When public gatherings and live performances became taboo at the outset of the pandemic last year, that was the end of a lengthy run for the Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club at the Westin Hotel.
“Westin didn’t renew their contract and they didn’t want to get back into it,” says stand-up comedian-turned-drama teacher Francois Weber, who says the closing of the Halifax club may have been a blessing in disguise. “I always liked the Westin but I always thought that it was off the beaten path.”
A longtime veteran of the comedy stage, Weber quickly recognized the need for a professional club in HRM so he grabbed the reins and rallied a new residence for Yuk Yuk’s in the basement at the Economy Shoe Shop.
“I kind of wanted something more central because whenever I was there, I always saw people waiting for cabs or people started walking to go downtown after every show,” says Weber, adding that he had a specific street in mind for Yuk Yuk’s new location. “The only way I would do it is if I could find a place on Argyle Street.”
With public health restrictions now lifting and allowing larger crowds, Weber is hoping to capitalize on people’s pent-up passion for comedy. Although he quietly opened Yuk Yuk’s at the Economy Shoe Shop in April, the momentum of his launch was quickly snuffed out by the province’s lockdown late in the month.
“We got one weekend in and it had sold out and then the next weekend had sold too,” says Weber. “But then we got shutdown.”
Since reopening on July 2, Weber is pleased to have seen great interest from audiences and his new venue a popular fit for Canada’s most recognized comedy franchise.
“It’s one of the oldest pubs in Halifax, it used to be the old Seahorse so it’s legendary,” says Weber of the basement venue that at least one audience member has compared to New York City’s legendary Comedy Cellar. “The place has just a cool-looking stage, there’s a cool vibe in the room — it’s just really, really neat and that’s what I wanted.”
While he intended to situate the club in a location that wouldn’t alienate younger audiences, Weber also says reopening Yuk Yuk’s was an important move to ensure local comedians had a headline destination to study their craft.
“It’s a vibrant community and I didn’t want to see it not have a club,” insists Weber, who says he planned the move prior to the recent opening of Dartmouth’s Comedy Cove. Still, he notes with the number of popular open-mic opportunities across HRM each night, there is room for more than one comedy club.
“We’ve sold out every show and I think that it’s going to be a vibrant summer, you can feel it in the air,” adds Weber, who will be headlining at the club on July 23 and 24 himself. “(COVID-19) put us in a holding pattern for entertainment and I think that’s going to pop out and it’s going to pop out even bigger.”
Mind you, Weber didn’t launch Yuk Yuk’s as a money-making venture either. With the club only open Fridays and Saturdays, the 54-year-old entrepreneur admits that the project is more about “kind of breaking even and making sure there’s stand-up in the community.”
Besides, in addition to being a new comedy club owner, Weber stays busy teaching drama at Bedford’s Charles P. Allen High School – a career that he has no plans of abandoning. With the new Yuk Yuk’s club however, Weber hopes he can at least deliver more laughs to local Haligonians.
“That’s part of moving it to Argyle Street,” says Weber of refreshing Yuk Yuk’s image. “Now it’s a real mix (of people) — like 50s, 60s and a big crowd of young people — it’s what I really wanted to happen, I wanted to revive stand-up comedy for younger people.”