The Final Word – The Kensington comedy bar trying to break the standup mold

27 July 2022 / by Maddy Mahoney
A shot of the exterior of Nothing Fancy's new Kensington Market location, which has a black banner with the bar's name written in hot pink

Despite opening in June of 2020—a time that was really hard for bars and clubs—comedy bar Nothing Fancy is thriving. They’ve just moved to a bigger location in Kensington Market, and will be part of the Just for Laughs comedy festival this year. But beyond that, they’re challenging norms in the comedy scene, with the aim of becoming more inclusive and supporting comics.

On the July 22 episode of The Final Word, Abby Hughes heard from the owner of Nothing Fancy, the club’s comedy booker, and a comic/friend of the club.

Nothing Fancy—a small bar that would later become a comedy club and that recently moved to Kensington Market—opened at the worst possible time. Alberto Richards bought a bar on Dundas Street near Ossington Avenue in February of 2020. But despite that, the comedy club has thrived, and Nothing Fancy is using their success to challenge norms in the comedy scene.


According to Richards, the bar was never intended to be a comedy club.


Richards says he originally wanted to host DJs, but with COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time, it simply wasn’t feasible. He started hosting comedy shows in the summer of 2020, and by November of 2021 their popularity inspired him to change the bar’s direction.


“I started noticing that my comedy nights were doing better than my other nights,” says Richards. “There came a point in November where we said, okay, we’re splitting our audience between people who want to come to the show and people who don’t. And we announced ourselves as a comedy club.”


According to Bria Hiebert, who handles comedy bookings at Nothing Fancy, the popularity of Nothing Fancy’s shows speaks to the impact of COVID-19 on comedy.


“I think there’s just like, catharsis to laughing. It felt nice to be in a group with other people, but then also still be at your own table, right?” says Heibert. “There was a need for laughter during that period. I think it’s still carried into now, too.”


Nothing Fancy’s unconventional start isn’t the only thing that makes them unique. Their core mandate is to create a friendly, vibrant atmosphere where comics are put first.


Tamara Shevon, a local comic, says inclusivity is rare in the comedy scene, and that is what drew her towards Nothing Fancy.


“It was just a different vibe than any other place I’ve been to. It was aligned a lot with the morals I feel like comics should have, which they usually don’t,” says Shevon. “Usually comics are narcissistic, like very about themselves, but this was all about making sure everybody else did well. I haven’t seen that in a while.”


Richards says that one of the ways Nothing Fancy tries to uplift comics is by rejecting the practice of only drawing acts from a set roster. Instead, he tries to rotate different comics through so that the whole community can participate.


Additionally, everyone who performs at Nothing Fancy gets paid. Richards and Hiebert say it’s important to them to break tradition with other clubs that regularly only pay headlining acts, and not performers with less experience.


“One of the tenants or founding pillars of our club is that all spots are paid,” says Richards. “And if a show does get canceled, and the comics show up, we still pay them for their time. They took it out of their day.”


As of July 15, Nothing Fancy officially moved into their new home in Kensington Market. The Augusta Avenue location brings Nothing Fancy into a bigger space that, according to Richards, is better laid out for their growing shows and audiences. On top of the move, the bar will be part of the Just for Laughs comedy festival this year at the end of August.

Want more? You can find the full July 22 episode of The Final Word on Soundcloud, or wherever you listen to podcasts.