Over the 21 years Rick Jenkins has run the Comedy Studio on the third floor of the Hong Kong restaurant in Harvard Square, he developed a plethora of jokes about the underground feel of the place. Even though some of Boston’s best up-and-coming comics and some well-established friends were playing the club, it felt like a secret clubhouse, like maybe only the audience knew anything was happening up there.
“No one comes to our shows by accident,” Jenkins would say. “Nobody’s ever thought, ‘I wonder what they do in the attic of that restaurant.’”
That era of the club’s history ends on Dec. 30 with the Comedy Studio’s final show in Harvard Square, featuring younger talent and some old friends like DJ Hazard and Tony V. Increasing rent and the fact that Jenkins only had the club for a few hours a night has forced a change.
On Nov. 14, Jenkins announced the Studio had found a new home at Bow Market, the restaurant and shopping complex scheduled to open in Union Square, Somerville, in the spring. “We had a good relationship with the Hong Kong for a long time, but we were renting their space for a couple of hours each night,” says Jenkins. “To have our own club is something we always dreamed of.”
Jenkins expects construction on the new space to begin this year on a club that includes a 30- to 40-seat bar and a 110-seat theater (capacity at the old room was around 75). It will be a more flexible space, and most importantly, it will be dedicated solely to the Comedy Studio.
“We’ll be able to do everything we always wanted to do,” he says. “We won’t be turning down Comedy Central specials, we’ll be able to do podcasts, we’ll be able to record CDs. We’ll be able to have a space for comedians to rehearse or film their sketches or just write in their notebook. We’ll be able to have a full-time comedy club.”
A lot of well-known comedians have either gotten their start at the Studio or done guest spots when they were in town. The names include Eugene Mirman, David Spade, Jen Kirkman, Mike Birbiglia, Sarah Silverman, and Colin Jost. Jenkins has said some comics who have played the club will also be investors, though he won’t divulge names until all the legal matters surrounding the process have been settled. “It will be some of our old comedy friends, some of the comedians from the area,” he says. “It will definitely be a community effort.”
The philosophy of the club won’t change, and Jenkins plans to keep the showcase format for the weekend performances, having seven or eight comics on the bill. But he may mix things up the rest of the week. “Weekdays I’d like to do a big-name show,” he says, “where a better-known comedian works on stuff or records something and make that a regular event. We’re looking at the possibility of maybe having a kids show, like a Saturday afternoon show. Making it more the center of the community is the goal.”
Jenkins is hoping the ability to keep the doors open longer will help foster that community feeling. “I have no doubt we’re going to have a really, really terrific comedy club,” he says. “It’s exciting to me that we’re going to have a really good lounge.” He plans to open the lounge at 4 p.m. and keep it open through the show, and hopes it becomes a place where comedians can come with their notebooks and write or just hang out with their colleagues.
Mirman found like-minded comedians at the Studio when he was starting out in stand-up, and he has dropped in to do sets frequently over the years.
“It was great,” Mirman says. “It was home. I think the Comedy Studio remains a home for a lot of people and a jumping off point.” Mirman is now splitting time between homes in Somerville and Cape Cod, and he expects to be a regular presence in the new space. “I’ll probably do lots of different shows there,” he says. “I’m sort of very excited for it becoming this more permanent incubator.”
The founders of Bow Market, Matthew Boyes-Watson and Zachary Baum, have both been longtime fans of the Comedy Studio, and they were excited to partner with Jenkins. By design, many of the 34 vendors in Bow Market — situated on a lot housing a building formerly used for storage — will be run by first-time business owners. Boyes-Watson and Baum had planned for the theater and a brewery to be the anchors of the facility, supporting the smaller units. They were afraid they might have to compromise their mission to draw people. “With the Comedy Studio, we didn’t have to,” says Boyes-Watson, “because it’s an arts use that’s exactly in line with what we believe in with a very established vendor who’s going to be a draw. What Rick does is support up-and-coming comics, so he’s a bit of an incubator in his own right.”
Whatever else might change, the move hasn’t altered Jenkins’s humble attitude toward the club. The Comedy Studio spent 21 years in the attic of a Chinese restaurant. “Now we’re at the end of an alley on the second floor of an abandoned warehouse,” he jokes. “We’re not going Hollywood.”Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nick