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Standup Comedy Takes Root in East-end Ethiopian Restaurant

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Proprietors and comedians a bit surprised to see laughter last five years in the Hirut Café and Restaurant on the Danforth, in Toronto, Canada.

Two smartly dressed men are seated at a restaurant table speaking Amharic, the smells of kitfo, zilzil tibs and spiced lentils wafting from the kitchen.


Enter Kevin MacDonald, clad in canvas coat and ball cap. He heads toward them, walking past the African artwork and tapestries adorning the walls. Amharic becomes English and MacDonald offers an enthusiastic hello, while razzing the men for not attending his recent birthday party. He then untangles himself from his backpack and beelines to the stage — to set up a standup comedy show in an unlikely venue: an Ethiopian restaurant.

In two hours, the Hirut Café will open for dinner and its aptly named Hirut Hoot comedy show, at Danforth and Woodbine. The place will fill with patrons who’ll use strips of injera bread to pick up food with their fingers while watching a half-dozen polished pro and hoping-to-be-pro Toronto standups.

“Oh, definitely this is different,” says Joe Cinno, a loyal fan of the Hoot, which marks its fifth anniversary on Friday. “I mean, who does comedy in an Ethiopian restaurant?”

Indeed, Toronto “rooms” — standup speak for stages outside permanent comedy clubs — have, by design or default, typically been relegated to mainstream pubs and roadhouses whose fried-this-’n’-that menus are as predictable as much of the comedians’ material. Few “rooms” make it past the first year. “Because the owner decides they know how the show should be run,” explains MacDonald. “And they get in (our) way.”