Review: Toronto Comedy Brawl (Empire Comedy Live)

A great evening of aspiring comics on stage at Toronto’s Crown & Tiger

comedybrawlThere’s always something charming in a show that knows exactly what it is, and the Toronto Comedy Brawl, playing at Crown & Tiger, has no pretensions. Your $5 buys you roughly an hour of above-average amateur stand-up in the dingy basement–producer Ian Atlas calls it a sex dungeon–of what may be the diviest dive bar on College.

It’s better than I make it sound.

This is the Brawl’s 5th year, and Atlas has its operations down to a science. The six to eight comedians do short five-minute sets: if a comedian’s good, the short set leaves the audience wanting more; if not, the short set ensures that this is a speed bump rather than a derailment. The hosts rotate; when MoT attended,  former contestant Wojtek Arciszewski did a magnificent job: subtly pumping the crowd, filling time and keeping the energy going without making the show entirely about himself.

What really surprised me was how good the comedy was. I was briefed on the way in to not expect too much, to go easy on them, to understand that these are amateurs and to please please please please not crush their hopeful wee spirits beneath my diamond-studded Mooney On Theatre jackboots.

This was unnecessary. Atlas has attracted a critical mass of genuinely talented people–and not talented in the sense of “Sharon’s the best karaoke singer in the whole Accounts Receivable department!”, but actual, genuine, honest-to-goodness, I-would-pay-money-to-see-this-person-do-a-full-set talent. And, once again, this is down to the format. The room is packed with people here to support friends, family, coworkers, which gives the space a wonderful, supportive energy: everybody gets a round of applause, nobody gets heckled or catcalled, and even the weakest material gets a few laughs from the back.

I mentioned this is the preliminary round. The top (top 2?) performer from every preliminary round will advance to the competition round, and from there to the finals, where there’s a $1000 prize at stake. And the audience gets to help: at the end of the evening, you’ll be asked to select your top three of the night’s performers on a secret ballot. The night’s winner gets $30 and a spot in the next round, while the losers get a little trickle of exposure and a good night on a good stage.

Ian Atlas and Empire Comedy  have taken four to five distasteful things–amateur stand-up, crappy basement rooms, spending an evening surrounded by other people’s friends–and created something not just wonderful, but useful. It’s alchemy, pure and simple. The Comedy Brawl is a fantastic opportunity for aspiring comics, and at $5 for a ticket, the audience could do a lot worse, too. A great evening (perhaps even suitable for a first date?) and a worthy institution in our city’s comedy scene.


  • The Toronto Comedy Brawl plays through May 9th at the Crown & Tiger (414 College St)
  • Shows are nightly at 7:30, Monday through Thursday.
  • Tickets are $5
  • Tickets can be purchased at the door.(Look for the black door at the back of the room.)

One thought on “Review: Toronto Comedy Brawl (Empire Comedy Live)”

  1. Hey.

    Just thought I’d mention that in the preliminary round the top 4 comics of each night go onto the first round of the competition.

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