Joking around for over 30 years

As a mainstay in the Canadian comedy scene, Yuk Yuk’s entertains audiences with laughter across the country. This past year marked the franchise’s 30th anniversary.

A lot has happened in the last three decades. Formed with the intention of providing an outlet to local comics in Toronto, Yuk Yuk’s performances were held in the basement of a community centre where no liquor could be served. Its humble beginnings starkly contrast with the Yuk Yuk’s of today. There are clubs in 17 Canadian cities with stages that have featured the biggest names in comedy. Out of Yuk Yuk’s came Funny Business, a talent booking agency, which provides comics for corporate events and fundraisers.

As part of the 30th anniversary celebrations, Yuk Yuk’s co-founder and general manager of the Ottawa Club, Howard Wagman, has an allstar roster of comics lined up.

Hotz Early“We’re trying to bring back people who got their start with us,” says Wagman. Jeremy Hotz, whom Wagman recalls was the first comedian to perform on a Yuk Yuk’s stage in March 1984, will fittingly headline one of the first sets of shows.

Hotz will appear at Yuk Yuk’s from February 26 to March 1 and he’s returning for the first time in 20 years. Hotz has starred in a number of comedy specials and sells out venues like the National Arts Centre.

Another huge player in the comedy scene, Gilbert Gottfried, will be performing at Yuk Yuk’s from March 19 to March 22. Gottfried is a Saturday Night Live alum, a veteran stand-up comic and a voice actor.

Harland Williams, who got his start on Toronto’s Yuk Yuk’s stage, will be performing in the Ottawa Club from April 30 to May 2. Williams is currently a member of an ensemble cast on the sitcom Package Deal, and has a slew of movie and TV credits to his name.

Young Howard Wagman
Young Howard Wagman

Wagman notes the magnitude of the return of these big names. “It’s a pretty big deal. In this day and age, most of these acts only work large venues. They are doing this because it’s our anniversary.”

Both longtime and amateur comics share the stage at Yuk Yuk’s. Wagman is thrilled to see the return of familiar faces at the Ottawa Club but has always been keen on bringing up new talent. He also notices that a lot more people want to do comedy these days. For these reasons, Wagman provides opportunities for amateurs to try out their material twice a week. Tuesday nights, newbies of the Launching Pad perform, while Wednesday nights are reserved for the New Talent Showcase. Aspiring comics perform six minutes of material in front of an audience, with no prior auditions. In total, 20 up-and-comers perform every single week. The possibility of getting their big break at Yuk Yuk’s and eventually becoming a household name, as many comics have, is what makes the club a sought-out venue in the local comedy scene. Wagman says that the Wednesday night New Talent Showcase Facebook page has over 500 members. Generally, the amateurs are in their twenties or thirties, but Wagman says that people in their fifties, sixties and seventies perform too.

It’s clear that comedy isn’t for a specific demographic, also demonstrated by the promos Yuk Yuk’s features. There are nights specifically for students, couples and those celebrating their upcoming nuptials.

Wagman is very satisfied with the past 30 years. “We’re just very proud that we had people like Norm Macdonald, Jon Dore, Tom Green and Jeremy Hotz. This was all in Ottawa. Legendary people got to play the Club. It’s been a fabulous run.”

Yuk Yuk’s will surely continue to be a hot spot for both new and old talent. It’s a fabulous run indeed, that’s far from over.