How SoulJoel's Comedy Club Saved The Stage w/ Joel Richardson
A town of 4,700 people becomes the go-to spot for stand-up comedians.
See me perform live with the great Chuck Nice on Feb. 27th. Get your tickets here: http://bit.ly/3jZ0vZO
SoulJoel's Comedy Club and Lounge
155 Railroad Plaza, Royersford, PA 19468
Joe, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having me. And it's going to be a lot of fun. Yeah!!
One of the things that I really admire about you is your love for comedy, and that was something I could feel almost right away upon meeting you. I got to stop by the heat of the dome and see what's going on. And you know, you, you hung out the entire time. You're shaking hands, you're meeting people. You're, you're being friendly. You're fostering this good energy that we all got to take advantage of. So thank you for everything you're doing.
Of course, during the show, there were no bathroom breaks for me. I'm there the whole time.
Seriously. And, and to give people a context, you, Oh, you're the owner of a comedy club that is arguably the hottest club in, on the East coast right now. It is in Royersford Pennsylvania.
Yeah. Population 4,750. Take that in for a second.
So w what made you land on Royersford despite knowing that like, all right, there's 4,000 people here.
Right? So, that was the biggest fear I've had. I produce shows now in May, it'll be 15 years and I've always done it at other venues, you know? And for seven years, I was at the Valley forest casino at King of Prussia. And then, I knew the old owners and they had sold it to a boy who had built the regatta. They have, you know, casinos all across the country. And I knew it was the writing on the wall. It's like when new people come in, they're going to get rid of the old. So they want to be in a move from Friday nights to Thursday nights. And you know, they're not, it's a door deal. So whether I get 1000 people or one person, I pay for the comics, no matter what. And after building up their clientele on a Friday night, I wasn't going to get bumped literally the next day, the borough council and Reuters Ford contacted me to be a part of the revitalization plan and open up my first brick and mortar place. And I was like, you know what? This is meant to be. So I just rode the wave. And I'm one of the employees now who was my general manager. I sent him a nice text and he said, I don't know where you're going, but take me with you.
Dude, like, so to give people some context of like, what's actually happening in Royersford for people who don't know comedy, it's the place that everybody from New York comics from LA like all over, are coming to get some stage time there. And it is very, it doesn't feel sketchy at all. Right. It's not one of these settings where you're like, okay, or should we really be here right now? It's like, everything's very comfortable. You, you know, you've got the heated dome, a lot of space and, and great people, man, good energy. That's kind of coming together. So, yeah.
Yeah. And, and we kind of built our staff from the ground up, and we kind of built our company culture and always put the talent first. I started as a comic, so I know what it's like to be a starving artist. And I just always, probably overpay my talent. And I probably shouldn't say that publicly, but I make sure that I'm always just paying it forward. I'm making sure that you know, they have a good time and they have fun. We train our audiences. So whether it's Jessica Carson or David's hell or, you know, Joel list and Mark Norman who have come every other month on a Wednesday night, the audiences are now trained just to know good comedy. And that's what we've been doing for 15 years, just building soul Joel. So if you see the brand soul, you know, it's going to be a good show. You might not recognize the names. Of course, most people do if they're comedy fans, but for the regular, you know, average person, they just know they come to our show. They're going to have a good time.
Now before soldiers were soldiers what, you know, I think back in 2009, I read like, as, when you started producing shows, so what was the pole back then that got you into it?
So it was, it was basically, I was tired of doing bringer shows and I thought like I was the kind of guy that I was the event planner. So for my high school, I was playing in the reunions, or my friend's like bachelor parties at any, any kind of family events. I was always the one that was organizing all that. So I just applied those skills stats. Like I actually got my MBA, my master's in business administration with management, focus, and management. So I just applied all those skill sets and just started organizing my own, my own shows. And I'm like if I set up the yanas pop has caused the soldier, whole family tour. So I just set up shows wherever I had family, you know, I was born in Pittsburgh. I grew up in South Jersey right outside Philadelphia. So I just started producing all these shows and where I knew I had a built-in fan base. And then from there on it's, you know, since 2009, I've done shows in 21 different States.
That's amazing, man. And I'm sure it feels good to have your own home and location now. I guess prior to that, you were doing it, you were kind of just on the road and going wherever.
Yeah. So I had built up this kind of circuit where, you know, I'm doing the third Saturday of the month in Stone Harbor. And the first Saturday of the month at a place Octorara hotel in Southern Chester County in Oxford, Pennsylvania, it's halfway point between Baltimore and Philadelphia. I just had my own circuit. But the problem with that is when you're doing shows at like the Valley forge casino, there's the management and the owners. So you want to pull your trigger on adding another show or adding a different night. You have to get all this approval. And I just knew if I eventually had my own four-wall place, that I can just schedule a show and, and just directly just handle my own calendar. I knew it was going to be like you said, great energy, and everything's going to be great. I knew what it was that I've seen so much bad comedy over the years, and this is not a good setup, and this is going to be terrible and high ceilings and all the things that are just not good, for comedy. I, I put all the right keys and the ingredients and the recipe to formulate a great comedy club and atmosphere.
And obviously, you don't have to give away your secret sauce. Right. But what are, what are some of the things you saw over the years that you would consider bad comedy and then things that you would now consider as this makes for electricity in the room?
Yeah. So, it's everything from like the music beforehand and, and, and having a good vibe and making sure that you, you have to remind yourself that when people walk in it might be their first time. So you're giving people an experience and that's what people love over the pandemic. They only told us whether they lost a loved one, or they're just given a sense of normalcy. They love coming to our shows because of the vibe. And so, you just want to have all those things that that makes sense, you know sometimes you go to a place and there's a bunch of TVs and you just want the comic onstage to be the focus. There are just no distractions at all. And you know, we have our, our whole staff, we have signs now that say no smoking, obviously, but we've even had people that tried to smoke.
Cause we're an outside place. It's like, Oh, it's our first time here. It's like, yes, it's your first time checking into life. You're not allowed to smoke around other people. Like, it's just not a thing. Like, don't say it your first time here. Like when can you smoke in public now? Yeah. So, but also no videotaping, like, how's it today. It's like, you know, with all these podcasts and Facebook live and everybody has a phone that people just think, Oh, I could do this. It's like, yeah, no, it's illegal to go to the movies and film or a concert, even though people do it, it doesn't mean that it's not illegal. So we have our entire staff on a full swivel just to go around. And of course, we want people to leave reviews and take pictures, but it's photo only with no video because the comics are coming. They might be practicing a new joke or a late-night set or a special, but either way comics, if you're not, there are people who don't realize that, that you can't videotape someone without their permission. It's just not like, like, you're just so you know, you're on a recorded line. That's the famous line. Now when you're on the telephone, you just can't do it. Yeah.
It's one of those things where it's something like a new joke might not be fully cooked or it's something that you're saving for a very special event, like being on TV and you don't want it to get leaked and people can cause it's the difference. I think between music and comedy, I heard Andrew Schultz say this with a, like a joke is like an avocado, right? It's, it's got, it's got a shelf life. Once you, once you kind of hear it versus a song you can hear over and over and over again and still enjoy it the same. But that element of surprise really has to be kind of kept for a joke to work and, you know, elicit the laughter that we all enjoy. So it's one of those things that I'm really glad you do to protect all the comics. What, what are some things that you found from just meeting so many different comedians over the years, a very diverse group of people. What are some things that you find are you know, people maybe don't like, I wouldn't say misunderstood, but like what are some misconceptions about comedians that you think just from getting to know them behind the scenes.
You know that sometimes, you know, the act is the act, you know, like so many times even in what humble performers like, you know, tell me a joke, tell me a joke. Like just let them be in the moment. And when, whether they're a first-time comic or, or, you know, headlining for 30 years, I don't bother the comics. Like I have my staff and I have security now after the big J incident, you know, I want to talk about that too. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it, I just let the con be like if they need something, I make sure it's, it's, it's almost like a Georgia stanza, you know, I dropped the mic and I'm out. Like, I just want to make sure they know I'm there, if they need anything, let me know. But, but also, you know, just make sure that the comics are there.
They feel good. And they, they, they, they just have fun. And, Oh, one of the guys, I, I tell people who probably one of the nicest people that I didn't expect was Michael Rappaport. Who's, you know, I didn't realize had started as a comic, but it's now more famous for being an actor. And a lot of people didn't know that that's how he started. And when he performed, I mean, he's a trained actor. He was unbelievable. And I had, so when I moved out of New York and to New Jersey, seven years ago, I was waiting tables and the whole way, because it was a Sunday night, the whole staff came out because they were like, they wanted to support me at my new venue, but also see Michael Rappaport. And he asked a question and they're like, Oh, how did, why did you come to Seoul?
Joel's goes, Oh man, every comic in New York and probably the country you're talking about. And it was so cool to hear him say that. And I woke up in the morning on Friday and he depressed it. And Steve you know, one of them, probably the biggest morning show in Philadelphia, and then also CBS morning show. And I don't know, a lot of times when these comics are doing press and I told them, I'm like, man, thank you so much. I can't you, how many friends? I went to college at high school, reaching out to me that heard you talking about, you know, my club and he turned around and went, I'm sorry, I didn't do more. I'm like this guy could have just cashed. My check never talked. And he did what a lot of comics do every weekend. The next day he texted me and thanked me for the gig. And he was like, that was fun in all capitals. And I was like, man, like Rappaport didn't have to do that. Like he doesn't need me and my, you know, my small club and Reuters sport, even though it might be hot now it's like, he didn't have to do that. But just, just a true professional man. It was really cool.
That's amazing, man. I think there's a true, this, this past year has brought like a true feeling of gratitude for stage time and for everything related to stand up comedy, because I can tell you like March or February of last year, I remember like being in that rhythm as a comic where you're like, RM did two sets tonight, go from here to here and you're, you're, you know, you're hustling and you're appreciating the stage time, but not like now, you know what I mean? Not now where it's like, it's more limited than ever. And to get quality stage time like around people and energy, that is, that is you know, just fun to be around. Great to test out material, get a good read. You know, you were saying like controlling having TVs on and stuff. Like I remember doing the set that was like in Philly, outdoors on a stoop.
And while you're doing a set, they put a TV facing outwards, right? So people outside who are watching comedy can watch the Eagles game at the same time. And the Eagles are losing by the time that I'm up there. And I'm like, dude, this is, this is crazy. Like it, you know, you, you are really nurturing an environment where people are happy to come to see comedy. And, and I think that this time is attracting a higher quality crowd too, because the people who are there it's cold, right. It's cold outside. Like people are making their way out and they really want to be there from the comics too. I think everybody in the audience.
You know, what's funny about that. That story you just told was the same Sunday that Michael Rappaport was at our place. Oh, you're kidding. That same show because I told him he sold out a show and then he three quarters, 75% sold out the second show, head to head with Sunday night football. And I go, do you know? He goes, I went head to head with the Eagles. Yeah. I'm a giants fan. Who cares? [inaudible] But yeah, man, and the heated dome, I tell people it's about 20 to 25 degrees warmer inside the dome than it is outside. So even if it's like 35 degrees, it's mid-fifties to low sixties, which, I mean, it's bearable, you know, two sides are both closed and then it's open in the front and in the back, but it blocks the wind. So you don't have that. No windshield factor even last night when I think it was like 25 degrees, we were warm in there, man. Cause everybody's next to the heater.
I felt that I felt that too. What was it weird? Cause I know you, your physical space was open like three, four months or so. Right before this stuff hit and you had to kind of adapt. What was your thought process like when that happened?
Yeah, so, ironically, which, which a lot of white people, aren't gonna say this, my dad lives in China. So he's been living there for the last five years. He lives in San Juan, which is right next to Hong Kong. He's been buying it's all electronics, his whole life. And now he goes directly there and they obviously got hit first and he just told me, he goes in February, he goes, we'll get ready. It's going to happen. And I was like, I went from one day a week, November 1st, 2019 to going five days a week to the end of February, literally, like you said, four months, I was five days a week. We organically grew to be open. We were doing open mic Mondays and Thursday night fundraisers. We were an iota staff after 14 years finally in this business having my own brick and mortar and two weeks later shut down man. And I just thought, I was like, I thought it was going to last, like, you know, two weeks then I was like, all right, it's going to be six weeks. And then finally in June, we're like, all right, we're going outside. And we just rode that wave. We had the beach and were doing all these shows and we finally just decided in October that we're like, you know what, the second the threat, the second spike, we're just going to stay outside. And that's when we built the dome.
Yeah. And I guess like all that work that you've put in for the past, whatever, right. 10, 15 years kind of like all came together and is paying off this year. You know, to me building like a brick-and-mortar space and community and acquiring those people is hard. It's a lot of work and it takes a lot of care and nurturing to gather those people. Especially when you've kind of got like, you know, not, not such a finite amount, but relative to let's say the internet. Right. There's, there are unlimited people everywhere, but in a physical space, like Rossford, okay. There are 4,000 people here, right then Philly, we've got this many people. And so there's just this more real-life feeling to it. Right. Where you're connecting with people. One-On-One and you do that really well. But what are some things that you may have intentionally done to build that up over the years where now it's like, you know, it's kind of all that good? Karmas like coming back to you.
Yeah. It was funny. Anthony DeVito was one of the guys I started with. And you know, since I've been a writer for Michelle Wolf and he's had his own comedy central special, he said, it's so funny to know me 15 years and hear comics talk about, Oh, you got to do this guy. Joel shows. He's like, yeah, yeah. That guy has been pandemic training for 15 years. Like doing shows in the basements and pizzerias and casino and VFWs and just, it's all the simple things, man, all we need is one mic and a sound system and you just gotta make sure all, and then when we have music to bring up all the comics and it just keep that energy going. But it's most important that we're attracting these comedy fans that are used to driving to New York or Philadelphia or Atlantic City. And we're now bringing it to them in their backyard.
We, you know, there are so many people that, you know, we have, you know, free parking and all those little things that like just, it would just appeal to people and, and we're BYO. So you bring your own. So we don't have the liability and people, if they want to drink or whatever they want, they want to eat, they enjoy, we have no intention of ever getting a liquor license. It's just, you know, and that's something that people don't realize either is there's no check spot. So, people are trying to figure out what their bill is. There's always that little dip for a headliner. At the five minutes before the show is over and then they go into their closer, well, once the host goes on stage to the headliner, it's 90 minutes to two hours of just nonstop. Laughter and there are no interruptions.
And that's one thing that I didn't realize until like brick told me when he was at the club like probably like the fourth weekend, he was like, that's, what's great about your club. He's like you have candlelights candle it all along with the audience. And he's like, the focus is on the comic and the comic name unless the people go to the bathroom, which is just very quiet and nonchalant people are just focused on the comedy and a lot of places aren't like that because you have staff and waiter and waitresses and you know, and I'm not knocking anything else. It's just, that's one thing that's unique about us that I didn't realize until we opened.
Yeah. And dude, it sounds very similar to like the health pandemic being pandemic trained. It's similar, for comics in a way too, right? Because it's like you come up working out in rooms that are, you know, bars and places that don't want to hear you and you have to like, you know, you have to fight for the attention. And those are really the training grounds for when you get up on stages where people are respectful and they're nice and they're there for it. It hits 10 times harder. Right. So it's kind of like, as a producer, it sounds like you, you have to kind of go through the same thing where you're doing basement shows, you're doing all sorts of different stuff. And along the way, you're paving the path for like, you know the bigger stages of the bigger shows that you want to do.
Keep paying it forward, man.
That's it. Well, dude, you mentioned that you lost a lot of weight this past year. What was that? Is it, is it from you being on your feet and, and be in the George Costanza? Like what's going on? How did you do that?
Well, so, first I think it was kind of having my own place and, and having less stress more, I guess, different stress, you know what I mean? But, but you take that off and that, that is big, man. I think a lot of times when people have weight, the Shutman for about four months, I stopped drinking. And that was the big thing is like after a show you know, I would eat late and I was like, all right, you can go to Wawa, there's no need to get the classic. I got to get the six-inch and it's a little like portion control and all those things that you keep hearing about, but it's actually true. It's like that. I didn't need to get that. And then, and then I get ice cream, all right. I don't need to get the whole pint.
I get the whole pie. And then, you know, I've thrown a couple of donuts in there and it's just eating late. It's just, it's just no good man. So I cut all that out. And then, as you said during this whole pandemic being able to have to create the build outside the stage and everything just never stopped moving. So I was running like 120 miles a month and it's like an average of like four miles a day. But it's, it's, it's a simple formula, man. You, you, you cut down on what your intake is and drink all those empty calories and just move, just keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. And you know, the weight just keeps falling off.
So and, and you didn't do anything extra. Like you were just, you did the walking and the natural activity throughout the day that came out to the four-ish miles or whatever. And then really what you did was just cut down. You didn't like, do any overhaul diet or something like that.
Oh no, no, no. It's yeah, exactly. I was just cutting out the garbage, but, but, but exactly. Yeah, yeah, no like a fad diet or anything like that for the most part. It's exactly what you said. It's a simple formula. It's not, it's not rocket science.
That's great. And what's the difference, do you feel different?
Yeah. Well, you know, what's funny is our photographer. We call him the same. Joey St. John is my general manager. He takes all the pictures of the shows and people, every time he was taking a picture of people kept calm and he's like, Oh my gosh, keep losing weight, keep losing weight. And yeah, I mean, you really do see it, but I actually don't take naps anymore. You just naturally have more energy because it's a scale like you're dragging around. It's almost like an extra person, you know, like a small child. Cause that's how much weight I lost. So you're not, you're not carrying around that. Just that wears you down day in and day out.
That's crazy. Well, we'll congratulate you on making that happen. I want to circle back to the, we were talking about big Jay for a second and you getting security guards after that incident fill us in because I have to watch the video, but fill us in on what happened. And as somebody who was there that night, what was going through your mind?
What we did was we had a comedy festival that I planned 17 days in a row, one day to make forever every week that we lost inside during the pandemic. And this was the night 13, 14, 15. Yeah. And so we were already like, you know, well into it. Big J wasn't even supposed to be there. Dave Smith, you know, of the Legion of skanks ended up having a death in the family. So he canceled Tuesday night, got replaced with big Jay, of course, I'm fine with it. Like, you know, over the 14 years, that happens all the time. But you know, big Jay's originally from Philly. I, I was fine with it, you know, it's so he, he comes to show this woman. She had bought the 17-day pass and she was there every night and her husband was there half the night.
So that was their second marriage. They both bring their kids. Her daughter's fine. His kids white trash and the daughter ended up being for Redding and Liz and writing and her son just flew in from California. He walks in, he's handing out his cards. He apparently manages fans only and only fans whatever they call it. Like it was a kind of girl. And he, and he's a porn producer. I don't know why I don't even know this guy's name. And I know that, right? So, he must've walked up to my sister who was the special events coordinator and runs all the fundraisers. And she's at the door, asked her 10 times where the bar is. And like we saw a BYO facility. Louis Gomez is on stage talking about the Legion of skanks election. Not talking about Democrats, not talking about Republicans.
As you know, in comedy, you probably stay away from politics, unless that's your thing. Cause that's why people go to comedy shows to forget their troubles and get away from all that stuff and the news and all that. So this girl yells out F this place AF Trump everyone's racist F Pennsylvania, and the whole crowd was like, what are you talking about? They're not talking about real politics. They're talking about Dan Soder and Orisha fear. There's a convenience. It's a fake election. We're having fun. So of course, because like you said, I don't leave the place. So I walk over to big Jay who's next up, I go, I want to throw them out. He goes, no, I need them. I need to be an adult. Throw them out. I'll let you know. So he goes on stage and he goes, I liked the fact that she didn't say, F Reuters Ford.
She didn't say F Montgomery County. She said F all a Pennsylvania. He goes, that's what I liked about her, honey, where are you from? And she goes, who me? And he's like, how did you not know that I was talking about you for the last five minutes? Right? So a guy starts loudly making fun of her, like whatever he said. So the brother comes in the back and starts getting into an argument with another audience member. So I walk over, grab the guy by the arm and he goes, Oh, you're going to mess me up. I was like, no, I was just trying to get your attention. I said I'm the owner. I go, I don't want to F anybody up. That's not what I want to do. I was like, it's I just want everybody to have a good time. And he goes, listen, I'm a porn producer.
So why let's do this? Why don't I give you? And your whole team, Freeport, I think this up to you, it's called the internet, right? Like this is not 1992. When you're the Wu-Tang selling CDs out your trunk, like, what was he going to pop up a VHS tape? I don't know what, like fast forward, 30 minutes and big Jay finally goes, Joel, get her out of here. And just like the Maury Povich show, the mom and the stepmom are both there. And they escort the daughter out and the whole crowd sees us. They start applauding. I escort them out to see people that are handling the business. And I just hear, I just hear another commotion. I turn around. I'm all the way by the door, by the exit. And the brother now, big, big Jack dude that I was talking to the porn producer is face-to-face with Jack.
And I'm like, Oh no, this is not good. And you could feel the tension in the air. Like you knew something was gonna happen. So I couldn't get there fast enough as I'm running up. He just grabs him by the ankles and throws big Jay off the stage. And what you do see from the video that you saw is that Louis was already behind the stage and comes off the top rope. Like Jimmy fly, snuck up. Yeah. Just fly. But people thought Jay got attacked by the state. I'm like, no, that guy coming from behind was actually trying to protect them. And all these people start swarming this guy. And literally, there are like 10 people around him. And the only thing that saved it was that a guy had mace and he made the dad and the brother and the fight stopped. And you know, of course at this point I'd already called the cops, but a calm just came over me and I just started separating people and pushing people away from everyone.
And the dad just goes, not again, not again. I'm like, not again, brought this gorilla, like you brought this guy to like, not again. All right. So, he ends up you know, the cops show up, of course. And they're like, Oh, we're getting conflicting stories. They're like, ah, the, you know, the mom's like, Oh, he attacks my son. And he kicked him from the stage and, you know, big Jay's yelling. Yeah. What do I have cerebral palsy, but he can't kick from that angle and all that kind of stuff. So he ended up going away, but you know, getting locked up and that the hearings coming up soon, but that night, you know, Bert Kreischer, retweets, Arusha fears, and that he's like Cami backs comedy's, back baby. The next day. You know, I get contacted by the New York Post and it was like a perfect storm.
Everyone's talking about it, you know, podcast and news and New York post. And we announced Jim brewer. And then that Sunday was Dave Attell to close out the festival. So after that, you can just feel, it was like a lightning strike three times in three days. So you're like, boom, boom, boom. And then from there on, it was like, you know, every comp, every agent and manager was calling me to get their clients. And so it was, it was, you know, listen, I, I would never try to pull a publicity stunt, but if I was going to plan one, that was the perfect storm. No one got hurt and you know, everything ended up being okay.
Is the show going on the whole time? Like while the cops were there?