by Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The famed Laff House Comedy Club on South Street was a magnet for budding Black comedians and left a hole in Philadelphia’s comedy scene when it closed three years ago. Now– there’s possible re-birth.
“It’s exciting to get started again and to really go at it,” says Rod Millwood, owner of the “Laff House” name. For nearly two decades, Millwood and his wife Mona ran the Laff House Comedy Club near third and South Streets.
It was one of the only venues in Philadelphia dedicated to urban comedy and gave Black comedians, in particular, the opportunity to take the stage during prime time.
“The Laff House created a place for people who had no place to go, but were funny,” says Millwood.
The stage was the stop for comedians like Eddie Griffith, Don “DC” Curry, Sheryl Underwood, Larence Killebrew, and so many other big names to perform in Philadelphia. Plus, it was the Laff House stage that helped develop talents like TuRae, Michael Blackson, and Kevin Hart.
But all of that came to a screeching halt in 2013.
“I pulled away,” says Millwood, when asked why he closed the beloved venue, “from everybody, everything, and I disappeared.”
Millwood’s wife Mona died of ovarian cancer in 2012. She ran the business portion of the club and was his right hand. Millwood says mounting debut, mismanaged funds, and his own grief sent him on a downward spiral of depression.
“When she left, my life fell apart,” he says.
The abrupt closure gave little notice to Laff House employees and left bad blood among many who loved the venue.
“I regret it to this day,” he says, “do you know how much it hurts to have someone call you a loser after years– it hurt. My wife died, I didn’t know what to do.”
He says he had a heart attack and has since recovered. So he’s starting over with a new attitude, a new venue and new comedians. But he’ll have the familiar name and mission.
“I want comedians to know they have a place again,” he says, “it’ll be urban comedy– but if you’re funny, you’ll get your shot– Black, White, Asian– I’ll put you on stage.”
He’ll launch the Laff House at Market Live at 21st and Market Streets beginning Friday, April 8th. He has an agreement with the owners who will bring in musical acts; his job is to bring in comedians on Fridays and Saturdays twice a month. Millwood says his goal is to expand and possibly open his own Laff House venue.
“That was then and this is now,” he says, “I want to do it my way.”
He believes his beloved Mona would be proud.
The first show at the “new” Laff House location is Friday night. More at http://www.laffhousecomedyclub.com/.