Opinion comedybars

Published on November 28th, 2012 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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So two Comedy Bars walk into a scene…

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a comedy club opens in a major city, with a mandate to offer performance space to emerging talent (standup, improv, storytelling or “whatever”) and to provide a home-away-from-home for local comics to hang out. It’s called Comedy Bar.

Anyone in Toronto is reading this going “hey, I know that place!”. Of course, Comedy Bar – covered with great frequency on this very site – is packed almost every night, and of has been voted Best Comedy Club in the city by NOW. It spawned a web series of the same name. It attracts a who’s who of out-of-town comedians to perform (most recently Eddie Izzard), and folks like Marc Maron and Juliette Lewis have popped in just to hang out.

What a coincidence that a new club with the same mandate, the same name, and almost the same logo is about to open in New York City.

Comedy Bar NYC is set to open at the end of the month, thanks to Ali Farahnakian and the People’s Improv Theatre (the P.I.T.). They’re “yes and-ing” the club’s concept in a big way. As in: yes, that’s a great idea, let’s totally copy it.

A story in Backstage magazine outlines the vision for the space. Hangout for comics? Check. Different shows every night? Check. A space for new talent to perform, with possible celeb drop-ins? Check.

The mandate is so similar – as is the design seen on their website – that you’d think Toronto’s Comedy Bar might have something to do with it.

They do not. And, according to owner Gary Rideout Jr., he never received as much as a courtesy call or email to discuss it.

What are you thinking, P.I.T.?

This industry isn’t as big as we’d all love it to be. Toronto comics play in New York fairly often, and vice versa. But a large part of what’s made the original Comedy Bar the hub of comedy in this city is the bigger names that come through to play the mainstage, bringing new customers in (who become new regulars). Big names don’t live here. They visit here. From places like New York. Comedy Bar is still building its reputation in that regard. It doesn’t help for a New York headliner’s first thought of “Comedy Bar” to be “that place on 29th St. with the 8x10s of comedians on the wall that seems like an improviser’s idea of what a stand-up club should look like”.

I really, truly don’t understand this choice. It feels like an unnecessary act of do-what-we-want, which can only cause bad feelings between two entities that could have easily worked together.

Lest anyone think I’m perennially biased towards the Toronto Comedy Bar (now or ever), I assure everyone that I have equally warm feelings towards the P.I.T. One of the best experiences of my life was taking writing classes through them, as well as Farahnakian’s excellent Writing for SNL workshop in Toronto a few years ago. I was just at the P.I.T. to see a show last month, and will be back there again next week.

Nothing illegal is happening here, and the original Comedy Bar can’t do much about it. But this is tacky, and I expected better from the P.I.T.


About the Author

is the author of the new book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy since 1998. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.


One Response to So two Comedy Bars walk into a scene…

  1. sarah says:

    How do people think they can get away with stealing such a UNIQUE NAME AND CONCEPT. Really thought they would have broken the mold after opening a bar for comedians and calling it “The Comedy Bar”. Your outrage is justified.

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