The Comedy Bar at Bloor and Ossington is finally having its grand opening this weekend. Even though it’s been up and running for about five months, owners Gary Rideout Jr. and James Elksnitis think the venue is now completed at last, and ready to be promoted as such. Torontoist has been there on a handful of occasions over the past few months, and one of the interesting things about these visits—aside from the comedy—was seeing it progress through its renovation and development. We have never exclaimed “hey! They have a ceiling now!” with such sincerity before.
The most significant part of the opening, however, is the impact it will have on the city’s comedy scene. The venue is different from other local bars—be it Yuk Yuk’s or Absolute Comedy—in that they are not just promoting stand-up. Rideout, as a member of the sketch troupe The Sketchersons, is trying to have all facets of comedy there, promoting it more as a sketch and improv theatre. Toronto has a lot of alternative acts that don’t necessarily fit on a standard stand-up bill, and now Rideout says they have a place to call home. “Comedy Bar is about being a great place to play,” he said. “It might not be for everyone, but those who like it will think it’s theirs.”
It all came about after the closing of the Poor Alex Theatre in the Annex. “When we lost that venue, bars would have comedy nights, you know, on the slower nights when they didn’t have a band,” explained Rideout. He felt that the shows were more about selling beer than anything else, a common plight for comedians.
As a result, many performers have started to consider Comedy Bar their venue of choice. On our initial visit, Miguel Rivas from the alternative sketch troupe Frenzy took us aside, and excitedly asked us whether this was our first time there. With a glint in his eye akin to Santa Claus’s, he proceeded to give us a tour of the place—still very much under construction at the time—with eager anticipation and enthusiasm. Despite being somewhat underwhelmed with comments like “and this is where the bathroom will be,” we recognized that the possibilities were endless. The final venue consists not only of a stage, but also a lounge area for networking and socializing, a rehearsal studio, and an onsite green screen for comedians wanting to expand their online portfolio. “[The construction] has made everyone feel like it’s their bar. They’ve seen it grow,” Rideout said.
With the amount of up-and-coming performers that regularly attend the shows or just hang out in the lounge, Comedy Bar will be remembered in the same way that the Rivoli has been for their contribution to the city’s comedy scene in the ’80s. It’s already well on its way, getting Best Alternative Comedy Club in NOW’s Best of T.O. feature.
Comedy Bar’s grand opening is happening tonight, with the ribbon cutting at 7 p.m. and festivities lasting all weekend long. The venue is located at 945 Bloor Street West below Original Feng Shui.
Photo courtesy of Comedy Bar.