The New Wiley’s Continues Yuckin’ It Up. Or the Inmates Are Running The Asylum.
By Jim Bucher
You’ve heard that saying before, I’m sure.
In this case, it’s true: A group of stand-up comedians bought Wiley’s Comedy Club in the Oregon District.
“I think it’s more organized than that. Nobody knows more about comedy clubs than comedians, and no one is more critical of a comic than another comic,” says Aaron Evans, general manager of Wiley’s and a comic himself.
“I’m from a little town in Indiana called Portland. I’ve been a farmer since I was 15 years old, and my first time onstage was three years ago at Wiley’s. It’s funny; now, I’m running it.” Evans adds.
And he gets some of his material while on the job.
“Listening to the voicemails on the club phone is probably the most entertaining part of my day. Drunk people like to call at 2 a.m. and leave voicemails telling jokes and asking us to book them. I should release an album of all of them,” Evans shares.
Wiley’s Comedy Club opened in 1982 when local bar owner, Dan “Wiley” Lafferty, went to a live comedy show and decided that was the business for him.
Wiley owned it until he retired in 2000 and sold it to comedian and friend Rob Haney. Rob put his mark on the club until October of 2014.
“In 32 years, Wiley’s has only had three different owners: Wiley, Rob Haney and now us. The club has never closed its doors, and that is impressive in any small business. It has always been known as a respectable, comic-friendly club that anyone is welcome to,” Evans says.
The new group of owners is a varied bunch who all bring something to the table, or rather the stage.
“All the different owners have their own specialties. Adam Norwest and Chris Bowers are comedians and great with the crowds. Jamie Utley is a comedian and one of the best promoters and marketers in the country. Steve Hofstetter is a comedian and is currently the executive producer of a TV show called Laughs, which airs on Fox,” Evans adds.
Odd man out is Tony Deardorff.
“He’s our food and beverage expert. Tony has been managing restaurants for over 10 years, so he has encountered pretty much everything, and he likes to laugh,” Evans says.
These gentlemen will agree, however, that running a comedy club is no laughing matter.
“We find clubs that we think have a lot of potential, and we go in and make improvements and turn them around. We are independent, we are not a chain and we do not have a chain mentality. We’re just a bunch of guys who love comedy, and want to keep live comedy going strong,” says Evans.
Most mom-and-pop comedy clubs have shuttered or were gobbled up by national comedy chains. Wiley’s continues to beat the odds.
“We’re very grassroots. We’re just guys who want to have fun doing what we love, and I think our club gives off that vibe. We encourage local comedians more than some other clubs, and do everything to help them improve, like letting them emcee on the weekends, or doing workshops before the open-mic, and I’ll bet we have the most comfortable chairs,” says Evans.
Being comfy is good and these guys feel right at home.
“And we’re having fun.” Evans shares.
They say “comedy’s not pretty” and Wiley’s was showing its age, but where home improvement TV shows highlight people flipping houses, this fun bunch flips clubs.
“The big changes are repainting the showroom, putting new carpet on the stage, rearranging the seating, opening up the bar to the public, and we have a brand new full menu of food, reasonably priced I might add. Also, new equipment in the kitchen and a new point-of-sales system for the servers. The old sales computer they were using is a relic that I think Moses brought with him when he parted the Red Sea. In fact, I kept it and put in a glass display case for everyone to look at and go, ‘What is that?’” Evans says.
So, you’ll notice the change, and the comics do, too.
“I feel like the club is more welcoming to comedians and it feels much fresher and younger in every aspect. Plus, the food is much better,” says comic Michael Garza Semple of Dayton.
Comedian Mike Canestaro adds, “The new lighting configuration seems much more audience friendly. I find myself making eye contact with them more and I think it helps comics engage with their audience.”
Bottom line, Wiley’s is here to stay.
“I want Wiley’s to be a household name, like The Improv, or The Laugh Factory. My goal is for all of the big name comedians to want to stop here, and I want everyone across the country to know that Dayton is a great town for comedy.”
Reminds me of a joke, horse walks into a bar and … ah, better leave the comedy to the comedians.