Profile: Rick Jenkins

Rick Jenkins

Rick Jenkins wants to make sure everyone feels like they’re at home. There’s a bowl of candy set out for people to pick at, Charlie Chaplin’s playing on a mounted TV in one of the corners of the room, some seats are reserved and marked off, scorpion bowls are ushered out to the throat-parched, and but soon Chaplin will be shut off, the room will fill, the lights will darken, The Stendals will start to play, and the first comedian — Rick, the host — will take the stage.

Jenkins is the manager and host of evenings at The Comedy Studio. Located atop the Hong Kong Restaurant in Cambridge, MA, The Comedy Studio has been called “the greatest comedy club on earth” by the senior producer of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Frank Smyley, but quotes like that don’t speak to how it relates to the rest of the city, who the man who runs the show is, and what a show up on the third floor is like — a friendly, welcoming environment hosted by a friendly, welcoming man who only asks for a certain degree of decorum — pants, at least. Please.

“I wanted to write like Woody Allen, perform like Jay Leno, and make people feel like they’re hanging out with Carson,” he says, sipping a glass of water at one of the tables lined up perpendicular to The Studio stage. “People forget — in the 80’s, Leno was the Springsteen of comedy, doing these 2 – 3 hour marathon shows …”

Where does Jenkins work?

(Video Courtesy of TurnHere)

The Beginning

Jenkins started his stand-up in Buffalo in ’81, when he’d graduated college, and moved to Boston in ’87.

At the time, he says, there was money in road gigs, but he found himself starting to get steady work hosting clubs, especially if he was wearing a suit. “I came in with jeans and a sweater one night, and I didn’t get called for a week, so I started to think, ‘Huh, all right! They like the suit.'” Two years later he was still at the same club. The suit worked.

When he moved to Boston in ’87, Catch a Rising Star had closed, then Ding-Ho closed six months after Jenkins had moved to the city, and so he found himself going back and forth to different clubs. He was teaching an Adult Ed. stand-up class in Brookline at the time, and others were trying to start something on the third floor of the Hong Kong, and Jenkins was going up to the third floor to grab drinks while it was still a bar with fellow comedians after a show, and they gave Jenkins Sunday night. Friday and Saturday night, the audience was a no-show, but thanks in part to the class, Sunday was a peak night. Soon, Jenkins, Thom Brown, and Jim DeCarateau took over Friday and Saturday, and by April 15, 1996, The Comedy Studio was theirs.

In The Room, Behind the Mic

“You want to tell [a joke] like you’re telling it to a room of your friends,” Jenkins says. And it’s not like it’s hard. “If you have 20 people in the room, you can have a good show. If you have 30 people in the room, if you don’t make ’em laugh, it’s your fault.” And The Studio affords both crowds: an intimate show and a Show show. See for yourself below.

Jenkins’s Jokes

A Buddhist Man at Staples:

One day he likes: Wednesday. That’s the night when main-stage crowd mixes with the experimenters and open-micers, and he loves seeing people on the open mic transform into a performer ready for Friday or Saturday night.

Jenkins doesn’t come out and label bad nights as bad, but thinks instead of a terrible gig Eddie Brill‘s mentioned during his routine: the Charlie Horse Kingston (just look at some of the reviews), a lone bar off the highway in the middle of nowhere, where at 10 PM, every Wednesday night, they opened up the mic to comics and offered one dollar beers and five dollar hamburgers to the masses. It was a mess.

When he’s not at the club or giving guided tours of the city to a camera, Jenkins will sometimes make his way to Sally O’Brien’s, where he’ll try out new material he might not have had the chance to use some of the new material — two new minutes, every week! — on stage. Sometimes he’ll go to the Comedy Connection to see their open mic. He’s been spotted at Zebro.

And when he’s not up on stage or looking at the stage, he’s reading about the stage. He’s just finished Steve Martin’s memoir, Born Standing Up, and loves it, says it’s great, mentions how Steve used to take his crowds outside at the end of the show, until he realized that he was bringing thousands of people out with him after every show. “We don’t have to worry about that,” he jokes.

Jenkins Quoted Elsewhere

The idea at the Studio was “to bring good people together, and that would encourage people to do great things,” said Jenkins, explaining his philosophy that if you provide a fertile creative atmosphere, talent nearly always takes root.

His intention, too, was to “challenge the older talent . . . (by creating) a place that would encourage the professionals to get back to their roots and start working at it, rather than going through the motions and punching the clock for a day at work. You can do that with any job. The reason you get into comedy is because it’s a little scary and it’s challenging and you always aspire to do better and to do more.”

(Robin Vaughan – Boston Herald, April 13, 2001)

The Rest of the City

The Comedy Studio isn’t the only comedy venue in the city, as ideal of a business situation as that would be: there’s the Improv Boston, the Improv Asylum, and The Comedy Connection, and while The Comedy Connection may get the occasional big name — The Daily Show’s John Oliver (the pre-show interview can be found here), Robin Williams snuck in there a while ago — The Comedy Studio’s been able to snag the likes of Dmitri Martin and Steven Wright, the latter of whom came up to Rick one night and asked him if he had any extra time on the bill. “I was like, ‘Yeah, Steven, I think we can squeeze you in!” He laughs. “But, look, every club always wants one guy that everybody knows — Robin Williams, or someone,” but Jenkins is such a comedy fan, he just likes being star struck. It’s like hosting a party, he says, and because he’s hosting a party with all his favorite comics, then, hey, maybe he can act a little bit like a celebrity, too.

Enough like a celebrity to be roasted on the 10 Year Anniversary of the club? Maybe. Check out Jenkins’s The Aristocrats by way of Benari Poulten.

Who Performs at the Comedy Studio?

Myq Kaplan

Myq on Jenkins

What kind of thing are you looking for about Rick?

Like “I like Rick”?

Or “Rick Jenkins is great”?

Or “Rick Jenkins is great for comedy in Boston”?

Or “Rick Jenkins and the Comedy Studio have been great for comedy in Boston for the past ten or so years since the club opened up. His vision and perseverance have helped launch and maintain a lot of great talent, and the club is one of the best around. My first time on stage doing comedy was thanks to Rick, and he’s supported me a ton in the years since. He knows comedy and he loves it, and he’s doing a great job of supporting it.”

Too long?

Micah Sherman

Micah on Jenkins

[Rick’s] approach to comedy is primarily from an artistic stand point. As he says when he’s hosting, he likes his shows to be like a good party, so each comedian you meet will be interesting and distinct – or something to that effect.

Rick has created a great place to work out material and hone your craft at the Comedy Studio. I am grateful.

Pat Bocuzzi

(Best Orange Line Joke ever.)

Pat on Jenkins

Let me just say that Rick Jenkins’ attitude towards finding comedy is genius. Give everyone a chance and see who/what floats to the top. When comedy central had that national stand up competition, all of the comedians competing in Boston were regulars of the studio. And 3 out of the 9 finalist of the competition had started out there. Not bad for a small club in an attic of a chinese food restaurant. And he cares about the comedy, which is rare for a club owner — most care about how many friends one can bring and how many drinks you can sell as a performer. But Mr. Jenkins cares about pleasing his audiences, not just charging them.

The Community / What’s Next?

There’s an unmistakable sense of camraderie that abounds throughout the club, as evinced, in part, from the comic’s remarks above, and “comedians do that for me” is a phrase Jenkins repeats more than once: “When someone said that we should have a facebook or myspace, that’s a comedian going ahead and making it for me — Kerry Abrahams, for one, is responsible for the web presence. She came up to me one night and said, ‘You need this,’ so I said, ‘Okay,’ and she went ahead and made it, and it’s great.”

Other comics note that Rick’ll ask a comic to man the sound board in the back.

Regarding local festivals, the club seems well prepped. “One nice thing about the Boston Comedy Festival is that if an act comes out well, they’ve a DVD to enter,” Jenkins says, referencing a common practice of the club — your act is taped, and if you want it, it’s 5 bucks to get a DVD. They do one show to the support the festival, but they do well, as Bocuzzi’s comments note.

Jenkins touches on a variety of topics speculating about the next 11 years — something on TV, a web show, T-shirts, or outside booking — but he remains focused on the day-to-day process and the individual shows.

A man walks in through the door, and after taking a seat, pauses, then looks up at Rick, and asks him if he needs someone to man the door that night. Jenkins hands him the guest list, turns, and exclaims, “See? I do nothing around here!”

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