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Lafflines comedy club re-opens in historic New Westminster theatre

Barry Buckland shows off the new home for his Lafflines Comedy Club, the fully-renovated upstairs lounge at The Columbia theatre. The club is having a
Barry Buckland shows off the new home for his Lafflines Comedy Club, the fully-renovated upstairs lounge at The Columbia theatre. The club is having a 'soft opening' this weekend, with a bigger celebration planned for September.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Lafflines owner Barry Buckland says the best part of his job running a comedy club is watching comedians grace his stage as newbies, then go on to fame elsewhere.

One of Lafflines’ success stories is Brent Butt of the TV show Corner Gas. Buckland remembers a joke of Butt’s:

“Hi, I’m Brent Butt. No really, that’s my name. I don’t like it, but how do you think my brother Harry feels about it?” says Buckland, who can’t help laughing as he repeats the joke.

Buckland has moved Lafflines from its old location at Fourth and Columbia to the Columbia Theatre at 530 Columbia St., formerly known as the Burr Theatre. It’s a two-storey heritage building from 1927, and the second storey opened for business last Friday.

This new venue is fancier than the bar he used to run Lafflines out of, but he’ll still host comedians delivering slightly impolite jokes.

He’ll also rent it out for business conferences and weddings and kids’ birthday parties. All events include dinner and a show, which doesn’t have to be comedy.

Name change

To reflect these extended services, he’s changed the name from Lafflines to “Columbia Theatre, Home of Lafflines.”

“Nobody wants to get married in a comedy club,” said Buckland, adding that he tailors events to customers’ needs.

“We rent it out to a lot of multicultural communities. So if it’s Korean, we’ll bring in Korean food and Korean dancers. There’s no other place in New West where you can get dinner with an alcohol license and a performance,” he said.

The Columbia Theatre was sold to the Eagles service club in the ‘80s, and the city bought it in 2000 and leased it to the Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society, of which Buckland was a member.

When Buckland bought the heritage building from the city last year, he had to promise to do restoration work on its historical features, such as rescuing some original murals.

“The lady who did it all, it took her six months with a little Q-tip,” said Buckland. “I don’t know how many layers of paint there were.”

All about the laughs

Columbia Theatre has two rooms: the Grand Ballroom on the ground floor is a theatre with cabaret-style seating for 300. It’s still being renovated, but its grand opening is slated for the third weekend in September, when it will host the Vancouver Comedyfest.

The Vancouver Circus School also plans to perform there around Halloween.

The old-style, curved staircase leads up to a second room that looks more like what you’d expect from a stand-up comedy club. The tables here seat 220. There’s a bar at the back and a small stage in a corner that’s visible from all angles and not blocked by any columns, as it was in the old venue.

Buckland has soundproofed it with blue acoustic ceiling tiles and added a wheelchair-accessible washroom.

“The old venue was on the third floor and there was no wheelchair access. Here we have an elevator, so handicapped and older people can come,” he said.

Both rooms have been repainted with gold trim accenting the cornices and giving the room a classy retro look.

Buckland estimates that when all is said and done, he’ll have spent about $1.8 million purchasing and renovating the place.

Despite all the fancy changes, it’s still all about the laughs.

Another thing he loves about his job is seeing people still laughing on their way out the door.

“It doesn’t matter what the economy is,” he said. “When it’s good, people want to spend money. When it’s bad, they need a good laugh.”

•••••

What happened to ‘The Burr’?

Barry Buckland cannot display the legendary “Burr Theatre” name on his marquee at the Columbia Theatre because he doesn’t own the rights to the name.

“The Raymond Burr (Performing) Arts Society owns the rights,” he said. “They won’t even talk to me because they put in an offer for the building too and didn’t get it.”

Buckland added that he will be honouring Raymond Burr by displaying a portrait of him, as well as a plaque naming all the people who bought chairs for the Burr theatre.

Ted Eddy of the Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society said that Maureen Albanese, who is a relative of Burr’s, does not want the name Burr associated with a comedy club.

Buckland encourages anyone who bought a seat to call him at 604-525-2262.

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