Absolute Comedy's Monday open mic nights a chance to laugh it up on the cheap
'[It] could be fantastic or it could be terrible,' says Josh Williams, Absolute Comedy's open mic night host
On a bitterly cold Monday evening, when Ottawa's dark streets are clear of people and traffic, there's a cozy little club on Preston Street jam-packed with chuckling customers.
At Absolute Comedy's open mic night, aspiring comedians make the big leap to the tiny stage while veterans try out new material.
A cheap night out — just $5 to get in the door — makes for a crowded venue of fans looking for a few laughs from a steady stream of fledgling comedians.
'You can see train wrecks'
"The level of quality could be fantastic or it could be terrible. You can see train wrecks or you can see some jokes really take off," said Josh Williams, the open mic night's host and a comedian himself.
"It's a birth of comedy. Some kids are good looking, some are ugly. That's what we're going to find out tonight."
Students, engineers, government workers and former professional athletes are among those taking turns delivering wisecracks. Each comic gets five minutes in the spotlight, and that can be a very long five minutes if the act falls flat.
It turns out that lowering your head a couple of inches to kiss someone is way better than crippling loneliness.- Megan Honey
Last Monday, Algonquin College student Megan Honey nonchalantly shared a squeamishly intimate boyfriend moment with the audience.
But it was a far different story when she decided to give it a try less than a year ago.
"I was really nervous the first time," said Honey.
"I knew people in the audience so that made it worse, because I wanted them to think I was funny also. But once you're done, once you get that first laugh, all that pressure dissipates. And it's that rush of getting people to laugh — you want to do that over and over again."
Steve Love has already experienced a momentary taste of fame, when YouTube videos of his impressions of characters from Game of Thrones landed him a brief spot on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
"I was doing YouTube videos for about two years before I ever got on stage, and once I got on stage and got laughs, I said, OK, I can do this," said Love.
He added that a tough audience can be the best teacher.
"The best-case scenario is that sometimes you can evaluate what you did wrong to see if there is anything you can salvage," said Love.
"Worst case scenario, you're buying a bag of Doritos and wallowing in self-loathing."
Dreams of a career in comedy
By day, Asim Baluch is a civil engineer, but by night he dreams of spinning his comic routine — about raising his kids — into something bigger.
"If I'm lucky, maybe four or five years down the road I can perform at Just for Laughs in Montreal and maybe one day have my own special," said Baluch.
I voted in the last federal election, but didn't know much about the candidates, just Justin Trudeau and Steven... Spielberg.- Kyle Brownrigg
Featured local comic Kyle Brownrigg is often called upon to close the night, making sure the crowd goes home happy.
A commercial artist who works part-time at Starbucks, Brownrigg might be an accomplished laugh magnet but he still struggles with forging a career in comedy.
"There are not a lot of successful comedians in Ottawa who are household names," said Brownrigg.
"And [while] we can probably work and make $30,000 or $40,000 when we get to headliner level, it can take years to get to that. It's a job you have to be passionate about and you have to stick to and remain dedicated to, because it will kick you in the butt over and over again."
Absolute Comedy is located at 412 Preston St. Doors open on Monday at 7:30 p.m. and reservations are recommended. Open mic nights also take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Yuk Yuk's Comedy Club at 292 Elgin St. also hosts two amateur nights every week, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.