British Columbia

Vancouver comedian hopes the laughs bounce back in an industry hard hit by pandemic losses

Even though COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on the industry, with places like the Kino Cafe and Yuk Yuk's shuttering, comedy insiders hope the scene will bounce back because people are craving live, post-pandemic entertainment.

Clubs have closed, but insiders say comedy lovers are itching to see live shows again

Comedian Sam Tonning is looking forward transitioning from online shows to in-person performing when it's safe to do so. (Jim Mulleder/CBC News)

The COVID-19 pandemic depressed a lot of industries and Vancouver's live-comedy scene is no different.

Once a thriving place for budding comedians to start out and work on their ideas and performance, the city's stand-up scene has been "decimated" by the pandemic, according to comedian Sam Tonning.

"We're at the point now where you can't get on stage. That stunts development quite a bit," said Tonning.

Even though COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on the industry, with places like the Kino Cafe and Yuk Yuk's Vancouver shuttering this spring, comedians like Tonning are hopeful the comedy scene will bounce back post-pandemic because people are craving live entertainment.

"Stand-up comedy, specifically, is so much about that interaction between the performer and the audience and I think people are going to be starved to have that interpersonal connection with a stranger again," he said.

Vancouver has a history of producing great acts: Ivan Decker, Sophie Buddle and Jacob Samuel won Juno Awards for comedy album of the year in 2018, 2019 and 2021, respectively.  

Tonning said Vancouver's scene is worth paying attention to.

"It's a tough place to do comedy but if you do it well and you get appreciation here, you're going to succeed anywhere."

'On and off' shows not helping

Suzy Rawsome, a comedy producer in Vancouver, said it's been tough for the industry to adapt to the changing public health orders which allowed for live shows last summer, but stopped again in the fall due to rising COVID-19 cases.

"The off and on definitely made it hard to fully adapt to online," said Rawsome.

She said normally comedy clubs charge around $12 to $20 per person for a live show. But with the switch to online viewing, she said entire households are tuning in and people aren't willing to pay more than $10 to watch a show.

Comedy producer Suzy Rawsome says people aren't willing to pay as much money to view online shows as they would if they were attending a comedy club. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC News)

Similar to Tonning, she is hopeful the industry will make a comeback.

"People are so hungry for comedy and they're so hungry for entertainment. They want to get out of the house, and they want to get back to normal life," said Rawsome.

The way forward now, Rawsome said, is for comedians to do independent shows until someone steps up and invests in a comedy club.  

The jump from online to in-person performing is something Tonning is looking forward to as well.

"This is a city for comedy and we can't let that go."

With files from Anita Bathe

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