Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Eugene Mirman talks about Rick Jenkins, owner of Harvard Square’s Comedy Studio, who has added monthly charity drives to the club’s performances. (Photo: Kirsten Sims)

Not everything is a joke at The Comedy Studio, the Harvard Square comedy club that’s helped launch the careers of everyone from Eugene Mirman and Todd Barry to Mike Birbiglia and Louis C.K.

This year the club’s owner, Rick Jenkins, started inviting guests to donate a few dollars to a charity of the month — first two needy chapters of the Reach Out and Read childhood literacy program, then the Cambridge Community Center and its basketball court refinishing project.

“So many really good small organizations are suddenly trying to make up all their funding with donations,” Jenkins said recently, preparing for a Thursday show from the booth at the back of the Studio. The club, running six nights a week above the Hong Kong restaurant, has been open since 1995, but this is its first regular pitch for charity. “Especially with educationally based organizations and such, I feel like a little bit of help can really go a long way.”

The inspiration was the work his wife, Kirsten Sims, was doing with the nonprofit Reach Out and Read, whose Bennington, Vt., chapter found itself $300 short on supplies. When that problem was solved, Jenkins saw no reason not to go on raising money for other organizations.

Another nudge came as Jenkins and Sims became more involved in their Cambridgeport neighborhood and noticed more local needs where “a little bit of money can go a long way,” leading to the two months of fundraising for the community center’s basketball court. The joke from Thursday night host Sean Sullivan is that the Studio is soliciting enough money to pay for half the court, although of course the goal is for a complete surface.

“We found out about how much that would cost, and that’s about half of what we usually do for the charity in a month, so we jokingly say we could pay for half the court being refinished,” Jenkins said, explaining:

“We had so many people tell us that we should raise prices, and I didn’t want to do that, so this seemed like a nice way to pay it forward. It’s only a $12 ticket on a weekend. Having the ticket price what it is, I’m able to do the show I want — we can take chances, have a lot more new people on, be a little more experimental, try some different things without everyone leaving going like, ‘You know, for the price …’ I always want people leaving going like, ‘Wow, that was a bargain.’ This is a way people can leave saying, ‘That was a bargain, and here’s a couple of extra bucks to feel even better.’”

On a weekday night where the comedians are too new and the material possibly a little too experimental, donations can droop. On a good night, though, the typical $2 to $5 donation might jump to $40 from a single person, Jenkins said, as happened at a recent Mystery Lounge magic show.

Jenkins has even touted the community center in his Comedy Studio newsletter, which is read by local comics. In a way, that’s made the charity work not just personal, but added a touch of self-interest.

“It just seems like such a great organization,” Jenkins said of the center. “And now the Boston comedians rent the gym from noon until 2 p.m. Sundays and play pickup basketball there.”