“To us, the comedy was just like another show. It was a little blip” – Ezio Carosielli
The title of this post is a quote from Ezio Carosielli, owner of the Rialto Theatre, as it appeared in the Montreal Gazette on Monday, November 25th. Unexpectedly, the venue owner has terminated its relationship with Yuk Yuk’s Cabaret.
Before I continue, I want to clarify the following is my personal opinion, based on the facts, that I believe summarize the reason for the unforeseen closure. I would like to further add that this article is in no way an attack on the Gazette or its author, Bill Brownstein. (Hi Bill!)
As an active participant in the launch of Yuk Yuk’s Cabaret in Montreal and an employee of the venue, I’ve got a pretty unique insight into how seven succesful weeks can end abruptly. On a personal note, I could take it shutting down for many reasons but not the ones stated in the Gazette. So, I’m gonna put the story straight again.
After hearing the news on Saturday, November 23rd, I left Montreal and traveled to Toronto the Monday to get the story from the horses mouth. Mark Breslin took the meeting without hesitation and candidly answered all my questions.
The most important question I had was what or who was to blame for the sudden closure of the venue?
” I don’t like to play the blame game, I say there was a lot of faults.” Said Mark Breslin. “The first fault was our failure to properly check out the venue partner and their financial expectations.”
The rest of the faults Mark was referring to are pretty easy to read between the lines in the Gazette article.
“As upsetting as it is, I have but no choice to find the comedy in it,” Breslin said Monday. “We were only open seven weeks. We know Montreal is a great comedy city, but unfortunately we had a franchisee who got cold feet when he saw that the numbers weren’t going to be there right away.”
“How many businesses are successes in seven weeks? Tell me one and I’ll invest in it.”
The quotes from the Gazette article speak for themselves as to the cause and nature of the closure, I’ll leave it up to you to decide where the blame lies. Clearly, I am disappointed and annoyed by the shituation but I admire Mark’s sense of humour through it all. This is certainly not his first rodeo.
And this is not the end of Yuk Yuk’s in Montreal.
Ezio Carosielli, owner of the Rialto, it seems, didn’t know what he was getting himself into. Renting out a room is easy and it pays. Who in real estate doesn’t make money? Yuk Yuk’s Cabaret was not just renting out a room. It was building a brand, a name, adapting to local culture and doing a great job of it.
Speaking of faults, what’s the first thing you do to attract customers? Put a sign outside! This was never accomplished. You’re off to a bad start. Now the room, when set up right, was beautiful. Nice seating, big open space, great stage. If this were baseball, we weren’t even in the 5th inning and things were looking good. Opening night was stuffed, had tons of media presence and we filled the place all weekend with Dave Foley, Mike MacDonald, Martha Chaves and hosted by local french comedian Sebastian Bourgault.
The Gazette quoted Ezio having said, “I don’t think we were really in tune with the French content. We should have been more aware and provided more content.”
To correct this factual error, Yuk Yuk’s plan was to launch Wednesday open mics in French and French headliners on Sunday. We just started the first week of open mic in English format when I heard the decision to close the venue had been made. These nights never had a fighting chance to materialize. Let’s face it – It’s no secret Yuk Yuk’s is an English franchise chain and it was specifically in town to build its base of francophone talent and Montreal comedians. Mark Breslin on opening night addressed this issue straight on and was proud to open the first Yuk Yuk’s franchise to offer bilingual comedy. When I spoke to Breslin, he was clearly aware of the demographics on the island, to say that he or Yuk Yuk’s the organization was unaware is just absurd.
Signs that the Rialto wasn’t keen on the brand and the kind of comedy it brought to the theatre began early. In their eyes, it didn’t mesh with the overall image of the theatre. Let’s face it, the rubber chickens just weren’t welcome there. For those who know the brand, it’s based on rubber chickens.
During the seven weeks we were open, not once did we cancel a show. In fact, attendance was steady at an average fifty patrons for regular shows, Saturdays peaking at 120. For anyone who runs a comedy club on this town, it’s an excellent growth rate. Being personally familiar with the numbers of just about every venue in town offering French and English comedy, I know we were on track for a very successful club in the Mile-End.
As quoted in the Gazette, Ezio stated, “According to my calculations, we would have had to have an average of 200 people a night for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows to have a chance of breaking even. And we weren’t even close to getting that. So we decided to cut our losses and move on.”
For lack of patience, Yuk Yuk’s Cabaret at the Rialto Theatre is dead.
And business is business.
From Ezio’s side, I understand that renting out the room would make more money faster than building up a dedicated local comedy room. Maybe the fine print was too fine. Maybe the math wasn’t done properly. Maybe he saw comedy on TV and thought every show is a gala event. Maybe he had stars in his eyes, who knows. All I know is that to say it was just numbers, it’s disingenuous. I’ve been there since opening weekend. The numbers were picking up. The hipsters were coming out. What else can you do in seven weeks?
The Gazette goes on to further quote Ezio, “[…] we’ll put the cabaret up for rent for individual events. […]. So maybe we’ll go younger for the cabaret, toward the Mile End crowd. And maybe we’ll even have some comedy, too.”
I am so confused. I thought that’s what we were doing…
“Sometimes, you have great ideas and no one shows up. Sometimes, you have bad ideas and everyone shows up.”
… and sometimes you have great ideas where people show up and it still doesn’t matter.
Where do I go from here? Finding a job is easy. I found two of them, no stereotype intended. But what do I do with my passion for Montreal comedy? How do I express myself? Why do I care about Yuk Yuk’s?
Ever since I started blogging my only goal has been to support and promote Montreal comics because they deserve it. Now with this “little blip” under my belt, I have the opportunity to make things right, make them the way I want them to be. I put a lot of effort, time and work into this place. I’m not about to let the opportunity fall off the radar.
Montreal showed me that it can handle another comedy club, especially in the Mile-End. Montreal showed me that it loves comedy and not just in July. Montreal showed me that Yuk Yuk’s is relevant in this town and people are watching the topic.
Watch this space because word is that another club that rhymes with Schmuck-Schmuck’s may be opening down the road. 😉