This week, a Toronto comedy institution turns 10 years old. In Canadian comedy years that’s a milestone.
For the past decade the Underground Comedy Club has become a cult destination for upcoming comics and comedy purists here in the city. But it’s also earned a “Must Play” reputation for touring comedians from across North America passing through town. Comics from coast to coast have recorded live albums here, taped podcasts on stage, and you’re sure to find top billing headliners making a stop by the Underground to put in some stage time off the beaten path.
The Underground was also among the first of Toronto’s infamous “Pot Rooms”. While Toronto’s ‘420 friendly’ comedy scene is thriving and the city is home to a handful of lounges that cater to the pot comedy crowd – the Underground is a true original.
When Joanne ‘Puff Mama’ Baker first opened up the club in 2006, there was nowhere quite like it to see live comedy in Toronto. To this day, it remains an unrivalled original. For local comics it’s one of the best places to perform. A loose, laidback comedy club atmosphere where no new ideas are off limits and you never know who might show up. The room is a favourite of Canadian comedy icons and iconoclasts alike. Canadian comedy heavyweights like Boyd Banks, Scott Thompson, Mike Wilmot, Kate Davis and Kenny Robinson have frequented the room over the years. While American counterparts like Ari Shaffir have made the Underground a regular stop on the map.
As a comedy writer arriving on the Toronto standup scene in summer 2011, the Underground was one of those venues I heard about almost immediately – it was a coveted stage. I went, and I watched, and I worked my way up to the stage. A rite of passage that’s sometimes lost in comedy today.
The crowd here encourages experimentation and free form expression. This isn’t just a place to trot out “old gold” material and rehearse it verbatim in front of the cocktail crowd. The audience here is smart, savvy. They want to see comics working it out, playing Jazz. If you don’t mind such a hack cliche. The Underground is a home for raw, real independent comedy. That’s the vibe that Puff Mama has cultivated. She might be the biggest comedy fan we know. She’s definitely one of our biggest supporters.
When the Underground isn’t drawing in top billing comics during festival season or headliners stopping by in the middle of major tours, it’s home to a full roster of comics from across the city. Independent shows produced and performed by local comics, and neighbourhood favourites here in Toronto’s East End. Monday nights “The Shady Bunch” features four rotating hosts and a lineup every week with some of the city’s top upcoming comedians. On Tuesdays the “Homegrown” show features lineups curated by regular faces at the club. Leslieville’s funniest residents who call the Underground home.
Comics like Dave Martin (Sirius XM, Absolute Comedy) and Phil Luzi and Sandra Battaglini – a Toronto comedy power duo who have co-produced Canadian comedy award winning shows and some of the best cult classic comedy shows in the city. You can find Phil and Sandra at the Underground almost as much as Puff Mama herself.
Wednesdays are home to the ‘Dope ‘N Mic’, hosted and produced by Yuk Yuks roster comic Jeff Paul (who’s helmed two of his own annual festivals) the Dope ‘n Mic features a handful of pro comics every week. It quickly became one of the club’s most popular nights. Thursdays are home to a variety of independent shows and self-produced showcases, including ‘Ladies Night at the Underground’ – featuring all-female lineups of crowd killers the 3rd Thursday of every month. Hosted by local comic/producer Jen Sakato. Weekends are home to big ticket shows, with the Spotlight every Friday showcasing some of the best & brightest talent regularly playing at the Underground.
In an era when independent comedy is exploding on the Toronto standup scene, the Underground is at the forefront and ranks among the first clubs of it’s kind. In and above the ‘Pot Comedy’ community. It ranks among other Alternative and indie venues like Comedy Bar and Bad Dog theatre as a night spot where new, vibrant comedy is thriving. And Puff Mama was among the first in Toronto to expand on this scene.
This week is no exception. With a full run of shows commemorating 10 years at the Underground, and some of the best comedy you’ll find in Canada right now.
The Underground Comedy Club is at Queen and Broadview in Toronto’s East End. And even New York comics consider it a short distance to travel, to play the club that Puff Mama built.