24 years ago, a brash, take-no-bs broad from Chicago landed in the little hamlet of Dayton. She thought she’d be here for 90 days, because WHY Dayton? Just quick consulting gig at a comedy club owned by the creator of Pound Puppies. But she stayed a little longer and ended up buying the place. Who could have imagined the next 25 years? Not, Lisa Grigsby .
Wooed by the allure of valet parking at the airport (seriously, I’m not even making that up) Grigs quickly made her mark in Dayton. She brought with her a wealth of knowledge and some pretty badass connections. That dark little room with the caricatures on the walls, low ceilings, and “playful” lobby became a mecca of sorts for comedians at all stages in their career. If you can survive 2nd show Friday in Dayton, you were definitely going to be a star.
The names you know and love now, have most likely worked out their early material in that smoke filled room. When Chris Rock wanted to try some jokes before filming a special, he called Lisa. The rowdy Dayton audiences were yelling “Git ‘Er Done” before Larry The Cable Guy had his own potato chips. Ron White? Yep, he’s the same now as he was decades ago driving a van from gig to gig, including Jokers. When you have The Original Kings Of Comedy on speed dial, you’re probably doing alright for yourself in the comedy world. Bless his heart, D.L. Hughley still has such nice things to say about Lisa, who was unafraid of brutal honesty at any given moment.
“My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana, I said “no, but I want a regular banana later, so … yeah”. ~Mitch Hedburg
She also wasn’t afraid to bring in the “too edgy for the midwest” comics, either. Doug Stanhope? Killed it here. Dave Attell taught the Jokers staff a few things about drinking. Who knew an offensive “woman” comic would wow the conservative Midwest crowd? Grigsby did when she brought Lisa Lampanelli, “The Queen Of Mean”. Though his comedy is PG, the song “Big Butter Jesus” by Heywood Banks, ruffled some feathers. You’ll likely understand where he was driving to when he first saw that magnificent engineering feat (RIP Butter Jesus).
Choose your favorite comedian doing a set on late night TV, and it’s pretty likely they have been booked by Lisa at some point in their career. The hit show “Last Comic Standing” has some alumni of that room. (Hi G-Rock Greggy Greg!) Greg Warren was once a corporate dude living the life of an upwardly mobile young professional. Then he quit to do comedy. I’m not sure if he’s thanking or blaming Grigsby at this point, but I bet he’s got a story or two about it.
There may or may not be tales that may or may not be confirmed about future Oscar winners being “politely” asked to leave the building. Shows from future major movie stars being stopped from the back mic when he was being disrespectful to the staff. An SNL star being dropped off somewhere in the middle of general area of the club or hotel (who knows?) for being legitimately nuts. Or intoxicated, whatever. You know these are the ones you want to hear the most about!
Another thing about Lisa. She was a fierce mama bear when it came to her “kids”. The kids were her staff. There were some that would breeze through that place like a revolving door, but there were others. Those are the ones who stayed. The lifers, affectionately called “f*&%rs” from time to time (yep, that really was a term of endearment). Working there wasn’t easy, you loved it or hated it. You were good at it or awful. You viewed Grigs as Satan, or, like many of us, you viewed her as a friend, mentor, teacher, motivator, “teller-of-truths-you-didn’t-want-to-hear”, and most importantly, the one who would encourage and cheer for your successes the loudest.
There is a lot of life that was lived in that room. Conversations that launched big life decisions, lifelong friendships formed, losses of those gone too soon, mourned. The stories. Oh my word the stories that could be told.
So. Many. Stories. Some good, some not so good, most questionable, but ALL entertaining.
And that’s why you’re reading this. It’s for the stories and what comes next.
If you know Lisa Grigsby, then you know, she is NOT one to toot her own horn. She is the brains behind the show. The one managing the creative concepts and logistics of events while inspiring those around her to jump in and give back to the community. Even though she has stepped away from the comedy biz and into the non-profit world, there are some damn good stories to tell. If we wait on her to tell them, we’ll be low on the list of priorities. Behind driving economic development for her adopted community, behind planning functions to further the mission of her favorite charities, and who knows what else.
So…it’s getting done anyway.
Next year marks the 25th Anniversary of the beginning of the Jokers era. My goal is to have a book done and in the process of being published by then. Or at least mostly written. Maybe edited? Who knows? What I’m saying is that a book is happening. She’s probably going to kick my butt for this, so how about we call it “pseudo-authorized” for the time being.
This is where I need YOUR help.
- Are you, have you ever been, or do you know a comedian? If yes, shoot me a quick email with a story or question & some contact info. And pass this along to your comedy friends. And your agent, because they probably have some words to add, too.
- Are you a former Joker? If you’ve seen that bathroom after a JUGS night, I KNOW you have stories. Let’s chat.
- Do you have a photo of Lisa from her days at Oklahoma University with big 80’s hair? This is needed.
- Do you have the stories of her time in Chicago (the beginnings of her career in comedy)
- The “I can’t stand her, she is so mean” stories
- The “thank god she talked some sense into me” stories
- The “she does great things in Dayton and I’m glad she’s my friend” stories
- The “I’m a struggling comic, but there might be some good dirt that will help this book sell and I’d like to be in it” stories.
- Are you any of the above and hope desperately that your name is not mentioned? Don’t worry, I’m setting up a gofundme to cover publishing costs (if needed), there will be a category for you.
Please send any and all info to [email protected] and you can find me on twitter either here: @nikkisayswhat or: @daytoncomedy
So there you have it. I’m probably going to go into hiding for a couple days, ready to emerge with a bottle of bourbon and an “I’m sorta but not really sorry” smile for when she says, “what in the f*&% is this?”. Help me remind her that this is exactly the type of thing she would encourage. Oddly enough, this article is being published on mostmetro.com which Lisa actually owns. You can’t imagine the sneakiness this took to get posted, just to send out the link to people.
“Jokers, doin it right. Jokers, open tonight. Come on in for a laugh or a bite. Make it a Jokers night tonight…”