After getting his Bachelor’s degree in physics at Reed College, and Master’s in theoretical physics from Stanford University, Ben Lillie, unsurprisingly, kicked off his career in a laboratory. But after three years in research, the theatre-enthusiast craved a career that centered on entertainment as much as enlightenment.  


“I went through a PhD and into my postdoc I realized there wasn't going to be much advancement in my field of high energy particle physics, so I decided to go back into the arts,” he says. In 2009 he left Chicago, moved to New York, and discovered he could make a career out of comedy. 


After he ditched the ivory tower he also started creating content for TEDx Conferences, and even took the stage in 2015 to deliver his own TED talk. The topic? “Why are there two rock songs about lithium but none about, say, beryllium?” The humorous yet profound take on the “mysterious element we know as lithium” sparked waves of laughter among the usually serious audiences of TEDx.  


At the same time Lillie was also collaborating with others building 'The Story Collider' (, a live series that features true stories about science, be it the personal stories of scientists or tales from non-scientists on how science has influenced their lives. It began as a storytelling show about science in the back of a bar and is now a self-sustaining non-profit that operates in 10 cities around the world, and with a nationally-known podcast.  


While running and growing The Story Collider, he stumbled upon a space via Craigslist for a new venue in New York to host and support creative and independent comedy and other shows. In 2017 he decided to open Caveat (, a cabaret comedy theater located deep under Clinton Street in the Lower East Side. “We champion nerdy, funny art. Our goal is to support and grow a new generation of brilliant comedians and performers,” he says.  


As the New York Business Journal reported, the bar organizes events like the "Pregame Your Brain," where Columbia University anthropologists discuss low-brow shows like “The Bachelor” and where comedians discuss ‘books and the idiots who write them.’”  


“Frankly you’ll never know what you’ll encounter there,” wrote Biz Journal correspondent Gary Stern. He described Caveat as a nightlife venue that can raise the IQs of its patrons, all through its fun programming.  


Lillie says Caveat exists for its performers just as much as its patrons. “We're an independent comedy theater featuring upcoming and established comedians, musicians, and other performers. We focus on having a high level of professionalism and support for our artists for a theater our size.” 


He says the hardest part of starting the business was building a solid reputation. In addition to networking it was nonstop vetting and scouting for talent. “We worked hard to make sure people know they'll have a great time putting on a show here, or coming to see a show,” says Lillie. “That took years of doing solid, continuous work.” But the hard work paid off. Caveat currently has 30 employees and has booked more than 7400 events since its grand opening.  


“We have a huge range of shows, which are amazing in various ways,” says Lillie. But one event in 2018, just one year after he started Caveat, was a major milestone for the entrepreneur. “One that sticks out is when actor George Takei booked the space to host an evening of Q&A. I grew up watching Star Trek, so that was a wonderful moment,” says Lillie.  


While Caveat has grown its live crowd, Lillie says growing the digital presence for his venture was just as important, in order to continue the momentum. “We needed a clean, reliable site that made clear what shows were on and made it easy for people to buy tickets,” he says.  


He launched the website but ran into a roadblock: “We looked for .com first, but that was taken and far out of our price range. .NYC worked perfectly because we are a physical location in the city, and that makes it easy for people to remember.” 


He says the .NYC brand continues to serve the Caveat mission to this day. “We have a robust livestream program, and I like that the URL reminds people where the stream is coming from.” 


The Caveat team has also survived the common hardships of live theater businesses, including the Covid-19 pandemic closures. “It took until mid-2023 to get back to where we were pre-shutdown,” says Lillie. “Now that we're back in full swing and with a full calendar we're looking to see what ways we can expand the type and scale of programming that we do.” And with events on their calendar ranging from Next Slide Please (a PowerPoint Comedy Show) to heavyweight comedians like David Cross set to perform, Caveat is indeed a place to enjoy quick-wits and fun cocktails.