The Funny Shy Guy
Rick Jenkins was the tutor for the class clowns in elementary and middle school. “I was never the rambunctious kid who tried pot or got in trouble,” Jenkins said. So, he told the kids in school what to say in order to be funny. “I wrote my first joke when I was in fifth grade,” Jenkins said, a smile coming onto his face. “A female archaeologist is a person who digs early men.” He burst into laughter and said, “Hey, it was pretty great for a fifth grader.” Jenkins is bald and wearing a tan sports coat, jeans, a light blue dress shirt, and white sneakers, he has a casual and outgoing vibe. But, Jenkins is a pretty shy comedian.
Jenkins grew up in Buffalo, New York. Upon hearing that Buffalo was currently the #2 best place to move to, according to Yahoo!, he said, “Really? That is a bit hard to believe, because I know people there, and they aren’t the type to be considered the best neighbors to have in the best place to move to.”
At seventeen, Jenkins saw his first comedy show in Buffalo and fell in love. He transferred to Buffalo State College so that he could learn from one of the professors that performed that night. “I wanted to see my favorite comedian for credit,” Jenkins said. After realizing that he wanted to go into the comedy business, he started sending his jokes to Rodney Dangerfield; he wanted feedback from the best of the best.
When his family learned about his new career path, they were confused. “I was the only one in my family who wanted to go into show biz,” he said. “I am from a pretty blue collar family and they were just like ‘Are you sure? Alright, I guess you should do it then.’” After that, he started to do some stand-up at a few clubs in Buffalo. “My family didn’t like it when I just repeated jokes that I had heard,” Jenkins laughed. “One time I told the neighbor that it was a good thing her husband rolled over because otherwise she wouldn’t have any kids. I got in trouble for that one.”
In 1986, at 36 years old, Jenkins moved from Buffalo to Boston. “There was not much going on in Buffalo, onstage or off, comedy or not,” he said. “I needed to go someplace where something was happening.” Since he had done enough stand-up to make a name for himself, he knew people around the city who would help him out. “Let’s just say that there was a lot of work for mediocre comedians, and so much more for those who were actually good,” Jenkins said. After being in Boston for five years, Jenkins realized that he didn’t want to be a stand-up star. “I always wanted to be funny,” he said. “I wanted to write like Woody Allen, perform like Jay Leno and be personable like Johnny Carson. But stand-up wasn’t for me.” Soon after he had moved to Boston, famous comedy clubs such as Catch a Rising Star and Ding Ho started to close. Jenkins was working at the Harvard Coop Bookstore at the time and was attending a few comedy nights on the third floor of a Chinese restaurant called the Hong Kong. After a few shows, the restaurant gave Jenkins Sunday nights to perform. Soon, with the help of Thom Brown and Jim Decroteau, a few of Jenkins’ funny friends, he acquired Friday and Saturday nights too. Then, in May of 1995, The Comedy Studio was born.
Because the club is located on the third floor above a Chinese restaurant, there a Chinese accents everywhere. There are Chinese ceiling tiles, Chinese food, red and gold walls, and a Chinese archway that leads to the bathrooms and the bar. Pictures of influential comedians are all over the walls and the tables. The Comedy Studio has a friendly atmosphere, especially when Rick Jenkins is at the door offering newcomers candy or on stage as the host. Jenkins is the host, manager and owner of the studio and he loves it. “I like the behind the scenes aspect of comedy,” he said.
Now, Jenkins writes more comedy than he performs. “That is why I like hosting, it satisfies my need to make people laugh, and it is just enough stand-up as I need.” Jenkins realized that if he was the one with all the attention, he was comfortable, but when he was one of many performers, he became shy. “I like being here in my sound booth and then popping out for a few seconds to introduce the next performer with a quick joke,” Jenkins said.
Jonah Witticker laughed the entire time that Jenkins was onstage. “He has a good stage presence and it helps that he is actually funny,” Witticker said. During the show, Jenkins told ‘Guess Who Died?’ jokes and Witticker loved those. “He knows when too far is too far, and he never went that far,” he said. “I am a friendly and affable guy,” said Jenkins. “That way I can get away with a lot.”
“So for the ‘Guess Who Died?’ jokes, take for example the owner of the Segway Company who died by rolling off a cliff in one of his Segways,” he explained. “Well, how do you ride a Segway? You stand on it and lean forward. So, they had to bury the owner standing up. It is fact combined with fiction.” His material is a mix of craft and inspiration, but part of the job is feeling the audience and knowing what they want. “I read books on comedy to try and build up on my craft, but inspiration can come from anything,” Jenkins said. One of the books that he relies on most is “The Everything Guide to Comedy” by Mike Bent. Bent is a part-time professor of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. “I am actually in the book, so that’s another reason why I read it a lot,” Jenkins said with a laugh.
“I have known Rick for at least twenty-five years, and he doesn’t need my help coming up with a joke. He knows the perfect way to make people laugh,” Mike Bent said. “He has turned The Comedy Studio into one of the best comedy rooms in Boston, if not the country.”
A lot of students from around Boston go to The Comedy Studio to try and impress the audience and potentially get scouted for a television show. “We wanted to add a new twist to the comedy scene in Boston, and give younger people the opportunity to get involved in the business,” Jenkins said. When The Comedy Studio first opened, there were not a lot of alternative rooms. “It was either open-mic night or a $20 club with a bunch of old white guys complaining about their mortgages or their divorces,” Jenkins said.
During a recent trip to Los Angeles, California, Jenkins saw a bunch of familiar faces that started out at The Comedy Studio. Lewis CK, Mike Birbiglia, Rich Gustus of Comedy Central, Mike Kaplan, and Brendon Small, the creator of Cartoon Network’s late-night television program Adult Swim’s Home Movies and Metalocalypse, are just a few of the big comedy names who started with The Comedy Studio. “The opportunities that can come from being in a city like Boston are incredible,” Jenkins said. “And fortunately, our place has grown to be a great place to be found.” Writers for Saturday Night Live and the Jimmy Fallon show also began their careers at The Comedy Studio. “Something that is nice about the club is that we have created a community,” Jenkins said. “The big name stars will come back through here and perform a few shows.” David Letterman’s recruiters discovered Joe Wong, a comedian who just recently performed at the White House, at The Comedy Studio.
“Comedians like Jay Leno, Denis Leary, and Laura Kightlinger went to school at Emerson College, so it makes sense that Boston students are trying to become the next big thing,” Jenkins said. “A student recently got in touch with Jay Leno to ask for help with a joke. Jay Leno gave the kid his personal fax number and email address so that if the student wanted more help, he could have it.”
Senior producers of the Late Night Show with Conan O’Brien have called the Comedy Studio “the greatest comedy club on earth,” and it is thanks to Rick Jenkins. “I wanted to present comedy in a new way. We wanted community and we knew that with a great community, great things could happen. I feel like I have done that and its nice to have that feeling of family. Especially when you are still single at fifty years old,” Jenkins said holding a straight face, but eventually bursting out with uncontainable laughter.