“Nobody’s here by accident,” says Cambridgeport resident Rick Jenkins, the owner, manager and frequent host at The Comedy Studio, located on the third floor of Harvard Square’s Hong Kong Restaurant. “Nobody ever walked by and thought to themselves, ‘I wonder what’s in the attic of that Chinese restaurant.’” He’s told that joke onstage countless times but it always gets a good laugh because it’s true: In its 19 year history, The Comedy Studio has never advertised. And yet, the house is packed almost every night.
Much of the club’s success has to do with his booking process. Jenkins will often put a show together that features a few comics with national television credits, as well as a performer trying comedy for the first time. The influx of new blood certainly brings a variety of people through the doors, but perhaps more importantly, Jenkins says a bill in which fledgling comedians are mixed with stand-up veterans makes for a better show.
“It’s really about the excitement and the sincerity,” says Jenkins. “A new comic on the same stage, in front of the same audience, as a comic who has already made the leap to professional … that’s special.”
Norwood native and occasional “Late Night with Craig Ferguson” guest Dan Boulger agrees: “I think it’s a good experience for the newer comedians. It makes you realize that it doesn’t matter who’s in the room, or who’s been on before you. It’s just you and a microphone.”
Like many Boston comics, Boulger started his comedy career at the Studio. “It was 2004 and I was 18. In August 2006, I was comic-in- residence, which was convenient because the Boston Comedy Festival was the next month, and I ended up winning it.”
The studio’s comic-in-residence is a rotating title given to the comedian who opens every show in a given month. Jenkins awards it to performers in whom he sees great potential, and it is seen as a sort of rite of passage among stand-ups in the area.
The development of new comedic talent is important, says Jenkins, because “now there’s a lot less money in comedy, so everyone who’s doing it is doing it because they love it. The arts in general have many more do-it-yourself shows.”
Jenkins’s DIY attitude towards comedy is what helped get the club started in 1996. “I never quit stand-up comedy. I just stopped getting hired,” he says. So when the Hong Kong Restaurant, a popular hangout for comics at the time, wanted an event to attract customers to their newly renovated third floor, Jenkins and fellow comic Thom Broan pitched the idea of a weekly comedy show.
“Mostly, I just wanted a place to get on stage once a week,” Jenkins recalls. “The fact that it became a full-time room is the surprise.”
Timing also helped. When Jenkins first moved to Boston from Buffalo, NY, in the 1980s, there were as many as four comedy clubs in a two-block area. As the legendary comedy “boom” of the era wound down, many clubs began closing their doors. So through “time and attrition,” as Jenkins puts it, the Studio became the club in the Boston area.
Jenkins’s commitment didn’t hurt, either.
“I don’t know a lot of people that are more committed to stand-up comedy than Rick,” says Boulger. “He’s been there six nights a week for over 15 years. Very few people have as good attendance records at their jobs as he does.”
As to whether seeing and managing comedy six nights a week ever gets old? “You never get sick of it if it’s good,” says Jenkins.
The Comedy Studio is located at 1238 Massachusetts Ave., on the third floor of the Hong Kong Restaurant. Shows are Tuesday through Sunday at 8 p.m.