Barry Taylor is a Toronto based comedian.
How is this possible? That’s the first question usually asked by out-of-town comics when they walk in on one of Toronto’s Vapor Lounge comedy shows. The center of Canada’s comedy universe is home to a series of weekly rooms where audience members can openly smoke marijuana while enjoying some of the best standup the city has to offer.
Hunter Collins hosts Third Klass Thursdays at Vapor Central. “We’re up to at least half a dozen venues in the city that do multiple shows. You can basically just do weed shows during the week and then clubs on the weekends.”
Third Klass Thursdays along with Weedy Wednesdays and Stoner Sundays are three of the biggest weekly standup shows in Toronto, vapor lounge or not and all three happen at Vapor Central on Yonge Street.
“The comedy shows definitely attract the most people in regards to events that we have,” says Vapor Central manager Chris Goodwin. “We also do different podcasts here but comedy shows are more entertainment for people. When the shows end we go from 200 to 20 people in 10 minutes. Those 180 people were clearly there for the show.”
Erin Goodwin began working at Vapor Central in 2009. “The shows were consistently packed only two years after opening. We noticed it was something special. It became a destination, an event for people to come to.”
Despite hosting three of the biggest weekly shows in the city, Chris won’t take credit for creating the weed-infused comedy circuit. “Joey is responsible for this whole comedy scene,” clarifies Goodwin.
Joey aka Puff Mama is a former comedy club employee at the now defunct Comedy Wood in Toronto. She started producing her own shows once the club shut down.
“After the Comedy Wood closed we started doing these crazy events where we rented out this place called the Latvian House and they’d let us smoke weed in the hall. The place has new owners now but at the time they didn’t care. We’d just pay them rent and have all these fundraisers.
Then one day someone basically said for all the rent that I pay doing events in various places I could just run my own place. In 2008 we opened Underground Comedy Club. We just did a lot of local shows and eventually started to get a few pros in to catch the open mic. I think Todd Glass was one of the first to come by.”
The Underground Comedy Club quickly became a popular stop for touring pros coming to Toronto. Local comedian Rob Mailloux has performed on and produced several shows at Underground. “The room was passed around like a legend in Los Angeles after Joe Rogan went there. It has a pretty great reputation among international comics.”
Along with Rogan, Anthony Jeselnik, Doug Benson, Tony Hinchcliffe, Todd Glass, Rory Scovel, Dave Attell and Ari Shaffir have all appeared at the Underground in recent years.
With consistently sold out rooms featuring touring pros and stacked lineups of local acts, the Vapor Lounge series of shows are some of the strongest and most successful in the city. It’s a community of shows that’s thriving in the heavily saturated Toronto comedy scene.
“I think a lot of the warrior work goes to Chris Goodwin,” says Joey. “Or Hotbox Cafe for being the first to host a comedy show and to all the other places for normalizing it. Guys at Vape On The Lake, Melanheads and Vapor Social, we’re all working together and not fighting. In the end I think we get away with it because of that unity. Vapor Central is way more known for being activists. I’m known for being more private. I think it’s important that all vapor lounges are doing it their own way so that all demographics are covered.”
It all seems too good to be true. Sold out rooms full of comedy fans openly smoking weed, carefree. Marijuana technically isn’t legal in Ontario, however the laws throughout the province are fairly relaxed.
“The cops have come here. In the first two years they came a dozen times. They would threaten us. They’d say if I come back I’ll arrest you and they could arrest people,” says Goodwin. “They could arrest staff and customers, they could start enforcing the criminal code. Absolutely. They obviously feel it’s in the community’s best interest to not do so when the community clearly agrees with things like this. We’re operating in a safe and legitimate manner. We pay all our taxes and have all of our licensing. The only thing we’re violating is simple possession law. It’s very small and frivolous in comparison to actual crimes in the city.”
There are a few rules that everyone must follow at the shows. The venues all have a minimum age requirement of 18 years. No marijuana is sold at the lounges and alcohol and tobacco smoke are not allowed. There are bongs, vaporizers and pipes for rent as well as non-alcoholic beverages and snacks for sale.
Perhaps the most common misconception about the rooms isn’t the fact that they can exist but that a marijuana-fueled audience is an easy room for comics to perform to.
“Whenever I tell people I host a weed show they always say, oh it must be easy to perform for stoners. What they don’t realize is that these people are literally sedated and it’s the hardest crowd in the world,” explains Hunter Collins. “I’ve seen people pass out mid-laugh before. But it’s the best audience for a developing comedian because it’s like going to the gym and just doing the heavy lifting. It’s so hard to elicit the laughs. So when you do get a titter at a vapor lounge you know you’ve got a bonafide club joke. And if you get a loud reaction here you know you’ve got club gold. It forces you to widdle down your set to just the stuff that really pops. I know it’s made me a lot more of a poppier comedian and I think you see a lot of guys in the local scene who have developed here and gotten stronger as a result of performing in the weed lounges.”
And in the Canadian tradition of friendliness, the lounges are always supporting touring acts. “We make a point of being ultra accommodating for comics who are here from out of town,” says Collins. “Just because we want to share the phenomenon of what it is to perform at a vapor lounge internationally.”
Whether visiting Toronto as a comedian, comedy fan, marijuana enthusiast or curious cat, the Vapor Lounge series of shows are worth checking out. More info on the venues can be found at these links:
Barry Taylor is a Toronto based comedian.