World's Smallest Comedy Night Hurley's

How The World’s Smallest Comedy Night evolved from low-stakes standup to a Montreal classic

Marking the show’s fifth anniversary with an epic edition on Sept. 11, hosts Walter Lyng and Vance Michel told us about the night’s humble origins in what is now a bathroom at Hurley’s to practically turning the Irish pub into a comedy club.

You likely know Hurley’s for its cozy atmosphere and proud Irish heritage, but you might not know it for having one of Montreal’s most fun comedy nights.

Every Monday night for the past five years, Hurley’s Irish Pub on Crescent St. has been hosting the World’s Smallest Comedy Night, where established comics and relative newcomers — and sometimes out-of-towners — test out material in front of an audience in a charming Irish pub’s showroom.

Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, the event will mark the milestone with a special show on Monday, Sept. 11 (the actual anniversary was in August) starting at 8 p.m. The event began in 2018 as a “non-committal” open mic comedy night in a small speakeasy within Hurley’s. That narrow space was nestled in the corner of the bar, also a bizarre sort of entrance way to the back kitchen. 

It also began as Walter Lyng’s brainchild, while he was appearing on Keith Heistermann’s Go Plug Yourself podcast alongside Vance Michel at the pub. “The space could seat no more than 10 or a dozen people,” says Lyng (Michel reckons it would’ve fit about 10 to 20 maximum). 

“I did a podcast there at one point and I was like, ‘You know, it’d be interesting if we did a comedy show here.’ We could call it ‘The World’s Smallest Comedy Show,’ or ‘The World’s Smallest Open Mic.’ As long as there were five or six audience members, that space would feel like there were enough people for a show. We started doing that, and we just did it week after week until at one point, the bar owner told us they were turning that space into a men’s bathroom.”

The pub’s owner, Bill Hurley, gave the show the green light a week after Lyng proposed the idea. But needing to vacate that initial space, the show was moved to the other side of the bar, a bigger room to work with. Once the show started gaining consistent momentum, they were moved to a roughly 75-capacity showroom upstairs with a stage and their own bartender, where they’ve remained ever since.

The show has been held at basically every space within Hurley’s in a five-year timespan, having been moved around on several occasions. Nonetheless, the iconic downtown pub makes a great environment for a comedy show like this one, and it’s suited for these kinds of performances in ways other comedy venues aren’t.

“There are a lot of things you associate with the classic notion of a standup comedy club,” says co-founder Walter Lyng. “There’s the idea of a brick wall in the background — a very ‘80s, ‘90s, old-school idea of standup comedy. Hurley’s is a great, historic Montreal venue with those old classic brick walls, great spaces and great sound.”

As mentioned earlier, the space the show was initially held in is, hilariously, now a men’s bathroom (“We very much are proud of that part of our history,” Lyng says), and the show has used that fact as joke fodder on several occasions. 

As the venue kept getting upgraded, there was internal debate as to whether or not to change the name and branding. They’d decide to keep it after all, as they felt the title was more reflective of the show’s overall nature than the physical size of it. 

“I think it’s still maintained a grassroots sort of feel,” says Lyng. “Monday nights especially were mics that were no-stress, no-stakes… a place where comics can really come in and try that brand new material that they’re not sure about in — an environment where there’s not going to be any kind of judgment or negative consequences for doing some material that bombs.”

World's Smallest Comedy Night
Walter Lyng (left) and Vance Michel (centre)

The show welcomes comedians of all styles and experience levels, and anyone can sign up, making for a real mixed bag of talent throughout the evening. “It doesn’t matter how professional or how amateur you are,” says Michel. “The concept is, if you want to do comedy, you can come do it with us. You’ll get to see some professionals. There’s no stakes here. Even if you do bad, you can come back. We’ll keep signing you up for the show.”

Around eight to ten comics compete during the traditional Monday night show for about five to seven minutes each. There’s a double-host structure which they’ve had from the very beginning, with Lyng and Michel running the show. The latter describes the title of World’s Smallest Comedy Night as representing a small show in terms of structure, too. “You go in and have the quickest comedy show you’ve ever seen in your life,” adds Michel.

They’ve also been rotating hosts over the years: although the show on Monday will be hosted by Michel and Lyng like old times, Monday night shows under normal circumstances are now typically hosted by Michel and Zak Kik, another comic who started off performing at the show before becoming a co-host and producer for it.

“Sometimes it’s me and Vance hosting, sometimes it’s Vance and Zack hosting — we kind of trade off as the night goes,” Lyng adds. “It’s definitely a loose, informal feel. That’s as much a part of the show as anything.”

Both an early and a late show are now part of the programming (you have to sign up in advance via email to perform during the early show), while the late show is a traditional open mic with no signup requirements, and they’ve only been doing it for about a year now. That show starts at 10:30, and if lots of people show up, it’ll run later than usual. The show has also become so well received that more and more people who come for the 8 p.m. Monday show also stay for the later one.

The World’s Smallest Comedy Night has also expanded to holding a Friday night edition with more of a comedy club vibe, and it’s a thinner lineup with more established comics doing longer sets. There’s also a Sunday night outdoor series, though that will likely move indoors once autumn rolls around and the temperature starts dropping accordingly. (“We’re doing so many shows now, I think we’re about to be the World’s Smallest Comedy Club real soon,” says Michel.) 

While the term “world’s smallest comedy night” isn’t quite as literal as it used to be, the event has certainly concocted a recipe for success. Comedians who’ve gone up onstage during these nights have gone on to perform at Just for Laughs, be on television and/or do standup at comedy events outside Montreal (e.g. the Winnipeg Comedy Festival).

The World’s Smallest Comedy Night has gone from a tiny 8 p.m. Monday night open mic to at least four shows weekly over three nights, with their trivia night also soon returning, bringing it up to four nights. That’s a whole lot of growth for a half-decade, not to mention the show also hosting its own Just for Laughs audition showcase back in May to a sold-out crowd with festival scouts in attendance.

“That felt like a pretty big deal, because other places that got those showcases were actual comedy clubs, or other established comedy nights,” says Lyng. “I feel like we’ve gone from almost like a ‘joke’ open mic to now being taken more seriously by the community.”

Monday the 11th, however, will be “one epic show,” in Lyng’s words, without it being divided into early and late shows. In Michel’s words, it’ll be a “three-hour celebration” and a “non-stop comedy show” from 8 to 11 p.m.

The World’s Smallest Comedy Night is also a virtual free-for-all in terms of comedic styles heard during the evening, not discriminating against any particular genre. “You’ll get alternative comedy, dark and edgy comedy, dirty comedy, more cerebral stuff, deadpan — it’s a real mixed bag,” says Lyng.

Michel expands on that further when we chat with him. “You’re going to hear raunchy stuff. You’re going to hear clean stuff. Gen Z stuff. Boomer stuff. You even might see some prop work. You might see some abstract comedy. It’s all over the board. You might see some poetry or storytelling there, you never know! (laughs)”

To give you a more vivid taste of what you can find yourself walking into at the World’s Smallest Comedy Night, Michel tells us two jokes in particular that really get the crowd going. “The first one is (when) the crowd’s moving a lot sometimes, and I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I had anal sex with my girl last week! And let me tell you, it was pretty hard to sit down after that!’

“Then the second one is, I always ask the crowd, ‘Hey, what are you drinking?’ They always tell me what they’re drinking. I get the crowd going like, ‘Yo, alright, the next round of drinks is on me!’ Everybody’s like, ‘Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!’ Then I tell the waiter, ‘Yo, make sure it’s water, please.’… My waiter’s tired of that water one, though. I’m telling you, five years!”

Among the comics Michel and Lyng want to shout out before they perform at Monday’s event include Troy Stark, who took part in the aforementioned JFL showcase — and later appeared at the festival itself — and whom Lyng says has been “really instrumental” in helping them put on shows over the course of this summer, including outdoor ones. Zak Kik has also experienced success well beyond Hurley’s confines, recently spending time in Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

With so much foot traffic going up and down Crescent, you’d think more and more people would’ve recognized Hurley’s for comedy by this point — Michel says even regulars at Hurley’s don’t even know there’s a comedy show there. 

Now, there are enough people who keep coming back to the World’s Smallest Comedy Night that he’s been getting recognized on the street for it over the past four or five months. “Every time I get spotted outside, they’ll be like, ‘Hey dude! I remember seeing you at Hurleys!’,” says Michel. “I’m like, ‘Oh snap, this show is growing.’”

Hurley’s themselves have taken notice of the World’s Smallest Comedy Night’s growth, too, and Michel says they’ve built up an excellent rapport with the pub’s servers. “We have a waiter who helps out tremendously with the show,” he reveals. “He adds to the ambience, he adds candlelight… the aesthetic look that we’ve got on our flyers right now. Zach Oskrdal. He’s like the Invisible Man on our team.”

According to Lyng, there are still plenty of people who are surprised the pub even has these nights to begin with, something he doesn’t mind. “I like it when people discover that, because it’s very much associated with Celtic music and your standard pub bands and bar bands,” he continues.

“They have great musicians, but I like when people discover that there’s comedy there. A lot of times, they’re pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, you’ll get people just coming in for a drink or food or something. They see there’s a comedy show. They’ll say, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll check it out for about five minutes,’ and then they end up staying for the whole show.”

Another calling card for the World’s Smallest Comedy Night, if you ask Michel, is its overarching sense of community. “Sometimes you might go to a comedy show and think, ‘Do these comedians actually even know each other? Outside of work, do they even talk to each other?’ 

“As soon as you come into our show, you just think everybody’s cool with each other, and then you might want to stay because of the vibe. I see so many audience members just hanging out after the show and talking to comedians. The comedians are just hanging around like it’s nobody’s business. They talk to each other and have meaningful conversations outside and inside the building. There’s not a feeling of ‘I think I’m better than you’ over at our club.” ■

The World’s Smallest Comedy Night hosts an epic five-year anniversary edition on Monday, Sept. 11, 8 p.m., free

For more Montreal comedy coverage, please visit the Comedy section.