SAINT JOHN – Years before he finally made his big move to New Brunswick, British comedian James Mullinger was looking to do his first stand-up performance in Saint John. He talked to some other Canadian headliners in the U.K. about who he should talk to about getting stage time. They all mentioned one name: Shane Ogden.
“Shane was the first comedian I ever performed with in New Brunswick back in 2009 on a visit here,” says Mullinger. “I was told by Canadian headliners in the UK that he was the guy to talk to if I wanted to do a show when on holiday visiting my wife’s family in New Brunswick. It was these shows with him that inspired me to move here.
“He has been a headliner a lot longer than I have been doing comedy and like me, he left his successful comedy career in a bigger city for a better quality of life here in Saint John. When I moved here it was Shane that put the food on my table and got me work.”
Ogden is the founder of Chuckles Comedy Club that’s been run out of Chuckles Lounge in Parkway Mall on Saint John’s east side for more than three years. He runs the club with Julie Tower, whom he met during one of his stand-up shows he frequently held at the Three Mile, the recently closed Saint John bar and restaurant. He wanted to go bigger than just a stand-up comedy night, and that’s when he approached Chuckles Lounge across the street.
“When I walked into Chuckles Lounge, it wasn’t my favourite bar, but it had a great name. At the time, there was about 10 barflies and a couple dart boards,” says Ogden. “I walked up to the owner and asked, ‘Can I turn this place into a comedy club?’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, sure. Fine.’ “
“I wish the history of Chuckles Comedy Club was more exciting than that, but I think it’s a funny story.”
Today the club hosts multiple shows a month with big-name comedians from across Canada such as John Wing, a finalist on the TV show America’s Got Talent; K. Trevor Wilson from the Crave TV hit show Letterkenny; and Derek Seguin, from CBC’s The Debaters and won Sirius XM’s Top Comic Competition, just to name a few.
“Originally, shows were once a month on the last weekend of every month. But now we’ve kind of expanded,” says Tower. “They are not every week yet, but now we’re starting to have multiple shows a month now, which is a big thing for us. It’s wasn’t in the cards before.”
Ogden says leveraging his network from his stand-up career has been a big part of bringing in the high-calibre talent.
“It’s just a matter of what kind of deals we can make. And also where I have that history where I was a comedian, a lot of the comics know me. I’ll call them up and I can broker a better deal than some people can,” he says. “They know who I am … so I have some relationships already built in. And Julie is cultivating new relationships. When they call Chuckles Comedy Club, she books the shows.”
They say it’s gotten to the point now where comedians are now messaging them.
“These people are coming back because they had such a great time and now the word has gone out that Chuckles Comedy Club is such a great company to work for, they now reach out to us,” says Tower. “I get people all the time messaging me, like Ivan Decker and a bunch of these other people asking, ‘when can I come to Chuckles?”
Though Chuckles Comedy Club is growing on the homefront, Ogden and Tower have plans to take it further. The club is currently planning touring shows in places like Sussex, Moncton and St. George, and also putting on fundraisers for The Arthritis Society and the SPCA.
“We’re reaching out to rural areas and other cities. I guess that would be the ultimate dream, to one day have a club in each city – Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John,” says Ogden. “I really want Chuckles Comedy Club to be a circuit, so we can have comedians fly in and then send them all over the province.”
Ogden says when he first started doing standup comedy in Saint John almost 10 years ago, he was the only one doing it. But since then, the comedy scene has grown, with other comics starting their own open-mic events. Not to mention the soon-to-be opening of Cricket’s Comedy Club uptown, which is replacing the Yuk Yuk’s comedy club which closed back in November. He’s proud and happy to have played a part in helping the scene grow.
“To think that in 2009 I was a guy with a couple of babies that wanted to live my dream and to make money making people laugh. Now I’m doing that, but a lot of people are doing that too. I feel like I was a part of what happened,” says Ogden.
“I’m just so happy with the whole scene. People can actually start standup in this city and actually practice it enough to hit the road and to do it. I look at it with pride.”
For James Mullinger, who will be performing three shows at the club at the end of the month, Chuckles has also been a place where people can not only see industry big shots but a place where new local comics can learn their craft.
“Julie and Shane give stage time to new and upcoming comedians. This province has literally dozens, possibly even a hundred now, open mic comedians. They all need stage time to be nurtured and grow,” says Mullinger.
“They have built this empire with hard work, tenacity and done it with smiles on their faces. Trust me, this is not an easy business – they make it look easy but it’s bloody difficult and they work their asses off so this city can have world-class entertainment. I love them, I salute them and I can’t thank them enough for continuing to give me work when there are far better and far bigger comedians lining up around the block to play at the club.”
Though the ambition is to bring more Chuckles clubs to the region, Ogden and Tower’s focus right now is making the Saint John club the best it can be.
“We want to have a club in every city, At least in New Brunswick and hopefully beyond.,” says Ogden. “But in order to get there, We need to make this one so good to build a solid foundation.”