“The community is very excited about it, but I don’t think they have a clue of how great it’s going to be.”
Back in May, this is how Comedy Studio owner Rick Jenkins ended my tour of the new space, opening in Somerville’s Bow Market on September 6th. At this stage, the retail complex was a week shy of opening, and the walls of the new club weren’t even fully built yet. But now, shortly before the Boston comedy community gets to see the new space in functioning order, it’s even more exciting to imagine.
The original Comedy Studio, located above the Hong Kong restaurant in Harvard Square for more than 20 years, has been an institution in Boston comedy, known for aiding the careers of comics like Eugene Mirman, Gary Gulman, Marc Maron, Mike Birbiglia, and countless others. Its dual status as a breaker of outstanding talent, and a clubhouse for comics on the rise in the area, was very much borne of Jenkins’ desire to surround himself with amazing talent- talent, he feels, he didn’t have in himself. “I obviously was never that good, so it was, ‘Hey, if I start a club I can hang out with the cool kids.’” And as he shared, he got to Boston at a time where a lot of the cool kids were doing great things:
I moved here from Buffalo in ‘86, and when I moved here was when Jeff Ross and Janeane Garofalo […] and Marc Maron and all of those guys were starting out at Catch a Rising Star, while you still had the old guard of Lenny Clarke and those old Boston guys who were playing Nick’s and the Comedy Connection and stuff. So it was a great time to come in, because I got to see some of the legends as well as the people who would become legends.
Given the slate that the Harvard Square Studio hosted in its time, there’s an understandable feeling of loss and nervousness about moving that tradition somewhere new. Jenkins understands that, and hears it in earnest: “there was such a loyalty and love of the old space that I’m sure there’s also a little apprehension of ‘okay, we trust Rick to do this, but…’” With twice the space of the original attic locale, and unprecedented access to a space they could once only inhabit from 7pm to 10pm a few nights a week, the new era of the Comedy Studio stands to be a bigger, better, and more frequently trafficked one. Yes, it may not be frequented by tourists with the same frequency as their centrally located former home, but the coming extension to a nearby transit line will bring that incidental traffic up in the next two years.
Why Somerville? As Rick tells it, the club’s stellar reputation brought the new opportunity, to them:
The two main developers used to sneak in to watch the shows twenty years ago at my place. So when they heard about rents and the size of the room and all that difficulty we were having in Harvard Square – we were selling out every night, so we really needed a bigger place – they came to me with this, and it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Though the former location closed down in January, Jenkins and the Comedy Studio have stayed present on the scene through pop-up shows all spring and summer across Boston and Somerville. Part of it was a way to prevent idle hands (“I’ve been doing comedy six nights a week for twenty years, I didn’t know what to do with myself!”), but part of it also served to endear themselves to their surrounding businesses and clientele. “We wanted to introduce ourselves to the neighbors, we went to Brass Union and Thunder Road and Sally O’Brien’s, and let them know we’re good neighbors.” Another sign of their neighborly attitude? Donating the proceeds of these shows to charity, for “it doesn’t seem right to make money off someone else’s space.”
And as for the promise of this new space, Jenkins sees it – truly – as a clubhouse. “[It’s] always been my goal is to have a comedy community in the way that the Improv was in the early eighties and the Comedy Store was in the late seventies, that sort of thing, where it’s a place for the comedy family. I would say I don’t have a great eye for talent or anything, I just have the keys for the gym.” Boston’s been dearly missing one of its most beloved gyms- next week, it’s excited to have the doors open once again.
Boston’s Comedy Studio reopened its doors on September 6th with a sold-out show featuring Eugene Mirman, and will be running shows five days a week featuring its signature Comic in Residence program, comedy and magic shows, and its rotating slate of local and national performers.