Aaron Hill is a producer and comic who runs Sunday Night Standup, 8pm Sundays at Pub 101.
I totally bombed at the first Swizzles Comedy Night held back in early January, 2016. As I recall, there were four to six people in the audience, and no one seemed to know quite what to make of the spectacle that was unfolding in front of them. The evening was generally tinged with the type of nervous energy and awkward twists that accompany the first run of any new project.
Not that awkward shows are uncommon in Ottawa’s independent comedy scene. It can be a cruel mistress. It’s hit and miss at best. But apart from the few kinks, it was clear to everyone present that there was something undeniably cool about this room.
Maybe it was the way the dark, slightly claustrophobic atmosphere of the basement setting was balanced out by the shiny crimson wrapping paper and soft mood lighting on the walls.
Or the way the white curtain backdrop hung defiantly onstage, drinking in the spotlight, daring the audience to focus their attention anywhere else.
Or the way the staff was so welcoming and accommodating to an eclectic band of misfit comics who showed up eager for the stage time. Whatever the reasons, Swizzles, we all agreed, seemed like a perfect place to do comedy.
I came back on a Monday in early April to do another set. A half hour before showtime and there were already more people in the audience than on the first night. Five men stood laughing and doing shots at the bar. A pair of couples casually shot a game of 8-ball in the far room. The aroma of freshly baked pizza filled the air, as part of the show’s producer Daniel Araya’s commitment to give out free slices to any audience members who arrive before 8pm.
Soon an undeniably catchy funk song came over the speakers to signal the start of the show. For the next hour and a half, a sizeable (20+) and very receptive audience watched as a handful of standups took the stage to work their material. Some got more chuckles than others, but the show as a whole was a hit from any perspective: the audience got free laughter and a belly full of pizza, the comics got quality stage time and a warm crowd, and Swizzles got a room full of patrons.
Over his year and a half span producing shows in Ottawa, Daniel Araya has always been generous in offering stage time to anyone willing to try standup, regardless of experience level or background. In Swizzles, it seems he’s found a venue that parallels his penchant for inclusiveness. The longtime LGBT-friendly bar & grill has an air of welcome you’d be hard pressed to find in any establishment, let alone bar.
The resulting show is one that is compelling, dynamic, at times absurd, and something that must be seen in person to be truly appreciated.
When I asked Araya about his long-term vision for Swizzles Comedy Night via Facebook, he replied:
“My ultimate goal would be Swizzles becoming a hub for alternative comedy. Anyone paying attention will tell you that there isn’t one path to follow in comedy. [Local comic] Laura McLean said it perfectly, ‘If it makes YOU laugh then it’s comedy’ and that’s what I’d like to strive for with this environment.”
If you’d like to check out a show or are interested in performing, contact Daniel Araya at firstname.lastname@example.org.