Indie comedy is stepping up to the mic

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      Nothing beats the feeling of sitting in a packed comedy club, laughing until your face and stomach hurt. The stress of the day melts away; your phone is on silent; and for an hour or so, cackling with a bunch of friends (and strangers) is all that matters.

      That’s the sensation Mike Greenwood was chasing when he decided to launch Comedy Underground.

      “I founded Comedy Underground out of kind of a necessity because there wasn’t a comedy club in Vancouver,” he says. Increasing rent created financial struggles for previous clubs like Yuk Yuk’s and The Comedy Mix—and while smaller independent productions existed, he wanted to fill the gap he was seeing for something bigger.

      Mike Greenwood of Comedy Underground.
      Photo by Lynsey Wilkie.

      Since Comedy Underground launched in 2022, it’s become a Friday night staple. The goal was something with a New York vibe (found in perfect form in the basement under Gastown’s Rosette): packed wall to wall, intimate, and alive.

      Greenwood says the digitization of ticket sales was a positive turning point for independent comedy shows like his. While audiences were once skeptical of Eventbrite and more willing to pay up front, it’s now the norm for people to decide what to do on a Friday by perusing the online event listings and buying tickets at the last minute.

      He also notes that the scene is becoming more diverse. “I’ve noticed a lot more women are coming out to comedy, and they’re also the organizers,” he reflects. “Before, it was a bit more divided. So I think it’s growing and more people are coming out.”

      M’Beth Schoenfeld and Lucy Guo are two such organizers. They met at a one-off outdoor comedy show that Guo helped produce last summer and they hit it off, quickly recognizing a shared love for community-based comedy shows and art. So they joined forces to launch Art is Joke, which has had two installations so far, with more in the works.

      Art is a Joke.
      Photo by Kurt Cuffy.

      Instead of a dark theatre or bar, Guo and Schoenfeld wanted to create a cozy feeling—like sitting in a friend’s living room. That’s why they chose to host their show at August Studios: a collaborative art space in East Vancouver where Schoenfeld is a resident artist. The walls are covered in curated pieces, and other resident artists will often attend the shows and do open studio visits afterwards.

      They’re encouraged by where the scene is going.

      “Something that I have noticed in recent years is that the community behind the comedy scene has been growing stronger and stronger,” Schoenfeld says. “I’m particularly aware of this because this is something I care about. There’s quite a lovely cohort of female comedians coming through who truly have a beautiful friendship and beautiful systems of support.”

      It likely helps that there are so many indie shows—including Comedy After Dark, Jokes Please, Little Mountain Gallery, The Comedy Department, Fistful of Kicks, The Comedy Ring, Treat Show Comedy, and Live on the Drive—which results in more opportunities for people to perform and connect.

      “Recently, I’ve seen a lot of people like us,” Guo adds, “who are kind of just like, ‘I want to put together a comedy show.’”

      Instead of creating her own show, Meaghan Hommy from The Improv Centre (formerly known as Vancouver TheatreSports) got her start in comedy by taking classes. But soon, she realized she wanted to perform—and now works full-time at the centre.

      “People always come up to us after shows and say, ‘I could never do what you do,’” she reflects. “But no one expects you to get up on stage and know how to do it right away. I had no idea what I was doing, but once I learned and started training and practicing, it became less and less scary to hop on stage with nothing prepared—because you have the tools that improv gives you to create that something out of nothing.”

      Over the past couple of years, Hommy has noticed so many up-and-coming theatres and groups. “I think the improv scene is just getting bigger and bigger in Vancouver,” she says, adding that it’s become more open and accessible for those wanting to join troupes or create their own shows.

      Despite dwindling venues, these passionate, bootstrapping folks are united under a common goal: getting people laughing, and keeping them laughing.

      “My favorite thing is when someone’s never seen a live comedy show, and then after they wait to talk to me about it,” says Greenwood. “They’re just like, ‘What the fuck was that? That was amazing. Holy shit.’”