Stroll through the increasingly trendy Bloordale neighbourhood on a rainy Wednesday night, and chances are the streets will be deserted.
But descend the flight of stairs at 945 Bloor West and you’ll enter a lively bar, packed with comedy lovers sipping pints and waiting for the next show of the evening, in which a dozen of Toronto’s funniest comedians will battle one another in rhyming hip-hop verse.
Such was the scene this past Wednesday at The Comedy Bar, a combined pub and theatre that has become a hub for the comedy community in Toronto since opening three years ago.
“There was nowhere in town where comedy was a first priority,” says comedian and co-owner Gary Rideout Jr. of the impetus for opening the joint. Unlike the old Toronto mainstays like Yuk Yuk’s and Second City, the Comedy Bar doesn’t cater to one specific comedic form: they feature sketch, improv and stand-up, and with an average of 14 different shows a week, Rideout Jr. says there’s likely something to offer to suit every taste.
The ten o’clock show on this particular Wednesday is Rap Battles, a well attended affair that sees comedians adopt absurd rapper personas – “Frankenstein-atra”, Actual Dracula”, and “Universal Dad,” to name just three -and then square off to see who can drop the most creatively insulting rhymes.
The concept for Rap Battles came out of the Festival of New Formats, one of several showcases the venue hosts that serve to foster creativity in the Toronto comedy community.
It’s free to attend and take part in the January festival, and all shows must take a different and new format. The best – like Rap Battles – go on to become regular Comedy Bar events.
And it’s not just for locals. Since opening, the little venue has drawn some pretty big names: Kevin Sorbo, Andy Kindler and Tim Meadows have all graced the stage, and Canadian improv legend Colin Mochrie drops in regularly. Rideout Jr. says they’ve been bringing in more talent from places like New York and Chicago on the weekends, and yet it’s still the local favourites, like the Sketchersons Sunday Night Live that consistently bring out the biggest crowds.
“Comedy is really thriving in this city,” says Rideout Jr. And now, thanks to the Comedy Bar, it finally has a home.