Thursday, July 18, 2024

Rick Jenkins at the future Comedy Studio in Cambridge’s Harvard Square on Oct. 19, 2022. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The legendary Comedy Studio is expected to open its doors in Cambridge’s Harvard Square in late fall of this year after construction delays. “We put it out there that we were looking for some more investment, and lots of friends, fans and family stepped up to buy stock,” owner Rick Jenkins said. The club is still running a crowdfunding campaign to cover operating costs, and has raised $14,000 since December.

Construction, paused for more than a year, is set to restart this week underground at The Abbot building at 7 John F. Kennedy St., Jenkins said.

The studio first opened its doors in 1996, when Jenkins set up shop on the third floor of the Hong Kong Restaurant at 1238 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square. “I started doing the Sunday night show in this little 75-seat room with no advertising. We were able to fill it for 21 years, and developed some really great comedians.” To name a few: H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman, Sarah Silverman and Ali Wong. (It’s crazy to think that in whatever quantum reality we live in, a little room on the third floor of a restaurant managed to produce a significant part of the cast of “Bob’s Burgers.”)

Rent hikes forced Jenkins to relocate in 2017. The new Studio, fronted by a cocktail bar, opened in the Bow Market retail complex in Somerville’s Union Square in 2018. But the relocation was short-lived, as the Covid pandemic hit less than a year and a half later. Due to disagreements with Bow Market management about next steps, the Studio moved again, this time to a residency in Vera’s restaurant and bar in Union Square.

Nothing compares to having a spot of one’s own, however – especially for comedy. Being able to bake in years of laughter may make any live performance funnier, and Jenkins missed the community feel of the comedy clubs during the 1990s. “You would go to a certain club after your show and exchange notes with other comedians,” Jenkins said. “That’s how you could find work and help each other out.”

In November 2021, Jenkins announced the Studio was moving back to Harvard Square to a brand-new spot in the basement of The Abbott building – just a few blocks from its old haunts at the Hong Kong Restaurant.

Construction on the location began in mid-June 2022 with expectations of opening in January. 

Plans call for flexible staging with a total 160 seats, two bars and a four-camera recording setup, more elaborate than past versions of the Studio has offered. “Stand-up comedy is a very unnatural thing to do,” Jenkins said. “You’ve got to work from a shared premise, you’ve gotta work on your body language, your delivery, your word choice. That’s why comedians need a lot of stage time – you need to do it so much that you can forget it.” To help comedians see what they’re doing right and wrong, The Comedy Studio has taped every show since its inception, charging comics as little as $2 to $4 for a recording of their sets.

But as the studio approached its hoped-for opening date, post-Covid HVAC requirements, supply-chain issues and unexpected costs soon overwhelmed the project, delaying the opening significantly. To continue construction, Jenkins realized he would have to raise $100,000 more in funds.

Through selling more of his own percentage of the Studio business, crowdfunding and securing crucial investments from fans of the studio, the project is resuming construction.

Jenkins said he looked forward to reemerging this fall onto a comedy scene he described as “currently all over the place.”

“Nowadays, most up-and-coming comedians can’t get an hour of stage time anywhere,” Jenkins said. “You either go to Laugh Boston to see a headliner or to these smaller places. With The Comedy Studio, I want to build a center for comedy in Boston.”