Not your average comedy joint
Pot-friendly lounges find jokes and tokes go hand in hand
NICK KYONKA PHOTOS/TORONTO STAR
The bongs come out at Vapor Central last week before the comedy starts.
It's Wednesday night at 8 p.m. and a well-dressed group of twentysomethings settles into a Yonge St. lounge for what they've heard is one of the city's most popular weekly amateur comedy nights.
Behind them, a glassy-eyed girl in a jungle-green dress slinks into a seat and sparks up a joint, causing the acrid-sweet smell of marijuana to waft over in their direction.
Turning towards her, one man in the group clearly thinks of having a word with the girl. Instead, he raises a bong to salute her before he fires up the pot-packed bowl inside.
This is Weedy Wednesdays, the bustling weekly stand-up night at the pot-friendly lounge, Vapor Central – just one of the growing number of weed dens between College and Bloor Sts. that make up the community affectionately known as Yongesterdam. Much like the others, Vapor Central dodges marijuana laws by not actually providing patrons with the substance, and also avoids smoking laws that only target tobacco, its management claims.
Over the next 60 minutes, more than 150 people will pack into the tiny club for an hour of lewd and crude humour as they sit back and get stoned out of their minds – a testament to both the seemingly perfect marriage of weed and comedy and to the (promotional) buzz the show has created amongst comedians and stoners alike.
"As far as I know, it's the biggest weekly pot show in North America," says host Bryan O'Gorman, who co-founded the event with Vapor Central manager Christopher Goodwin, after they attended a similar but infrequent show at the pot-friendly Queen St. E. café Clandestiny in 2007.
"The funny thing is, when we started out, we just wanted a place to perform," he says of himself and fellow comedian Hunter Collins. "The pot thing was kind of a coincidence."
For the first six months, he explains, they were lucky to draw 20 people a week. But as word of mouth spread, more and more comedians started asking to perform, and a growing audience was soon to follow. "Now we're at the point where we're turning away 20 to 40 people a week," he says from behind his dark brown aviator glasses.
Back at Vapor Central, the room starts filling up with people and thick clouds of smoke by 8:30 p.m. – a full half-hour before the show's scheduled start. Returning the bong they rented from the bar, the group of twentysomethings claims a couch by the stage and tests out one of the club's many vaporizers as the overhead speakers play comedian Jon Lajoie's stoner-spoof song, "High as F--k."
A little farther back in the club, a seemingly prim middle-aged man and woman sit and absorb the scenery.
Though occasional smokers themselves, on this night they'll stay sober as they enjoy one of their favourite comedians and take in their first trip to Vapor Central, says the man, a 53-year-old real estate agent who wouldn't provide his name ("My partner is a crown attorney," he explains).
"This is an eye-opening experience for us," he says of the night ahead. Particularly, he's interested in seeing how the half-baked audience will differ from the drunken hecklers he's experienced at other comedy clubs.
"People who smoke pot aren't so obnoxious," he suggests. "They don't really get rowdy. They get giggly, and then they have the munchies."
Apart from bags of chips and chocolate bars, like the marijuana, munchies at Vapor Central are BYOM, as the bar only serves soft drinks and rented bongs – which range from $1 to $12. Vapor bags come free with the $5 fee for admission.
By 9 p.m. the crowd has settled and is awaiting the first comedian. Though an announcement comes over the speakers explaining a 15-minute delay (a seemingly predictable outcome), the nonchalant audience seems unfazed, and a handful of people scramble outside for one last (tobacco) cigarette. Among them is aspiring local comedian Mike Rita, who comes out each week in hopes of claiming a chance to fill in for a no-show on stage.
A landscaper by day, Rita, 19, works as many stand-up nights as possible at venues across the city, he says, including the occasional gig at Yuk Yuk's, as well as at bars and the other smaller pot-friendly clubs like Clandestiny and the Hot Box Café, which host smaller stoner comedy nights.
But of all of them, he says, Weedy Wednesdays is "the thing to do" for a developing comic like himself.
"(It's) a young crowd and they're hip and you can try different types of material," says Rita, who boasts of having 55 minutes of weed-related jokes alone. "People that are drinking are louder when they laugh, but they're quicker to judge you if you make a mistake on stage."
Back inside, O'Gorman jumps onstage to officially kick things off with the announcement of a mid-show bong-smoking competition. "One of you is going to win a bong tonight," he proudly declares. "And then you're going to forget it at McDonald's afterwards."
After reciting a brief comedic sermon about the politics of marijuana legalization, O'Gorman steps aside for the night's first act, former radio host Barry Taylor, who emerges from the smoke to take the stage.
Like Rita, Taylor says he loves to perform at Weedy Wednesdays because it's guaranteed to draw a crowd that is, for the most part, simply too laid back to heckle a still-green comedian like himself.
"The crowd's in a different kind of mood so sometimes you have to move at a slower pace," he explains before taking the stage.
On this night, however, that laid-back attitude will hurt him, as he receives only scattered laughs while racing through an eight-minute set about incest and Nintendo.
As with O'Gorman, Taylor says he refrains from indulging in the smoking festivities until after he's done performing. Not all of the night's acts would be so disciplined.
"I am so f--king high right now, I think my eyesight has improved so much I don't even need my glasses," claims the second performer, Howard Dover, in a somewhat nonsensical bit. "But with my glasses I could see into the future. And in the future, I'm still high."
"I'm too stoned," admits another performer, Manolis Zantanos, after spacing out during one of his jokes.
Though most of the early acts entice only occasional giggles from the crowd on this night, the headliner, Jason Rouse, is showered with both laughs and uncomfortable groans as he churns out one bawdy joke after another. The Hamilton-born shock comic, who was part of "The Nasty Show" at the recent Just for Laughs festival, is known for his offensive and combative comedy routine.
"It's not really a comedy show anymore, it's more of a hostage situation," he says after eliciting an uncomfortable silence from the crowd after a particularly nasty joke.
"Everybody's too stoned to run," he says, bringing the crowd back onside.
Perhaps the club's most successful regular comedian, Rouse, now based in London, England, says he never misses a chance to perform at Weedy Wednesdays when he's in town, even if he doesn't always get the laughs he would at other clubs.
"Comedy is best in a comfortable spot, but these guys have smoked themselves into an even more relaxed situation," he says of the crowd. "If you get a couple of smiles you know you're doing well."
Rouse gets more than smiles on this night, as his brand of pick-on-the-audience humour goes over well with the crowd for much of his 23-minute set. When he finishes, O'Gorman returns to the stage to announce the end of the show as the house lights come up and people start stammering out the door.
Perhaps too stoned to move just yet, a few scattered groups of people remain glued to their seats, still puffing away at bongs, joints and vaporizers as they continue to smoke themselves into a stupor. One of the stragglers is the girl in the jungle-green dress, who identifies herself as Olive Mercury.
A second-year psychology major at Queen's University, Mercury, 20, has come to the show each week this summer with the same group of friends – "the crew."
"We just fell in love with this place," she says of the group's first Weedy Wednesdays encounter last summer.
Like almost every other time she's come, the comedy on this night was "pretty cool," she says in the slow drawl reminiscent of a Cheech and Chong movie. "And you can smoke with (impunity) here," she adds.
Though Weedy Wednesdays is the largest and most popular weekly pot-friendly comedy night, three other Thursday-night shows are a hit with crowds and comedians alike. If you time it right, you can catch a bit of all three, notes Weedy Wednesday host Bryan O'Gorman.
"Stoner Comedy Thursdays" kicks off at 7 p.m. on the patio at the Hot Box Café. 191A Baldwin St., in Kensington Market near Spadina Ave. and Dundas St. W.
Bryan O'Gorman and Hunter Collins host "Third-Class Thursdays" at 9 p.m. at Vapor Central. 667 Yonge St., just south of Charles St.
A second "Stoner Comedy Thursdays" is the pothead equivalent to the late-night show. It's at 10 p.m. out of Clandestiny, 670 Queen St. E.
Aug 06, 2009 04:30 AM