CAMBRIDGE — The Comedy Studio is coming home. That’s how it feels to club owner Rick Jenkins after signing a lease for a new space in Harvard Square at the former Curious George store that will allow the Studio to open a new chapter in its 25-year history sometime in the fall of 2022.
Jenkins originally founded the club in an attic space above the Hong Kong Restaurant in 1996 and left in 2017 to open a new space in Somerville at Bow Market in 2018. When the pandemic closed down live entertainment in 2020, it cast doubt on the Studio’s future in Somerville.
That’s when the space in Harvard Square opened up. “I am so excited about it,” says Jenkins. “It really feels like this is where we always belonged.”
The opportunity to return to the neighborhood where he started and had made so many memories was too much for Jenkins to pass up. “Walking through Harvard Yard to the club every night,” says Jenkins, “Colin Jost coming across the street from the school to do a set, Dan Mintz, [the voice of] Tina from ‘Bob’s Burgers,’ coming from the [Harvard] Lampoon building during the break and doing a set. The Comedy Studio really grew up as part of the Harvard Square community.”
The Studio hasn’t hosted shows in a permanent home since March 13, 2020, its last night at Bow Market. It has sponsored weekly shows at Vera’s in Somerville since the end of June and has also produced student showcases at The Rockwell in Davis Square. According to the Studio’s director of operations, comedian Kathe Farris, plans for the club’s return were still in flux until the new lease was signed. “Everything was really ambiguous,” she says, “So we started looking just out of curiosity to see if things would check off certain boxes. And this just came up.”
The new spot comes with some logistical advantages. It will be in The Abbot, the wedge-shaped building at Brattle and John F. Kennedy streets. The basement space will be accessible from the JFK Street side of the building and will allow the Studio to nearly double its former capacity, from about 100 seats to around 185. Jenkins and Farris are hoping that means more foot traffic and headliner shows.
“The Studio will still be known for being an incubator for new talent,” says Farris. “At the same time, we will be doing bigger shows and more consistent weekend shows. And that will bring bigger audiences as well. And then we have the whole school aspect, where we will have student showcases and classes there.”
The Studio has turned out a number of well-known comics over the years, and many of them, like Gary Gulman and Eugene Mirman, come back to do surprise drop-ins. Jenkins expects those surprises to continue, and with expanded seating, he’d like to put some of that talent on the official schedule. “We can do a bigger show instead of an unannounced drop-in,” he says. “So we can announce Eugene Mirman, or Brendon Small doing a seminar or someone doing a book signing. That just makes it scalable.”
Jenkins used to joke about the attic space in the Hong Kong, that it felt like he was hosting some kind of secret party. Similarly, at Bow Market, he’d noted that the club was somewhat hidden in a courtyard on the second floor of a retail space. In keeping with that spirit, he jokes about the new club literally being underground. “The important thing for me in looking for a location,” he says, “is it had to be well hidden and not on the ground floor.”
There is a lot yet to be done. Work has not yet started to turn the space into something that actually looks like a club. Shows will continue at Vera’s, a Union Square restaurant, and The Rockwell until the new space is open, which Farris says will allow time to experiment with different kinds of shows the Studio might eventually host.
The rough target for opening the new Comedy Studio is September 2022, but there are no shows officially on the books for the space, only some brainstorming. “We’ve let some of our alumni know the move is happening,” says Jenkins. “So there’ll be famous drop-ins and people who started out with us doing special shows and such, but it’s too early for dates and times.”
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.