Just over a year into its popular run, the Jupiter Café has closed the curtain on The Bob Loblaw Queer Comedy Troupe’s weekly improv show Tops and Bottoms, saying it hasn’t been good for business.
“They did a good job but unfortunately it didn’t make enough to pay rent,” says Jupiter’s new owner Tony Hedayati, who bought out the café’s other business partners in November.
Hedayati believes there isn’t enough traffic to support a weekly comedy event, claiming that sales on the nights Tops and Bottoms performs fall far below what he needs to ensure Jupiter meets its recurrent costs.
“We were only making $700 or $800 on those nights. I pay $1,500 a month for rent, $15,000 for employees and $6,000 or $7,000 in taxes. If sales are $700 a night it really kills me,” Hedayati says.
“They should have [a performance] only once a month, then it would be so much busier. It’d be good for them and good for me. If it happens every week it’s going to die down,” he contends.
Jazz performances have now replaced queer comedy nights at Jupiter.
Meanwhile, The Bob Loblaw troupe has moved Tops and Bottoms to the Majestic. Founder David C Jones says rumours on the online networking space Facebook that the comedy show was going to be moved or cancelled prompted him to move the event to its new venue.
According to Jones, Hedayati set out new conditions for Tops and Bottoms offering the troupe admission-free performance slots every other Monday or Sunday night. Jones found those conditions unacceptable.
“The fact that he changed it so dramatically struck me as so arbitrary,” says Jones, whose troupe has been performing at Jupiter every Wed night for 60 weeks. “We’ve packed up to 90 people and raised over $3,000 money for charity.”
Attendees of Tops and Bottoms, says Jones, were used to the weekly time slot. A sudden change in times, he says, would dissuade many of his regulars from attending on a regular basis.
Jones is careful not to attribute any of the changes to homophobia, but questions Hedayati’s motives.
“When he said, ‘I like you guys and stuff,’ it sounded like one of those things where they’re changing the job description to make it so unpleasant that you just quit on your own as opposed to being fired,” Jones alleges.
“However, he has never said that,” Jones concedes.
Hedayati stresses that his reasons for the change are purely financial and have nothing to do with any homophobia.
“My manager is gay. If he’s gay how can someone say I don’t like gay people? I love Dave, I like the group.”
Tops and Bottoms is not the first queer performance troupe to leave Jupiter. $3 Bill, a local drag king troupe, left Jupiter about a year ago after they were made to feel unwelcome by one of Jupiter’s former owners, claims troupe member Julie Stines (Buster Cherry) who has performed in the Vancouver drag scene for the last 15 years.
“They were just very arrogant, and dismissive of us,” alleges Stines. “If you’re there working or performing they only care about dollars.”
Hedayati has no recollection of ever working with Stines or $3 Bill who quit performing before he became sole owner.
“We had three shareholders here and that didn’t work at all,” he explains. “The former partners didn’t know about the community and there was huge conflict and I bought them out.”
It’s not just queer acts that are leaving Jupiter.
Patrick Maliha, a local stand-up comedian and television personality who hosts a number of comedy events in Vancouver, hosted a comedy night at Jupiter which was primarily geared to a straight audience. In November, Hedayati asked him to switch his dates from Thursday to Sundays, as well.
“He gave [Tops and Bottoms] the same offer that he gave us: ‘Sundays and you just take the door.’ That was a horrible deal,” says Maliha.
Normally Jupiter would pay him a budget plus the door, Maliha explains. “That’s how I run all my comedy rooms.”
Hedayati says he changed Maliha’s performance conditions because the comedy night wasn’t bringing in enough money for Jupiter, but Maliha disputes this.
“We had four shows where we were sold out and brought in patio chairs,” Maliha says. “I think he thinks the menu will sell the place, but the reason you had comedy in there was because the menu wasn’t selling the place.”
Hedayati admits that money wasn’t the only reason he cancelled Maliha’s bookings. “They used to have a stand-up comedy night,” he says. “I cancelled that one too, because so many people got offended. But Tops and Bottoms has been so good, there was no complaining about them.”
Maliha says he was never told about any concerns. “People can say whatever they want to say; we never heard these complaints in our lives,” he says.
For his part, Jones is disappointed with Hedayati’s decision to strike Tops and Bottoms from Jupiter’s entertainment lineup but he’s not bitter about it.
“It’s his playground, we’re his renters,” he says. “It’s his bar. We just bought the glove, he owns the bat.”