By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The legendary Laff House Comedy Club, on South Street near Third, has shut its doors after nearly 20 years of offering a stage and opportunity for budding black comedians.
The final show, which drew funny men and women from all over the country, was Wednesday night. And it was standing room only for the sold-out crowd as dozens of comedians recounted their memories of the Laff House stage.
“I got booed, then I went home and I sulked a couple of hours, then I came back the next week,” recalls Shawn Jackson, who began doing standup five years ago on the Laff House Stage. “The Laff House meant everything to me. I wouldn’t be anything without it — it’s the only Black comedy club in the city.”
“Wednesday through Saturday, I used to be here,” said Dave Temple, who is from Southwest Philadelphia. He says he started on the Laff House stage in 2006. “I started here with seven-minute bits about midgets. I’ve evolved so much since then — I do comedy fulltime now. This place gave me something to do, somewhere to be, a reason to get off the streets.”
“Where else can you go to where you can communicate with other black faces?” says Mia, who has worked as a comedienne for several years. “I’ve been to other clubs, but Laff House is like my home because it’s urban and I’m urban. I’m going to miss the Laff House.”
Rod Millwood and his wife Mona own the Laff House name and managed the club since 1997. Together they helped hone comedians like Buckwild, Joe DeRosa, and Kevin Hart.
But after Mona died of ovarian cancer 18 months ago (see related story), Millwood says he decided to close.
“I never realized how much she did, and trying to do it by myself was too much,” says Millwood, who took the stage last night with tears in his eyes. “I’m not upset. We had a good life. So I tell people, don’t be sad.”
Millwood says the economy and Mona’s death took its toll on the club. He made the announcement of the closing just days before the final show.
“I couldn’t drag it out any longer,” he said. “I’m sorry. I just have to let it go, take a rest, and maybe start again at another time.”
He says he may license the Laff House name or open another club at another location.
“We’ll be back,” he says.
In the meantime, Laff House star TuRae says the closure will leave a void in Philadelphia’s urban comedy scene.
“Laff House was one of the only clubs where you could go from the pavement to a career,” he says. “Most big comedians come from a mom-and-pop club where they can hone their skills. Places like this are needed because they give opportunities based on talent. Other big clubs give opportunities based on your ability to draw an audience. You can’t draw an audience until you hone your talent.”