City of Comedy

You might not know it, but the City of Yarra is home to a thriving stand-up comedy scene. With six comedy nights featuring a variety of performances, we’re spoilt for choice for a weekly dose of chuckles. YR spoke to the room runners to get the low-down.

The Rochester Hotel
202 Johnston St, Fitzroy

Hanging its hat in the heart of Fitzroy, Rochester Comedy runs every Thursday night from 8:30pm to 10:30pm. Entry is free.

Showcasing a mix of professional comics and up-and-comers, Rochester Comedy has hosted such Victorian comedic powerhouses as Charlie Pickering, Celia Pacquola, Dave Thornton and Greg Fleet, to name a few.

“I try to make it as eclectic as possible whilst still delivering the best night I can,” said room runner and comic, Brendan Maloney.

Maloney started running comedy nights shortly after his second-ever comedy performance.

After advancing through the first two rounds of a nationwide comedy competition, he found that securing regular gigs to practice and improve his craft was no easy task.

“At the time I was perplexed but quickly learnt that there’s 500 budding comics out there all looking for the same spot,” he said.

An older comic advised him to start up his own room, so he took up the mantle and did just that.

Rochester Comedy enjoys a great deal of success, but running a room has its challenges.

“The biggest challenge is getting people through the door,” said Maloney.

In Fitzroy and Collingwood, punters are spoilt for choice in terms of entertainment options. Many don’t even know that there are stand-up comedy nights in the area.

Running a room also has its rewards. To Maloney, it’s getting to laugh every week and seeing comics improve, not to mention getting some precious stage time himself.

So why come to the Rochy for comedy?

In the succinct words of Maloney himself: “The best comics in the country, for free, and there’s cheap beer too!”

Comedians on stage. Photo: Rochester Comedy
Comedians on stage at Rochester Comedy. Photo: Rochester Comedy

Caz Reitop’s Dirty Secrets
80 Smith St, Collingwood

Duck into Caz Reitop’s Dirty Secrets on Smith Street on a Wednesday night, descend the stairs and you will find yourself in an intimate, low-ceilinged basement space perfect for comedy.

Dirty Secrets is a comedy venue that has been running for more than six years with various room runners at its helm. In its current incarnation, it’s overseen by a group of five Melbourne comics and has been operating for about four months.

The night already has a steady following that sees attendance from both regular punters and new faces alike.

Running from 8.30pm to 10:30pm every Wednesday, it features a medley of established performers and newer comics.

“It’s an intimate venue that has its own unique charm, and our performers complement that with some serious hilarity and silliness,” said Firdy Billimoria, one of the five room runners.

Comedian on stage at Dirty Secrets Comedy. Photo: Dirty Secrets Comedy
Comedian on stage at Dirty Secrets Comedy. Photo: Dirty Secrets Comedy

He explained that one of the rewards of running Dirty Secrets Comedy is getting audience walk-ins off the street, who took a chance and ended up thoroughly enjoying the entertainment and staying to the end.

An added bonus is if they come back the following week, and the week after that.

Of course, there are challenges too. Dealing with the influx of requests from comics for chronically limited spots is a dilemma every comedy night has to contend with.

Getting audiences in on cold winter nights is yet another test that room runners are all-too-familiar with. And of course, with comedy, there’s the occasional heckler who has over-imbibed, which can really throw a spanner in the works.

Although, witnessing a comic put down a heckler to the rapturous applause of the audience is a special treat. (But don’t heckle, it’s not part of the show!)

Such is the beauty of a well-run stand-up comedy night. A mix of well-crafted material, off-the-cuff jokes, professionals and amateurs, a dynamic audience; it all meshes together into an electric experience and sense of immediacy few entertainment formats can match.

The Catfish Bar
30-32 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

At the west end of Gertrude street is a Philly Cheesesteak-serving, craft beer-loving bar called The Catfish.

Rock up on a Tuesday evening, hit the upstairs bar and you’ll find yourself at Catfish Comedy. Using a showcase format, it features lesser-known, top-quality acts as well as an established weekly big-name headline act from the land of TV or Radio.

Entry costs $12, so this is not an open mic event. While open mic comedy is great, paid comedy means that the quality is often a lot more consistent. The material is by now honed and crafted, having graduated from the experimental stage.

Room runner Ben Vernel points out the unique challenge of running the night: “Room-running is mostly a mixture of loudly telling everyone to come see the show, and herding cats,” he explains.

From the scheduling conflicts of performers who may be double-booked, to ensuring that a decent-sized audience turns out, room running is a low-paid, low recognition labour of love.

“The perks are not exactly tangible things,” he explains.

He does it for both a love for comedy and for the satisfaction that comes from putting on a show where the audience is entertained and performers succeed.

Vernel takes pride in crafting a good show, and paying comedians.

“Being able to pay comedians, even if it’s not heaps, is a good feeling,” he says, explaining that encouraging an economy for comedy is an important objective.

So if you’re looking for a consistently good comedy night at a great pub in Fitzroy, featuring a mix of new comedians as well as stalwarts of the industry, make your way to The Catfish on Tuesday nights.

The Wilde Bar
153 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

Running every Tuesday from 8pm, Wilde Wilde West Comedy is a ‘half-booked, half sign-up act’ stand-up comedy night.

The show runs in three brackets, with the first two being a mix of sign-up and booked acts, and the last featuring exclusively open mic spots.

This interesting formula often results in an eclectic mix of performers, from greenhorns trying out stand-up for the first time, to multiple Raw Comedy winners, to international performers and everyone in between.

Managing a multi-bracketed comedy night can be stressful, but the four comics who run the night take it in their stride.

“It’s rewarding to see a great comic try new material or a new comic shine,” explains Angus Hodge, one of the room runners.

The night started when the upstairs room was up for grabs and four local comics got together to put their own spin on a comedy night. Like many of the other rooms in this list, its location is a major advantage.

Apart from its accessibility, Hodge explains, it’s a “relaxed part of town and open to us allowing performers to try new things, and that’s really special.”

The particular magic of this room is when it’s packed to the rafters and there is great energy from the audience, and then, for example, everything falls into place and a previously unknown or very fresh comic puts on an amazing performance and dazzles the room.

It’s part of the magic that often reveals itself at these comedy nights.

Need more reasons to ride on in to the Wilde Wilde West? 

Entry is free, the drinks are on special and there are great acts having fun and exploring their potential.

Not too shabby for a Tuesday night.

Station 59 Bar
59 Church St, Richmond

Leaving Fitzroy and Collingwood for a moment, let’s go to Church Street in Richmond. Next to a fire station in a traditional pub called Station 59, every Wednesday night you will find Open Mic Comedy.

Currently in its fifth year, Open Mic Comedy is a pure open mic room, meaning anyone can jump up to do a spot.

“We book in a handful of acts and then run a standby list in case of no-shows,” said room runner Kieran Butler.

They welcome everyone and strive to foster a supportive environment and take the rough with the smooth.

This means that if you ‘die’ on stage (comedian speak for “I got no laughs”) you can come back for as long as you want and keep having a go.

“We stick to our original mission statement of ‘No Cliques, No Fear, No Favour’, says Butler.

Photo: Courtesy of DVO Media
Photo: Courtesy of DVO Media

Open Mic Comedy at Station 59 sees a wide range of performances, from nervous first-timers to comedians who’ve been performing for years.

Many established comedians cut their teeth doing comedy at Station 59, which also runs a ‘Free Comedy Festival’ at its venue during the Comedy Festival every year.

Apart from hilarious shenanigans, they’ve hosted a number of fundraising comedy nights, with proceeds going to refugee advocacy groups, Seeing-Eye Dogs Victoria and relief efforts in Fiji.

“You do comedy for the laughter mainly, but I have made a lot of friends along the way,” Butler said.

So if you’re after a supportive, open mic comedy night where the laughs are as plentiful as the support and love, rock up to Station 59 on a Wednesday night.

Pro-tip: Put your name on the standby list if you feel the comedy gods speaking to you and want to have a go. Be spontaneous!

Audience. Photo: Courtesy of DVO Media
Audience enjoying the comedy sets at Station 59. Photo: Courtesy of DVO Media

George’s Bar
120 Johnston St, Fitzroy

Coming back to Fitzroy, we have George’s Bar. Inspired by fictional comedy character George Costanza from the legendary sitcom ‘Seinfeld’, what better venue in which to host a comedy night?

Thursday Night Comedy at George’s is free and it runs for about two hours, from 8pm on.

Run by two comedians who wish to remain anonymous, it all began when they noticed the bar was opening and saw an opportunity to run a comedy night that would be a natural fit with its theme.

It’s also a great opportunity for up-and-coming comedians to share the stage with comedy legends.

The comedy night has enjoyed the likes of Luke McGregor, Greg Fleet and Celia Pacquola, to name but a few.

It’s also home to the “Are you funnier than George” competition, where newer performers get a chance to showcase their talent.

What can the average punter expect? A friendly room in a great bar in a great location; it offers a mix of comedians at a fantastic level.

So if those pretzels are making you thirsty, grab a beer or cocktail on a Thursday night at George’s and drink deep from the comedy fountain.

By Garry Johal

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