Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Rick Jenkins on Oct. 19 in his future Comedy Studio space belowground in Harvard Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The Comedy Studio would reopen in Harvard Square in time for a New Year’s Eve party if owner Rick Jenkins had his preference, but a visit to its belowground shell last month showed why January is the more likely date.

The 7 John F. Kennedy St. space in the quickly filling Abbot building is still high-ceilinged cinder blocks and concrete, partly filled with stacks of chairs and bar fixtures from the club’s three-year run in Somerville’s Union Square. The only signs of what’s to come are literal: a chalked A-frame at the door from the Studio’s last residency with “live comedy every Friday and Saturday”; and a tiny stage with a stool, mic stand and an old Comedy Studio placard in green and orange (due for the tiniest design upgrade, Jenkins said). 

What’s now a refrigerator-sized raised wooden platform will be a full stage within a couple of months, with a draped area for 100 to 160 chairs and a green room off to the side. On some nights, the sound-dampening drapes will be pulled to shrink mainstage seating and create a second, smaller performance area closer to the front door, with bars on each side.

The space is so tall that the sound booth can be raised above the stage. Filming comedians’ sets will be more elaborate that in the old days leasing space at Harvard Square’s Hong Kong Restaurant from the mid-1990s through 2017, after which the Studio moved to Somerville. “‘We can edit a four-camera short video on the fly,” Jenkins said. Comics can use the videos to assess their performance for where to improve, use it as a calling card for bookers and post it for some online fame.

The new Harvard Square location on JFK Street is less conspicuous from its expected entryway where JFK and Brattle streets meet, but a recent meeting of the Cambridge Historical Commission made quick work of approving an illuminated sign that will lead people down a flight of stairs to the laughs. 

Inspections and approvals in general have been easy. “I think the city is excited to have us back in the square and give people something else to do at night,” Jenkins said. 

Entertainment in the square is down primarily to music at The Sinclair and Club Passim, movies at The Brattle Theatre and being able to squeeze into a play at Harvard’s American Repertory Theater. Jenkins hopes the Studio will join them from noon to 1 a.m. daily, starting at five days a week and going to seven quickly, depending on staffing. “I’d like to be open all the time,” Jenkins said, “though that’s probably not very feasible.”

As with past locations, Jenkins wants the Studio to be a place with a clubhouse feel where comics “can always drop in” ; he expects to offer the space for rent too, as “365 is a lot of days to fill.”

The club began April 14, 1996, when The Comedy Studio name was attached to events that began in March 1995. In its more than 20 years, The Comedy Studio has launched the careers of stars such as Gary Gulman, Sam Jay, Jen Kirkman, Eugene Mirman, Baratunde Thurston and Emma Willmann and been visited by everyone from Ali Wong and Mike Birbiglia to Anthony Jeselnik and Sarah Silverman.

Its New Year’s Eve parties atop the Hong Kong were often wild fun and always packed to capacity. The new Comedy Studio below Harvard Square might have to wait until Dec. 31, 2023, to try to match them.