I'm originally from Boston and now I'm an Angelino so it's just my job. But comedy might be the only field where LA has an open inferiority complex. LA comedians talk about the New York scene with tones of myth and wonder. "You can do six spots a night! There's real crowds at 2 am! The streets are paved with cheese!" aaaand, they're kind of right. It's pretty awesome.
I am trying take my experience with the grain of salt given to me by a transplant who actually lives there, so this isn't so much a judgment as a compare and contrast. (Though on that note, NYC is MUCH more welcoming of out-of-towners)
From what I could tell, there's three fundamental differences that drive all the rest.
More clubs, smaller clubs - LA has The Big Three that each seat around 200 people and then there's a step down in cache for the clubs that are smaller or further away from their West Hollywood Center of Gravity. In NYC, sure there's Caroline's and The Cellar and there are some real dog houses, but it's a much more gradual scale of decline and nearly all of them seat under 100 people.
Driving vs Subway and Population Density- New Yorkers don't have to drive really far, pay for expensive parking and then drunk drive home to see a good comedy show.
Hollywood - Sure, there's TONS of media and entertainment happening in New York, but it's not the main economic and cultural engine of the entire place.
How That Plays Out
And here's how I felt that made New York feel different from LA. It backed up the stories I'd heard from most people who have experienced both - it's less cliquey, more "all-business" and you can do more spots in a night or a week than you could in LA.
For one thing, there's very little "hang out" culture like you have at Meltdown or The Improv on Wednesdays or The Comedy Store all of the time. The small clubs don't generally have a separate bar area and are not interested in wasting any of their precious floor space on comedians who are not on the stage right at this moment. Plus, there's so many other spots to just hop on the subway and get to, why would you just hang around, drinking and riffing with your buddies?
Of course, I am a huge fan of the hanging out, but not having it be such a strong force definitely cuts down on the cliquishness. I never heard a single New York comedian talk about a venue with the sort of venomous jealous-fueled disdainful tone half of Los Angeles uses to talk about The Store and the other half uses when referring to UCB (They save their hatred for individuals who are doing better than them or not giving them what they want). And on that note, there's no "alt scene " there's just club shows and independent shows. I only heard the word "alt" uttered twice - once in its full actual word form as an accurate adjective and once to explain to me that there really isn't a scene like we have here.
But of course I think New Yorkers are really missing out on some of the great camaraderie, comedy inspiration and mentorship that comes with running in a crew and having a place to call home.
It's not just the lack of a clubhouse vibe that's keeping people from forming these kinds of groups and allegiances, everyone also has a job. This is a city of grown-ups who have rents to pay with a shitty service job until they can make enough on the road or on TV to stop. There's not a phalanx of stoner trust fund babies calling themselves comedians and hitting one open mic per night so they can tell their dads they're still chasing their dreams (please send a check) or a glut of failing actors whose management has told then "Stand up would help beef up your resume." And if you have to be slinging cappuccinos at 6 am, you aren't going to stay until the club manager shoos you out as he's locking up for the night. Oh yeah, and high rents plus tiny apartments mean even I wouldn't be kind enough to offer space on my couch, cot and air mattress for next-to-nothing money to actual hardworking comedians who have chosen to forsake income generating activities to focus on comedy... though mostly because I would only have room for the cot and it would be mine.