By Rosa Saba. Follow @RosaJSaba on Twitter.
Have you ever wondered how comedians get their start? Or dreamed of telling jokes of your own? You might be surprised to find out that some of Canada’s biggest comedy stars, including Jay Baruchel, Jessica Holmes, Tom Green and Norm MacDonald got their start in Ottawa. Beneath all the snow and government buildings, Canada’s capital has been slowly nurturing a vibrant comedy community where amateur comedians have many opportunities to try their hand at the craft.
Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club on Elgin Street has been hosting amateur nights for years, under the supervision of Howard Wagman, who opened the club. Wagman has seen some of Canada’s biggest names in comedy get their start in his club, and pays close attention to the Ottawa comedy community for the next rising talent. Amateur nights at Yuk Yuk’s are a mix of first-timers, emerging comedians, and established hosts, performing to an encouraging but discerning audience with a headlining act to end the night. The underground club features an intimate stage surrounded by seats, and the club is usually almost as full on a Wednesday as it is for the full weekend shows, which see some of Canada’s biggest names.
Wagman says he’ll give any aspiring comedian a chance at amateur night, provided they come to one as an audience member first – he wants to support performers who are dedicated to learning comedy and know what they’re getting themselves into. If a comedian shows promise, he’ll keep booking them, though he makes sure to rotate through the Ottawa comedy community to give everyone a chance to perform.
Brendan McKeigan started Open Mic Mondays at Absolute Comedy on Preston Street 7 years ago, and recently returned to Ottawa. McKeigan is a seasoned comedian who, like Wagman, will give amateur comedians the opportunities they need to get their start while staying mindful of putting on a good show. Open Mic Mondays consist of a mix of newbies and more experienced comedians, hosted by an established comedian and finishing off the evening with a headlining comedian.
Monday nights take place downstairs, below Absolute’s regular stage, to allow for a more intimate and less intimidating setting. Like Wagman, McKeigan wants to give new comedians the chance they need to hone their sets, and is willing to sit down with them after the show with some constructive criticism. When he first began Open Mic Mondays, McKeigan says there were hardly any opportunities for amateur comedians, but the scene has changed since then. It’s not just bigger clubs like Absolute and Yuk Yuk’s providing the opportunities. In fact, there are amateur nights almost every day of the week in Ottawa.
One of the smaller opportunities for amateur comedians at Ottawa happens Monday nights on Queen Street.
When Adrian Brown first began doing comedy in Ottawa, he felt how many amateur comedians do: nervous and intimidated by the scene. It’s a small scene, but an established one, and Brown was happy to find out that Ottawa’s comedians are supportive of newcomers. Soon after he first took the stage, Brown started organizing and often hosting the open mic comedy nights at Swizzles, a small basement bar on that also hosts drag shows and karaoke. This open mic is much smaller than the amateur nights at Yuk Yuk’s or Absolute, with a warm and forgiving audience, making it a great place to try out comedy with a little less pressure. However, size isn’t everything – you’ll still be performing alongside seasoned Ottawa comics.
These are just three of the weekly opportunities for amateur comedians in Ottawa. Other events include a Tuesday weekly open mic at The Cock & Lion, a Friday comedy night at The Wellington Eatery, and many others. Ottawa’s comedy community has been growing for decades, and amateur comedians have no shortage of places to work on their jokes.
Wednesday is amateur night at Yuk Yuk’s and costs $6 at the door. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up. Absolute Comedy amateur night takes place Mondays with $6 cover. Their pro-am night (3 to 5 amateurs, 1 or 2 professionals) is on Wednesdays and costs $8. Email email@example.com between the 1st and 15th of every month to sign up. Swizzles is free to attend on Mondays, but donations are welcome. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.