Live comedy, for many, is an art form that is still confined to two major centers: New York and Los Angeles. Other cities — Chicago, Boston, Toronto, San Francisco, Austin, Montreal, Seattle, and Denver — are often unfairly relegated to the periphery. They represent thriving scenes that matter because they exist, but aside from that are generally ignored and rarely scouted.
If the latter cities make up the periphery of the comedy scene, then it would be fair to say that Vancouver, British Columbia — tucked far away in the Pacific Northwest, three hours from Seattle, six hours from Portland, and too many hours from anywhere else — lies in the periphery of the periphery. However, in all subversive mediums, it is at the fringes where you find the most intense innovation; and nothing can be truer of alternative comedy and this little Canadian city that happens to be pumping out a diverse array of talented comedians, improvisers, and sketch groups at seemingly record speeds. Because of the narrow opportunities available to local comics, Vancouver has become a prime breeding ground for up-and-coming standup, improv, and sketch comedians capable of honing their material far from the critical gaze of people who could actually “make things happen.” As a result, Vancouver currently boasts some of the best alternative comedy rooms in Canada and has recently been recognized as possessing the nation’s top comedy podcast and improv troupe.
The isolated Canadian city has also played host to several mainstream American comics, who have helped distinguish Vancouver as the city to earn your comedic chops. In fact, it is surprising that Vancouver gets little to no attention as a comedic breeding ground considering that it was once the stomping grounds of Zach Galifianakis and Darryl Lennox, has produced Canada’s most successful sitcom writer, is responsible for Who’s Line Is It Anyway? stars Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie, and was the birthplace and home of a once-aspiring teenage comic named Seth Rogen.
Next time you’re in Vancouver, BC make sure to check out a show. The following is a guide to live comedy in Vancouver to help you navigate the scene.
Located in the basement of the Century Plaza hotel in the middle of downtown Vancouver, the “Mix” has recently built a reputation as one of the best comedy clubs in North America and has, for several years in a row, been voted the best club in the city. Tuesday night is a surprisingly well-run crash-and-burn amateur night, while the Wednesday night showcase is a great opportunity to see some of the city’s best up-and-coming comics. On Thursdays and weekends the club goes out of its way to bring in top U.S. and Canadian talent. Recent headliners include Matt Braunger, Rory Scovel, Pete Holmes, Dana Gould, and Ari Shaffir. If you want to see Vancouver stand-up at its finest, this is the spot.
Vancouver has been improv obsessed for the last twenty years and accordingly is home to some of the most impressive troops in the country. This Vancouver establishment, nestled on the beautiful grounds of Granville Island, plays host to a group of performers whose comedic depth and razor sharp wits will knock the air straight out of your lungs.
The day-to-day core of Vancouver’s comedy scene is located in small underground venues where you’ll see more novel show formats and performances. Hidden away at Main and 28th, LMG is quickly gaining a reputation as a favorite venue for both crowds and comedians. With actual (sort of) theatre seating, it’s an ideal venue for small to mid-size crowds. Several monthly shows at LMG are already gaining strong followings including: Rap Battlez, Ghostjail Theatre, Comedylaugh, and Ring-a-ding-dong-dandy.
The Havana Theatre is the epicenter for improv comedy within the almost nauseatingly cool neighborhood of Commercial Drive. Curated by Eastvan comedy and the Instant Theatre Company, The Havana offers comedy shows every Sunday and Monday night with varying formats.
From the outside, the China Cloud is hard to notice. The small upstairs theatre/party space, however, has become one of the keystone venues for Vancouver’s innovative improv and sketch scene. Vancouver’s top sketch troupe, Pump Trolley, produces shows at the China Cloud every month while 10-speed and the Hero show have also developed into two of the city’s most popular improv shows. If you like to pair your laughs with cheap liquor and cans of PBR, this is the venue for you.
The Kino is the city’s top “workout” room, a place where you’ll see professional comedians crafting new material as well as some promising up-and-comers. The room is run by the extremely affable Steve Allen whose relationship to the now-deceased late night host of the same name is apparently just a coincidence.
Located between newly constructed condo developments and the few remaining physical remnants of Vancouver’s industrial past, sits The Sin Bin: a sports bar that features stand-up comedy throughout the week in its “VIP” room (a surprisingly well-renovated garage). Similar to the Kino, this bar features up-and-coming comics as well as professionals honing bits for clubs.
Best Weekly Shows
Komedy at the Kino Café
Vancouver’s longest running comedy show, the Kino is the city’s top “workout” room, a place where you’ll see professional comedians crafting new material as well as some promising up-and-comers.
Tuesdays, 9:30 PM | $5 | The Kino Café, Cambie
Described as “one of Vancouver’s most hilarious nights of entertainment”, The Fictionals Comedy Co. perform a rotating series of hit improv shows every Tuesday at Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial Drive. The Fictionals are well known for their artistic mashups, combining improv with other art forms like Pro Wrestling, Comic Books, Fight Club and even Burlesque. Special guests from around Vancouver, the Pacific Northwest, and as far away as South Korea also help make a Fictionals show a unique live comedy experience.
Tuesday, 8 PM | $5 | Café Deux Soleils, Commercial Dr.
Comedy at Corduroy is one of the most popular weekly stand-up shows in the city and for good reason: the show takes place in an intimate setting and regularly features appearances by many of the city’s best comedians. On any given show there will be a few professional headliners. Show up early, the room fills up fast.
Wednesdays, 9 PM | $5 | Corduroy, Cornwall
The Funnier than Sean Show at Displace
Every Wednesday in Kitsilano, one-liner maverick Sean Emeny hosts a comedy show reasonably close to the UBC Campus. The show features a hand-selected line-up of comedians and a competition in which two upstart comics are pitted against one another in a head-to-head showdown.
Wednesday, 9 PM | $5 | Displace Hashery
Jokes Please! is a weekly standup show at Little Mountain Gallery. The show is hosted by Ross Dauk and Ben McGinnis and features some of the most talented comedians that Vancouver has to offer. Drinks are cheap and plentiful as are the high fives (as long as you are cool with slapping skin). These guys love comedy and they are willing to bet that you will too.
Thursday, 9 PM | $5 | Little Mountain Gallery
No guide to the Vancouver comedy scene would be complete without mentioning The Sunday Service. Unequivocally one of Canada’s top improv troupes (2012 Canadian Comedy Award), you can catch these talented performers every Sunday at the Kozmik Zoo where they regularly churn out mind-blowing shows. The Sunday Service are local comedy legends, so you’ll want to make a reservation or get there early. This show is always packed.
Sundays, 8 PM | $7 | The Kozmik Zoo
Best Monthly or Irregular Shows
Vancouver’s longest running alternative comedy show, the Laugh Gallery features some of Vancouver’s finest comedians performing their sets at the intimate Havana Theatre. This show is a must-see for comedy fans and is hosted and produced by the infectiously charming and constantly hilarious Graham Clark (CBC’s “The Debaters”, “Stop Podcasting Yourself”). The only problem with the Laugh Gallery is that it doesn’t happen often enough.
Showtimes at eastvancomedy.com | $5 | The Havana Theatre
A smash-hit since it’s inception in 2012, Improv Against Humanity is a live comedy & game show experience that destroys the boundaries of decency and hilarity. Created by Daniel Chai and presented by The Fictionals Comedy Co., #IAHatRIO combines the popular party game Cards Against Humanity with some of the wittiest comedians in Vancouver. Come on out for your chance to play CAH live in front of a studio-audience, win amazing prizes, and be crowned Vancouver’s Most Horrible Person. Plus you’ll see the horrible card combinations be brought to life - flying sex snakes, anyone?
8pm Third Wednesday of every month | ($7 advance, $10 door) | Rio Theatre
Once a month, stand-up comics Jordan Cohen and Jacob Samuel join forces to produce a show that is hilarious, smart, and sometimes veers into weird directions. WHY? Stand-up is a show that has gone head-to-head with the Vancouver opera and was once protested by a prominent environmental NGO. Every show features 5-6 of the best comedians you’ve never heard of.
1st Thursday of the Month | Free | Tangent Café
Comedy at the Koz
Comedy at the Koz is a different kind of show, where comics are forced to improvise (or “riff”) in the middle of their act. While we all love a well-crafted joke, there’s nothing quite like seeing a very funny person killing a room completely off the cuff. Before the show, hosts Kyle Bottom and Ivan Decker collect anonymous audience suggestions, which are later used as comedic fodder throughout the evening. Comedy at the Koz is easily one of the most entertaining shows in the city.
3rd Thursday of the Month | $5 | The Kozmik Zoo
10 Speed is a simple idea brilliantly executed: 10-minute sets from the best improvisers in Vancouver. There’s really nothing else to add. You will have an amazing time.
First Tuesday of the Month | $5 | The China Cloud
Pump Trolley Comedy is a collective of eight improvisers, comedians, and self-proclaimed tapestry weavers that perform sketch comedy shows throughout the year. Smart and absurd, this sketch group will surprise you. Bear jokes abound.
Check pumptrolleycomedy.com for showtimes | $10 | The China Cloud
Comedians and Improvisers freestyle rap battle each other in full costume at this increasingly popular event. Tickets usually sell out prior to showtime, as audience members clamour to watch performers eviscerate historical figures, television personalities, and politicians through creative rhyme schemes. Come early, laugh often.
Check Facebook for showtimes | $8 | Little Mountain Gallery
Comedylaugh is an awesome stand-up show hosted by Warren Bates and Garrett Quinton. What happens when comics spin the wheel of laughter? If you show up at the next show, you might find out.
1st Friday of the Month | $5 | Little Mountain Gallery
Clusterfun is a comedy variety show that features musical performances, stand-up, sketch, improv, and multi-media performances. The show is hosted by the always-delightful local comedy heavyweight Adam Pateman (“Comedy Now”, The Vancouver Comedy Festival, Austin Texas ‘Out of Bounds’ Comedy Festival).
Check eastvancomedy.com | $5 | The Havana Theatre
The One Man Variety Show is hands down the most underground comedy spectacle in the city. Popping up at various times of the year and often taking place at the enigmatic Woods Studio (which may or may not be going out of business), this show is well worth your time. Brainchild of the multi-faceted Rupert Common, The One Man Variety Show aims to unironically marry the world of Hip Hop to the world of Comedy. The result is the most authentic, and original show in the city. Breakdancing abounds.
Check Facebook | $10 | The Woods
Vancouver Comics You Should Know
When the subject of Canadian comedians came up on a podcast last year, Zach Galifianakis immediately described Graham Clark as a “great comedian” who he wishes “was better known in the U.S.” Galifianakis was only confirming what Vancouver audiences have known for years: Graham Clark is hilarious. Not only has Graham cemented his reputation as a talented comedian, his smart and endearing observational style has hugely influenced countless aspiring comedians in Vancouver. Graham hosts two monthly shows in Vancouver: the critically acclaimed Laugh Gallery and a wrestling-themed show at Little Mountain Gallery titled “Ring-a-ding-dong-dandy.” Graham’s influence on the scene cannot be overstated; his carefree style and sharp wit are, for many, what Vancouver comedy is all about.
Easily the best Comedian in Canada under thirty (regardless of what anyone in Toronto might say), Ivan Decker marries wry observational writing with a roaring performance style and deeply engaging persona. Topics that have been eviscerated by Ivan’s brilliant scrutiny include public transit, exercise routines, hair stylists, and archaeologists. His skill for twisting mundane topics into well-crafted punches is near poetic. Fittingly, Ivan recently placed second at the Just For Laugh’s Home Grown Competition, is a regular on CBC’s “The Debaters”, and is a go-to headliner at the Comedy Mix. In short, if Ivan’s name is on the bill, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
A self-described nerd in a slacker’s body, Kyle Bottom has established himself as one of the top headliners in Vancouver. Coming off his first appearance at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal, Kyle is known for weaving tight joke writing into personal stories and absurdist observations. Bottom’s punch lines are particularly thunderous, and often ripple throughout the audience for several seconds before taking hold and completely obliterating the room. A booming voice, a Cheshire cat grin, and an affectation for interesting nicknames further add to Bottom’s comedic brilliance.
Katie’s sharp wit and inventive imagination make her a favourite in Vancouver. In addition to performing regularly in the city, Humphries has also brought her tightly written jokes to comedy festivals throughout the west coast of the United States. Her performance style is affably conversational and easily draws in audiences regardless of the volume or dynamic of the room. A definite talent and a regular on radio and television, Katie’s act is something to watch out for.
Ben McGinnis is the poster-boy for the intelligent and endearing style of comedy that has come to define Vancouver stand-up. Ben writes the kind of well-crafted jokes that you’d expect from someone with an English degree (which he possesses) and has been recognized for this ability at festivals throughout the Northwest, including Seattle’s Bumbershoot. Ben is a true comedian’s comedian and is commonly cited as the favourite of up-and-comers in the city.
But watch out for:
The following are local Vancouver acts that regularly destroy rooms and are worth watching out for:
Erica Sigurdson, Simon King, Dino Archie, Kevin Banner, Adam Pateman, Jane Stanton, Sunee Dhaliwal, Chris James, Ben Mills, Charlie Demers, Ross Dauk, Kevin Foxx, Ryan Lachance, John Beuhler, Shirley Gnome, Sean Emeny, Dylan Rhymer, Patrick Maliha and Chris Gaskin.
The Northwest Comedyfest is a brand new comedy festival that will be occurring for the first time in February 2014. The Festival will be bringing big American headliners to the city, while taking advantage of some of the talent existing in the rich local scene. The festival is tailoring itself to the Northwest’s taste for alternative comedians, but will feature acts and shows that are accessible for any die-hard comedy fan.
For over a decade, the Vancouver International Improv Festival has been bringing the world’s best improvisers to Vancouver for a week of shows and workshops. From humble beginnings as a small tournament run by Instant Theatre, the festival has moved away from competition and towards collaboration. More information on the festival can be found at www.vancouverimprovfest.com.
Wednesdays and Thursdays – Goldie’s Lounge (605 W. Pender)
Thursdays – Rowan’s Roof (pre-booked)
Sundays – The Sin Bin
Winner of the Canadian Comedy Award for best podcast in 2012. Join co-hosts Graham Clark and Dave Shumka every week as they interview a new guest and provide you with hilarious banter. SPY is the only Canadian-produced show on the Maximum Fun podcast network.
Once a month the Sunday Service releases a podcast containing a multitude of characters and sketches. A Beautiful Podcast is unlike most other comedy podcasts in that it is well-produced and has a comedic story. It’s the podcast version of an old-timey radio play, except modern and absurd.
Join veteran comedy reviewer Guy Macpherson as he sits down every week with a comedian. One of the most underrated comedy interview podcasts out there.
The best place in Vancouver to take comedy classes is with Instant Theatre. They offer classes in improv, sketch, and stand-up and are very well-regarded.
For UBC students, there is a class (CRWR 230) on writing in comedic forms in the creative writing program.
Langara College also offers several comedy writing classes.
Things to Bookmark
Vancouverlivecomedy.com has a regularly updated list of all touring and local shows in the city.
Photo by Abaransk, via Flickr
David MacLean is a standup comic, as well as a writer, and editor-in-chief of the comedy website Nearly Robots. Together, the Nearly Robots team recently published their first collaborative work: a hilarious mock-tribute to erotica, Nearly Erotic, that you can purchase online.