The basement of the Fort Garry Hotel will soon transform into a haven for comedians from the central Prairies and beyond. The internationally recognized comedy chain Yuk Yuk’s will host its first show at the venue on Feb. 9, featuring Canadian-born comic Shaun Majumder.
“Winnipeg has always been a marketplace that we would want to be in,” Mark Breslin, the founder and CEO of Yuk Yuk’s, says. “This opportunity at the Fort Garry presented itself, and we thought that it was a real possibility for success.”
Established in 1976, Yuks Yuk’s has since expanded its home roots from Toronto by opening comedy clubs across North America.
It isn’t the first time Winnipeg has hosted a Yuk Yuk’s within city limits. In the mid-1980s, a former Osborne Village waterbed shop called Floating Ecstasy closed its doors after the market for them began to dwindle. So, in 1986, Winnipeg’s first Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret opened on the second floor.
“We’d still be there today if we hadn’t lost our lease,” Breslin says. “We did a couple pop-ups through the ’90s, but they didn’t really work out all that well, and we just moved onto other things.”
Now back in Winnipeg, Breslin believes the brand’s name recognition could spotlight the city’s already-thriving comedy scene with opportunities for local and international comics alike.
“Because we’re the only national brand of (comedy club) in the country, if somebody is funny in Halifax, we’re able to take them and put them on tour all across the country,” Breslin says. “Ironically, the best way you can help a local scene is to help the locals get out of that city for a while.”
Jared Story, host and producer of the Winnipeg Comedy Showcase, welcomes the opening of the venue with optimism.
“I’m sure there will be an opportunity for local comics to work as hosts and feature acts for bigger names that are coming to town,” Story says. “I think there are a lot of local comics here who could use more opportunities. Here in Winnipeg, we’ve always had to make our own stuff happen. So, anytime you get to have more stage time, it’s good.”
Winnipeg has no shortage of comedic talent, but locals can still count the number of dedicated comedy clubs in the city on one hand. In larger cities, seasoned comics could perform up to five times a night. In Winnipeg, they’re lucky to get five shows a week, Story says.
Whatever comes out of the new Yuk Yuk’s venue, Story says more time for comics to practise their chops is crucial to keep the momentum going.
“You could practise your jokes in front of a mirror, and it doesn’t really do much. Everything is funny until it hits the stage. That’s the true test of comedy,” Story says.
“Anything that enables you to keep working towards that 10,000 hours, Malcolm Gladwell idea is a good thing.”
Tickets to Yuk Yuk’s opening show featuring Shaun Majumder are available at bit.ly/3RcbW0X.
Published in Volume 77, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 2, 2023)