Comedy in Guelph: progressive or raw or both?

Comedy in Guelph: progressive or raw or both?

Making-Box and Jimmy Jazz forge different paths for local scene

Five years ago, Guelph’s comedy scene provided little opportunity for local comedians. “You could watch Ron James at the River Run, but there surely wasn’t any place to try comedy yourself,” said Jay Reid, who co-founded The Making-Box comedy company in 2013.

Since then, the city has seen the emergence of a weekly comedy night, a four-day comedy festival, and a dedicated storefront comedy theatre. Comedians like Patrick Haye (Just for Laughs 42, Winnipeg Comedy Festival) and Mark Little (Just for Laughs, Canadian Comedy Award winner) have performed in Guelph to sold out crowds. The Making-Box on Cork Street and Jimmy Jazz on Macdonnell Street have created a home for local, national, and international comedians.

Courtesy of Canadian Improv Games

The Making-Box, co-founded by Jay Reid and Ric Mattingley, began by hosting shows at the local Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans club, but soon realized there was a larger demand for comedy. They moved and made a home at 40 Baker Street as a pop-up theatre. Today, they are the first storefront comedy theatre in Guelph, located at 43 Cork St.

Think all they offer is stand-up? Think again: “We have a bathroom covered from floor to ceiling in pictures of cute bulldogs,” said Reid. They also teach improv.

Their regular schedule consists of a twice-monthly open mic, “Headliners” shows featuring a handful of local talents leading up to a successful national or international comedian, a monthly “Improv Jam,” and more.

The Making-Box puts an emphasis on “[building] community through comedy, so naturally we’re always trying to listen harder, identify and erase potential boundaries, and celebrate unique communities,” said Reid.

Their open mics guarantee five spots to people of colour, LGBTQ2IA+ people, gender non-conforming people, females, or people with disabilities. They also have a gender-neutral washroom.

In such a safe and accessible space, people with marginalized identities can enjoy a fun night out and also see themselves on stage.

“Some shows we produce are more obviously focused — queer-centric shows, feminist shows, drag shows. We’ve put on comedy shows for law firms, seniors, and have taught improv to six-year-olds, inside of women’s prisons, and at the head office of Canada’s largest bank. Laughter has no bounds,” said Reid.

The Making-Box isn’t the only place to see comedy in Guelph. Comedy Night at Jimmy Jazz is a free weekly show created in 2017 and hosted by Cambridge comedian — “A lot of nights, people would clarify me as a ‘loser’” — Dave MacInnis.

Odesia Howlett

Local comedians (first-timers, amateurs, or pros) perform before a headlining comedian every Sunday night. The headliner is often a hardworking touring comedian who performs raw material for a crowd willing to respond and interact with them.

MacInnis himself has been practicing for years. “Dave is a great example of someone who worked and works hard at comedy,” said Reid. “Years back, he did one of his first sets at a Making-Box open mic and it was terrible, repulsive even. Flash forward to today and, probably a hundred sets later, he’s skilled and generally hilarious on stage.”

When creating the weekly lineup, MacInnis is impartial to the content. “A lot of people, they want gay comedy, they want women comics,” said MacInnis. “I just want funny people. I don’t care if you’re black, you’re brown, I don’t give a shit who you are. I just want you to be funny and do the show.”

Photos by Odesia Howlett

The comedy matches the venue: grungy. Many comedians talk about the realness of their lives, work, and relationships without feeling the restrictions of political correctness. They use ableist and sexist slurs that would elsewhere be unacceptable. There is a silent understanding that true comedy is born in grungy communities such as this, and comedians will test out risky new material that might end up bombing or offending the audience. Each show could be a hit or a miss. There is a non-judgmental vibe around those who have been to a handful of shows and understand what they’re in for.

According to MacInnis, Comedy Night at Jimmy Jazz doesn’t attract many students, despite being free: “I’m kind of a miserable prick and a lot of comics that I book are kind of miserable. And a lot of students, they’re in the time of their life where they’re having so much fun. They don’t want to listen to some sad asshole’s problems. So most times [when] we have students, we end up walking them. Most people who come here are usually mid-20s to early 30s. And I like that crowd better because they know that life sucks a bit and they can relate.”

“The Making-Box, like especially with their pro shows, they definitely do it differently,” said MacInnis.

“They do what they do very, very well. But here, you’ll find people you wouldn’t see at The Making-Box, because I book everyone and anyone. You would find material here that you would never find at The Making-Box.”

Comedy fans can also watch for shows at other bars and venues around Guelph, such as the River Run Centre, Silence, and the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans club. Local comedian Zach Charbonneau has even started hosting shows in his own living room — his second house show runs later this January.

Reid summed things up perfectly: “Today, you can see multiple comedy shows a week in Guelph. It’s incredible. Guelph has a flourishing and talented comedy community.”

Feature image edited by Alora Griffiths/The Ontarion

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