It was an unusually warm night in late October when I threw on my faded denim jacket and worn-out Converse to make my way toward Comedy Bar on the Danforth for the first time. Wedged between an unassuming cigar shop and a residential building with plain, grey-scale facades, the massive sign that spans the venue is hard to miss. “Comedy Bar” sits across the top in glowing red letters. Details on the headliners, showtimes, and website shine below, framed in beaming yellow show lights.
As I walked toward the illuminated sign, I thought about the first comedy show I attended. I was in my early twenties, struggling to get through an awkward date at a dingy dive bar. As I began to plan an early getaway, a man jumped on the tiny, wooden stage at the back of the bar to announce the start of their weekly stand-up comedy night. Before this, I had seen snippets of stand-up skits on television, but I had never been to a live show. To my pleasant surprise, the evening that began with awkward silences ended in the kind of laughter that had us doubled over in our seats with happy tears in our eyes. In one way, I did leave the date that night with a new-found love—however, that love was for stand-up comedy!
The wide range of comedy nights at bars around Toronto made it easy for me to indulge in stand-up over the next few years, and I was excited to explore the East End and check out new spaces. Comedy Bar on the Danforth opened in late 2021, in the midst of the unpredictable COVID-19 lockdowns in Toronto. This is the second Comedy Bar venue to open in the city, the first being Comedy Bar on Bloor, which James Elksnitis and Gary Rideout Jr. co-founded in 2008. Throughout its almost 15 years of operation, Comedy Bar on Bloor has hosted many comedy megastars while also fostering the talents of a wide variety of Canadian comedians, writers, and performers. In a previous interview, Rideout Jr. said he was excited to open up their new location on the Danforth. Both co-founders grew up in the East End of Toronto and felt that this part of the city was underserved in terms of comedy, theatre, and creative spaces, compared to the lively Toronto downtown core. They hope this location can bring people together and give them something to look forward to in the neighbourhood.
Comedy Bar on the Danforth is more than double the size of its sister venue on Bloor. The interior is clean and inviting, with walnut hardwood floors and dimly lit chandeliers. Beautiful, fern-green stools and booths surround the dining area and bar, each framed by rustic gold accents. I sauntered over to the bar and ordered a drink from the friendly bartender. Their menu was vast and impressive. In my later chats with Elksnitis, he shared that expanding the kitchen and menu was a large point of focus when they opened the Danforth location. I perched on a bar stool and waited amidst the excited buzz and murmurs of the crowd for the doors of the main theatre to open.
At the time of my visit, Comedy Bar was lending out their venue space to Second City, an established improv sketch comedy club with a history of almost 50 years in Toronto. Although I had been to countless stand-up shows over the years, I had never been to a comedy improv show before, and I was not disappointed. Much like stand-up performers, the cast fed off the energy of the crowd with their masterful improvisation. Actors requested prompts from the audience to inform their roles, such as “pick an emotion” and “pick a profession,” and they created hilarious skits on the spot. The layout of the theatre only enhanced my experience, with its funky, patterned wallpaper, colourful stage lighting, and comfy red velvet seats.
Contrary to popular belief, comedians don’t just tell jokes and one-liners onstage. There is a method to the madness, and it is a unique type of performance art that brings people together. Professional comedians craft a carefully constructed monologue from beginning to end, all while improvising with whatever the audience (or, more often, hecklers) throws at them. Hours of writing and practicing go into each set, yet despite this extensive planning, no two shows are the same. The comedian can never predict which jokes will resonate with the audience and which ones will flop. Reading each new audience becomes an art in and of itself.
Whenever I attend a show, I know I’m carving out an hour or so where I can relax, laugh, and forget about my problems. I always leave the show in a better mood than when I arrive. Attending a comedy show is an excellent way to relieve stress, and the interactive nature of the shows makes it a great way to bond with family, friends, and even the strangers beside you. I can attest that you can even go alone (or with awkward dates) and still have a grand time—and lots of good, hearty laughs!
My first time visiting Comedy Bar on the Danforth was an undeniable success. Local residents and visitors should both take full advantage of this awesome hot spot for entertainment in the neighbourhood. Although Second City is now operating in a different venue, Comedy Bar on the Danforth still offers a wide range of stand-up shows that any interested guests can check out. The venue is fully accessible, with an elevator and accessible washrooms located on both levels. Comedy clubs exist to spread laughter and joy to others, and laughter is a contagious force that forges communities and creates the authentic connections that the Danforth neighbourhood values. Comedy Bar on the Danforth is an exciting addition to the already vibrant East End, and I can’t wait to see the roster of new shows they will offer in 2023.