By Julia Borcherts, for RedEye
9:29 AM CDT, May 2, 2012
Go: 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday at 4641 S. King Drive
Tickets: $15-$20; two-for-$20 at 8:30 p.m. Friday show; free for first 50 entrants at 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday shows; 773-373-3390; jokesandnotes.com
When Mary Lindsey opened Jokes and Notes in January 2006, no one was more surprised than she. The former co-owner of '90s South Loop showcase club All Jokes Aside, which gave early exposure to major talent such as Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle and Jamie Foxx, said she was burned out by the nightlife that comes with running a top comedy club.
"I tell you, I had no intention [of opening a new club]," she said. "But I would often run into comedians -- around the city and when I was traveling in L.A. -- that missed All Jokes Aside. They were like, `We need a hub to go and work out our magic.' There was a huge void for the urban comics because there was no one in the city to represent them in a real comedy club format."
Former alderman Dorothy Tillman, working to bring businesses to her Bronzeville ward to support re-gentrification efforts, eventually convinced Lindsey to open her new club, which regularly hosts national acts including George Willborn, Mo'Nique and Bill Bellamy along with weeknight local showcases and an open mic. The club has served as the springboard to the national spotlight for several house MCs including Deon Cole (Comedy Central, "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien") and Lil Rel, who has been cast in Fox-TV's upcoming "In Living Color" reboot.
This weekend, Jokes and Notes observes its six anniversary. We called Lindsey to see how she's planning to celebrate and what she's learned about the business of being funny.
What do you have planned for the anniversary celebration?
It will be so fun. It's going to be all the local comedians in the city on Friday night, and then Saturday night, I am going to actually showcase my house MCs -- George Willborn, Marlon Mitchell, Damon Williams, Lil Rel, Tony Sculfield, Leon Rogers. The only one that won't be there is Deon Cole 'cause he's in L.A. He's coming in soon, though.
But more importantly, I'm giving back to the customers on both days -- the Friday 8:30 show and the Saturday 8:30 show, the first 50 people in line will get free tickets. And we're giving away door prizes, all kinds of giveaways.
You mentioned that you surprised yourself by getting back into the comedy business. What else has surprised you?
When I first opened the club, I was like, "I know we're a black comedy club, but I don't want to be cubbyholed." After year two or three, I started to see the diversity of the comics. Now I have Latina, I have Irish, I have everybody performing on that stage. And so that old stigma -- North Side comics will not come to the South Side; they will not come past 22nd [Street] -- on any given Wednesday, I'll have at least 10 white comics, and they're well-received.
How can you tell when a comedian's got what it takes to be successful?
They tend to be very consistent with writing; writing is really key. And more comics are now trying to include a little bit of sketch comedy and that's working really well. This generation of comics is very smart. They're studying the Steve Harveys and the Mo'Niques and all those guys that have made it -- Cedric and Bernie Mac. And it's making them better comedians.
You have a reputation as an enforcer-type businesswoman. What are your rules?
I am a time titan. They have to respect the time. For national acts, I do have them sign a form that says that you will have to pay a fine if you go over the time. It's not a banquet hall where we're just having a party. There's a format here; it's a business and I try to be consistent so that people waiting for the second show aren't sitting outside in the cold or the heat when they could be enjoying themselves and having some cocktails.
I also require them to have good stage presence physically, to project a professional image. Because I think that if you want to be taken serious, you gotta dress the part.
Julia Borcherts is a RedEye special contributor
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC