Saturday, May 18, 2024

Bow Market in Somerville’s Union Square, as rendered by landscape architects Merrit Chase.

Cambridge is losing The Comedy Studio to Somerville, where the comedy club plans to open in spring in Bow Market in Union Square – a former storage space being turned into a complex of more than 30 small storefronts for food, retail and the arts.

The Comedy Studio has operated for more then 20 years out a third-floor bar in Harvard Square’s Hong Kong Restaurant, but rising rents forced founder and owner Rick Jenkins to first trim back the performance schedule, then seek a new home altogether. The club will stay open in Harvard Square through the end of the year.

Rick Jenkins with comedian Eugene Mirman

Rick Jenkins with comedian Eugene Mirman at the 15th anniversary of Jenkins’ Harvard Square club, The Comedy Studio. (Photo: Kirsten Sims)

Somerville’s Union Square, meanwhile, has been developing fast into a destination for the arts, co-working spaces and high-end restaurants, though several old-school eateries and markets remain. More change and gentrification is likely from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority bringing a green line extension branch station to Union Square, with a possible opening in 2021.

Construction on Bow Market, with an official street address of 337 Somerville Ave., is underway, with 11 businesses aside from The Comedy Studio signed up for spaces as small as 165 square feet or as large as Remnant Brewing’s thousands of square feet inside and outside. (Remnant is founded by Joel Prickett, of Cambridge’s Lord Hobo, and David Kushner, of John Harvard’s.) Developers Matthew Boyes-Watson and Zach Baum also added a second-floor theater with upward of 100 seats, another 30 to 40 seats in a lounge, and ticketing and concessions.

“Now that we are 21 years old, we thought it was time to move out of the attic and get our own place – preferably one with a bar,” Jenkins said.

Weekend shows at the current Comedy Studio, which holds about 75 people, have been selling out consistently, Jenkins has said.

Relocating a legacy

Despite the modest Harvard Square space, with its lack of backstage privacy and need to set up and break down chairs and tables nightly, The Comedy Studio has had a significant influence on the comedy scene, launching stars such as Gary Gulman, Eugene Mirman, Sam Jay, Emma Willmann and Jen Kirkman and hosting everyone from Ali Wong and Mike Birbiglia to Anthony Jeselnik, Colin Jost and Sarah Silverman. “Some of the comedic talent that has propelled the club to success will also be investing in the new space,” a Comedy Studio press release said Monday.

The Comedy Studio will feature the same mix of new and established comedy talent, even “while we’re moving to a beautiful new, custom-made space,” Jenkins said. “This place we call The Studio is a family that has supported the comedic arts for more than two decades, and The Comedy Studio will remain an intimate, affordable, and accessible arts option. I’ve been part of the Boston comedy community since the ‘80s; this Union Square location is going to be a great home for the next generation.”

In the months leading up to the opening of the space and to introduce itself to its new neighbors and community, The Comedy Studio plans a series of stand-up performances in bars and restaurants throughout Union Square, Jenkins said.

Asked recently about the chances of losing The Comedy Studio to lower rents elsewhere, Harvard Square Business Association executive director Denise Jillson called the Studio “a special thing” the square would be sorry to lose.

It’s not the first longtime Cambridge arts institution that’s been forced to relocate. After 37 years in North Cambridge, the Deborah Mason School of Dance found a home in Somerville – albeit near the town line in Porter Square – in 2013 when it couldn’t afford Cambridge rents after relocation, Mason said.

The Comedy Studio is at 1238 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square. Its website is here.