New Black-owned comedy lounge aims to tickle Wilmington
Not everyone gets to hang backstage with comedian Mike Epps. But Wilmington comedy promoter U’Gundi Jacobs has.
Jacobs owns the new House of Laffs comedy lounge located at 1206 N. Union St., Wilmington, a landmark location that’s hosted a 40-year run of 11 nightclubs. Once it was home to the original Open Lanes Parkway bowling alley. Most recently, it was home to the nightclub Lavish.
Whether you’re single, taken or in an entanglement House of Laffs will bring you comedic relief Valentine’s Day weekend with funny guy Chris Thomas and two bands on Saturday and Sunday. The event is for ages 21 or older.
Thomas, first host of BET’s “Rap City,” will perform one set Saturday at 7 p.m., along with the acoustic act Genesis Z. Thomas will dish up two more sets Sunday with the soulful outfit Aziza Nailah and Company at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Dress code is upscale casual and masks are mandatory. Management reserves the right to be selective.
Guests will receive temperature checks upon entering the venue.
“We have a huge Valentine’s Day weekend this year called ‘Love & Laughter.’ It consists of a musical journey with a live band and a well-known comedian,” said Jacobs, 50, a native of south Wilmington. “It’s a whole weekend of awesomeness.”
So, what's it like and what's to eat?
The House of Laffs had a soft opening on Super Bowl Sunday, with plans for a grand opening down the line. The plan, Jacobs said, is for the venue to be open 11 to 1 a.m., Tuesday through Sunday.
The 6,500 square-foot comedy lounge seats 300 people and has been fully renovated with a new commercial kitchen, light, sound and electrical systems. There are multiple VIP rooms and every room in the venue has a monitor.
Additionally, there’s a DJ suite, green room, private dining room and billiards game room that converts into a meeting room.
House of Laffs is an event center that’s available for hosting meetings, weddings and other events, Jacobs said.
The new club offers a diverse menu of between 10 to 15 food items, including wings, crab cakes and burgers. There also are vegan options such as tofu, red pepper hummus and Comedy Caviar, which is like a vegan salsa served with chips.
There are about a dozen signature drinks on tap including the Joker (it's like a Long Island ice tea with pineapple and Midori) and the Punchline (Captain Morgan with Malibu rum, grenadine, orange and pineapple).
And who's bringing the laughs?
House of Laffs was set to open in December with a “star-studded” lineup of comedians, but a spike in COVID cases put that on ice.
Jacobs said he plans to debut that lineup in March. It features comedian Tommy Davidson (“In Living Color”), Flame Monroe (from Tiffany Haddish’s Netflix show “They Ready”), Eleanor Kerrigan (from “Andrew Dice Clay: The Blue Show”) and Geno Bisconte (veteran comic and podcaster).
In the meantime, the club will feature weekly entertainment with blossoming comedians and music artists who’ll get to share their talents on open-mic nights.
Guests can also look forward to LGBTQ events, Latin nights, karaoke, ladies nights and other special events.
“We’re not just a comedy lounge," the Wilmington entrepreneur said. “So we’ll have speaking engagements and podcasts. We’re just open for business and we have a lot of innovative ideas that we’re ready to share with the world.”
More about Mike Epps
In 2019, Jacobs met iconic comedian Mike Epps while networking at the Atlantic City Comedy Festival at Boardwalk Hall, he said.
He ended up in Epps’ green room where he took a group photo with him and a number of entertainment legends, including Mark Curry and Charlie Mac. He also was pictured with comedic Philly heroes Buckwild and Skeet Carter.
“I have connections to several comedians’ managers and agents throughout the year. I was invited backstage to hang out and network, reconnect and let them know what I had coming down the pike, so they could be ready for us,” said Jacobs, a product of the Southbridge housing projects.
“Charlie Mac is the tall guy on the left side [of the photo] with the gray beard. He is one of Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff’s best friends,” he added. “He’s pretty established in the industry. He has all the connects you can think of and need. He’s a phone call away. He’s a good friend.”
Why open a comedy lounge now?
The pandemic was a good time to open the House of Laffs, Jacobs said, because he anticipates there’s going to be a huge uptick in demand for live entertainment once more people get vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions ease up.
“Folks want to get out. Folks have been held hostage pretty much for the last year,” he said. “History has taught us many millionaires became wealthy during hard times or recessions. I think we’re living in a time where if you have the right product or service, I think your success can be expedited if you know how to execute. Based on my experience and resources, I think I have the right combination of both."
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Jacobs promoted his first comedy event at age 21 when he was an underclassmen at Delaware State College, before the school gained university status. The show was held in his neck of the woods: International Long Shoreman Hall in south Wilmington.
“It went so well that I decided to turn it into a business. Throughout the years I achieved a huge amount of success, but I was also faced with a huge amount of losses.”
He’s been promoting events ever since, off and on, while building connections with big names in the comedy industry.
In the beginning, he lost his father and grandfather, two of the most influential men in his life. That forced him to drop out of Del State. In-between promoting, the entrepreneur did a variety of jobs to pay the bills, he said, such as starting multiple barbershops to working as the executive director at the William "Hicks" Anderson Community Center.
Less than a decade ago he returned to school, transferring to Wilmington University, and earned two bachelor’s degrees in organizational management and political science, with a master’s degree in human services.
But Jacobs wasn’t satisfied. The Wilmington man said he finally wanted to start his own comedy lounge, something he’s dreamed of since he was a student at Del State.
“It seemed like I'd gone through so much and I didn't like other folks in control of my destiny,” he said. “So when you know you stand for something, then you have to do what's best for you. I know in my heart that what's best for me is I've always been driven, I've always been independent and self-sufficient.”
The News Journal's Ryan Cormier contributed to this report.
Andre Lamar is the features/lifestyle reporter. If you have an interesting story idea, email Andre Lamar at email@example.com.