When people think of live comedy, they tend to think of its modern-classic form: guy or girl, in front of brick wall, joking about airline peanuts. Take a look around Toronto and you’ll see that’s only part of a world-class all-encompassing comedy scene, one that often transcends stand-up and goes into the realms of sketch, improv and alt. Certainly, some styles are more accessible than others; still, if you want to laugh, there’s no shortage of ways to go about it. Here are some top recommendations.
The Old Standby: Yuk Yuk’s
Of course, if you do want the man-in-front-of-brick-wall format, Yuk Yuk’s is your place. The one comedy club everyone in the city knows — and the traditional, corporate one — it’s kind of the elephant in the room (or, more accurately, on the edge of clubland). Still, it’s the spot where bigger touring headliners will perform before graduating to theatre status. There’s a showcase for amateurs, which sometimes produces a bona fide star like Russell Peters, or nothing but uncomfortable silence. Either way, it’s something to see. 224 Richmond St. W., 416-967-6425.
The Head-Scratcher: The Rivoli
A haven for the hard-to-define umbrella of “alt-comedy,” the back room at the Rivoli is the place to go for anything that eschews the standard setup/punchline formula that’s been hammered into our brains. Offbeat, surreal, and often confusing, nights like Laugh Sabbath and Alt.Comedy Lounge push comedy in new directions, even if they attract more of a cult audience. Once the mainstream picks up on it, this is what you’ll see on television and big-ticket tours. In the meantime, the Rivoli will still be doing its thing. 334 Queen St. W., 416-596-1908.
The Sketchy: Second City
The Second City has a legendary reputation, rightfully so. It happens to be the city’s number-one spot for sketch comedy. Topical, daring and often charmingly bizarre (it helps that these bits don’t have to be fleshed out into full plays), it’s worth showing up every time a new mainstage show drops. Plus, if you’re ever wondering where Canadian commercials get their stars, chances are you’ll find them in the current cast — any current cast. Stay after the show is done for some free improv. 99 Blue Jays Way 416-343-0011.
The Spontaneous: Bad Dog Theatre Company
Bad Dog Theatre was once the go-to institution (literally) for improv comedy, and now that it’s lost its permanent home on the Danforth it still kind of is. You just have to seek it out. You can catch Theatresports (the flagship show) at Comedy Bar and, if you want to do it yourself (not as easy as it looks), classes are held at 918 Bathurst Centre and Fraser Studios. 416-491-3115.
The Hodgepodge: Comedy Bar
Comedy Bar opened as a comedian’s comedy club, and it delivers with comedy seven nights a week, often with multiple shows per night. In doing so, it covers a lot of ground, everything from stand-up to sketch, improv and music — and everything in between. There are a number of odd concept shows here, the perfect antidote to the steadfastness of traditional spots. It’s no coincidence that you’ll often see performers hanging out before and after shows, or often on their own off-nights. 945 Bloor St. W., 647-898-5324.
Image courtesy of Derek Purdy.