At the time comedian Shaun Burton got the news Yuk Yuk’s St. John’s was closing, he was on the schedule to headline his very first show there the following month.
“It was a bit of a shock,” Burton said, with a little chuckle. “It was a little bit of a kick in the pants. I was very excited, but these things happen and what can you do?”
What can you do? Burton asked himself the question seriously, and came up with an answer that would benefit not only himself but other local comics.
Yuk Yuk’s announced on Twitter last March 17 it would be closing the comedy club on Kenmount Road, located inside Uptown Theatre.
“Thanks for all the laughs,” the tweet read. “Stay tuned for a new location coming in the future.” Later on, the franchise clarified there was no new venue in the works, but it was willing to consider new openings.
Later in the week, Uptown said the Yuk Yuk’s operation had been a part of its business, but a change in ownership and an evaluation of the numbers lead to the decision to end the relationship with the comedy club.
“The St. John’s standup comedy market has very specific tastes that run to more local entertainment, which make it difficult in securing paid ticket sales for Yuk Yuk’s branded comedians,” a statement from Uptown read. Not long after that, Uptown, too, closed.
Local comics felt the loss right away. Though there are other regular comedy nights — at Trapper John’s and The Levee on George Street, for example — there’s nowhere in town for a long-form headline spot and professional pay for standup comedians. Burton admits he never got to do that 40-minute headline act he had been set to do for the first time at Yuk Yuk’s, though he has been doing different shows.
“The closure of Yuk Yuk’s was a big loss to the comedy scene as well as to the comics,” Burton — a native of Random Island who was crowned “funniest Newfoundlander” by Yuk Yuk’s in 2012 — says.
Recognizing the need, some local comedians stepped up right away, taking it upon themselves to try and fill the hole left by the closure of the club. A month after Yuk Yuk’s closed, Chris Dunn began Night Out Productions, presenting a line-up of well-known local funnymen like Paul Warford, Liam Small, Luke Lawrence, Matt Wright, Mike Hammond and Michael Lynch together at the LSPU Hall. Since then he has produced a number of comedy shows, and will bring the newest, Lynch’s one-man show “Getting To Know Me,” to the LSPU Hall Jan. 29.
Last summer, Unpossible — a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people express themselves through art — organized a stand-up challenge, inviting new comedians to take to the stage for a short set and inspiring a whole crop of new comics and fans.
Burton established The Joke Mill, and has been presenting monthly comedy shows featuring local comedians at The Factory since April of last year. He says he is now finding himself in a position to be able to bring in some headliners from other parts of the country, and will start in March with James Mullinger.
Mullinger is a native of England who relocated to Saint John, N.B., in 2014, and has found success as a comedian on the east coast of Canada ever since. Last spring, he sold out Harbour Station Arena in Saint John (outselling Jerry Seinfeld and Jeff Dunham, he often points out), and two TV shows on Bell TV1: “Blimey! An Englishman in Atlantic Canada,” and “James Mullinger’s Comedy Bootcamp,” a reality show where Mullinger goes looking for the best comedians in the Atlantic provinces. Last year, in its first season, Burton and his wife, Nicole Downton, made it to the finals of the show after a public vote.
“James is a guy who’s hilarious, and very much giving back to Atlantic Canadians comedians,” Burton says of Mullinger.
Mullinger will be bringing “Comedy Bootcamp” back to St. John’s at the end of March, and will perform two Joke Mill shows at the CLB Armory March 24 and 25. Downton will also perform, as will the local “Comedy Bootcamp” winner, as a prize.
Burton says he has the rest of the year more or less planned out when it comes to his monthly comedy shows, including other national names. His ultimate goal, years down the road, is to be a professional comedian and perhaps open up a Joke Mill comedy club in St. John’s, but right now he’s happy doing what he’s doing.
“Ultimately, I just want to help give some opportunities for world-class comedy here,” he says.”
Tickets for the Mullinger show are $25, though there’s a limited number of $20 early bird tickets on sale now at www.thejokemill.com.
Tickets for Lynch’s show at the LSPU Hall are also on sale, online at the LSPU Hall box office, online at rca.nf.ca or by calling 753-4531. Advance tickets are $20, while tickets will be $23 at the door.
Comedian Nikki Payne, best known for her appearances on TV shows like “Last Comic Standing” and Much Music’s “Video on Trial” as well as for her own televised standup specials and performances at Just for Laughs, will also perform at the LSPU Hall this month. She’ll be doing two shows, Jan. 13 and 14. Tickets are available at the LSPU Hall box office and online.
Uptown still making use of former Yuk Yuk’s:
Comedy Boot Camp: