The Comedy Studio - Mystery Lounge! - 5 Stars
For a decade, I have had my Boston backups memorized.
Thursday nights 5-9pm are free at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Wednesdays 4-10pm is free at the Museum of Fine Arts, and Tuesday is Magic Night at The Comedy Studio, above The Hong Kong in Harvard Square, which for some reason they have named "Mystery Lounge".
Few venues bring such a consistent good time. I'm always impressed by the standup comedy, but as Boston's only regular magic night, claimed to be the only regular magic show on the East Coast, it's really something special. It's reliable. Every week I know if I have nothing to do, I should go to Magic Night. You can order alcohol or food from the full Hong Kong menu delivered to your table. There's always crowd work and interactivity -- this is not a sit down, shut up venue where you are basically ignoring your friends -- and there's an intellectual vibe. I've never felt at The Comedy Studio that anyone is there to get wasted.
Rick Jenkins, the owner and emcee, confirmed to me that this is by design. "We're not trying to get people off the street anymore," he told me. "We're looking for an audience that knows what they are getting... We actually try to discourage groups larger than eight." So this is not for the drunken bachelorette parties. "The performers are here working for a lot less than they can, in a smaller room, because the audience is there for the show. Once you get past eight or ten people, then now they are really there for themselves, for their own party, and that tends to overwhelm the show."
In 2006 they even had Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner come to watch Louis CK on stage. But these shows aren't advertised so that a mob doesn't form. It's more like a treat for those who visit.
"As time goes on," Rich continued, "the students are getting more and more diverse. They're coming from more cultures and more places, and that has really benefited the magic show and the standup comedy show. Standup comedy is a lot like jazz. It's a uniquely American art form. And we have people from all over the world wanting to see this."
"Joe Wong, who started out here, now has his own television show every night on Chinese TV. We get a lot of people for whom English doesn't completely work for them yet, so they come to the magic show, because so much of it is visual."
How does he describe the event? "We just found a nice little space and we put on a little show. If you treat an audience like they are smart, then they're going to be smart. I really don't like shows that talk down to people, where performers think they are above the audience. This is all of us together. It's like, 'I've worked on this little skill, and now I want to show it off to you.' And there's a real delight in that."
You can see Joel and meet me (I'll be the tall, fat guy) this Sunday, May 1, at Four-Handed Illusions in Boston, which is a must-see in my opinion.
Find The Comedy Studio in Cambridge at www.thecomedystudio.com.