It’s no joke: ‘Comedians are happier to be on stage now’ and people need to laugh

 Jethro “Jedd” Curtis grew up in Roselle, Union County, and was in the railroad industry for many years. He didn’t know comedy would be a big part of his future, but here he is retired from Amtrak and deep into comedy.

A Willingboro resident for 21 years, Curtis and fellow Roselle native Bob Sumner of Def Comedy Jam fame (widely credited with discovering comedians such as Dave Chappelle, Mike Epps and Bill Bellamy) host monthly comedy shows at the Kennedy Center in Willingboro that typically sell out.

Their next event is Saturday, Aug. 13 at 8 p.m. and will be part of the Willingboro Jazz Festival weekend. The highly-respected jazz festival is on Aug. 14 at Millcreek Park.

“They’re packed,” Curtis said of the shows. “ … People definitely like comedy.”

Curtis grew up with Sumner, who pulled him onto a new life’s path.

“I was about to retire,” he recalled. “Bob had asked me about 25 years ago if I wanted to get into the business. I said no, because I’m sort of a railroad kind of guy. Later, I gave him a call and he said, ‘It’s about time.’ … He came down, looked at the area, liked it and he supplied me all the comedians and it took off from there.

“Everybody by nature has a laugh in them,” he observed. “And everybody likes to laugh. Laughing is having fun. I think laughter is a lot more pleasing than dancing. A comedian like Marshall Brandon, my host, everybody loves him and they just laugh because it’s therapeutic.”

Moorestown native Joel Richardson is the founder of Soul Joel Productions, an independent comedy production company.

In 2019, he founded SoulJoel’s Comedy Club & Lounge in Royersford, Pennylvania, after years of doing stand-up comedy. The former pharmaceutical sales rep began producing comedy shows at various locations throughout the tri-state area. While his current venue is in Lower Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania, his production company regularly produces comedy shows in Mount Holly, Mullica Hill, Shamong, Ventnor, Stone Harbor and other towns.

Richardson also presented popular outdoor comedy shows in Pennsylvania at the height of the pandemic.

“So many have shared with us how comedy has gotten them through the pandemic,” Richardson said. “Others have shared how they are a widow or widower and my comedy show was the first time they left the house to attend a public event. Even some are fighting a terminal illness and enjoy a night of laughter to forget their troubles for two hours.”

Finding a home for comedy in Willingboro

Curtis, who was an Amtrak locomotive engineer, began producing comedy shows in the area about seven years ago at the Crescent Shriners in Westampton, but he said there were constantly obstacles to overcome.

“They didn’t give me a welcoming feeling to be there,” he said of the town. “I talked to Nat Anderson, [on] town council in Willingboro. He said, ‘Jedd bring it to Willingboro’.”

The shows have been in their new home for five years now, and Curtis is collaborating for the fourth time with the jazz festival.

The comedy show during the jazz fest weekend will be free and BYOB. But plan ahead:

“We have to turn them away once we reach our capacity,” Curtis said.

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Monthly Saturday night comedy shows were put on hold for a few years due to the pandemic, Curtis said. They resumed in February and the shows have sold out. There were no shows in June or July.

“It’s pretty successful,” Curtis said. “It’s simple. Nothing extraordinary. The only extraordinary thing about my show in Willingboro is that my host Marshall Brandon is with the Dave Chappelle team now.”

The show this weekend will feature a “Who’s Got Next?” comedian showcase, with pre-show dancing with DJ Uncle Skip. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8.

“People were more excited about meeting Bob than coming to the show at one time,” Curtis recalled of his early days in comedy. “Bob is the main reason for my success. Every mistake he made in 35 years, he wouldn’t let me make any.

“Willingboro was so thrilled that I brought the show [here]. From the typical taxpayer all the way up to the judge and the police, they all come to the show. They love it.”

‘It’s about how you make people feel’

Richardson, 42, was destined for comedy.

The 1998 Moorestown High graduate also graduated from Wagner College in 2002 and landed in pharmaceutical sales.

Richardson, who also earned an MBA, left his pharmaceutical sales job in 2009, despite making over $100,000 and having a company car. After spending years in the New York area, he cashed in his 401(k) to pursue comedy fulltime.

“That’s where I tried standup comedy,” he recalled of his time in New York. “I just realized that wave that you feel whenever you make people laugh for the first time. You want to keep it going.”

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His family wanted to have an intervention. They thought he was crazy.

“But now when my mom, my dad, my stepdad come to a show, they meet all these people,” Richardson said. “They come up to them after the show and say what a good job they did in raising me and how much the shows mean to them. It’s not about the money. Even though, obviously, I’ve been able to make a living out of this, but it’s about how you make people feel.”

“That wave that you feel whenever you make people laugh for the first time. You want to keep it going.”

Joel Richardson, comedian

Richardson’s production company has presented shows at the Robin’s Nest Restaurant in Mount Holly, V & V Adventure Farm in Shamong, the Harbaugh Village in Mullica Hill, Ventnor Square Theatre and more. His comedy club is currently SoulJoel’s Comedy Club at Sunnybrook Ballroom in Lower Pottsgrove. Outdoor under the Dome is their summer seasonal venue at that location. They’ll move indoors in the fall.

The Collegeville, Pennsylvania, resident, ended up in Pennsylvania through a Moorestown connection.

“I knew one of the main investors (Ira Lubert) in the Valley Forge Casino,” said Richardson, who said he grew up with Lubert’s son. “He called me and wanted me to start doing shows at the casino. I was there for seven years. They sold the casino to Boyd Entertainment … After a year, they wanted to move me from Fridays to Thursday nights. I wasn’t going to do that. I built a reputation for Fridays in the area.”

But right after that he says the town of Royersford recruited him to open up a comedy club there as part of their revitalization. Richardson opened SoulJoel’s Comedy Club & Lounge on Nov. 1, 2019, and went from one day a week to being open five days in just four months, he said.

“Then two weeks later, the world’s largest pandemic hit and we were forced to shut down,” he recalled. “I was just catching momentum. We ended up going outside in July 2020. We quickly became the hottest comedy club on the East Coast. We had guys like D.L. Hughley, Bill Bellamy, Tommy Davidson, Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K., Michael Rapaport. We were having the biggest stars. New York and Philly were shut down.”

Richardson recalls that for the talent, it wasn’t just about finding a paying gig. It was much more.

“It was also about the self-worth I was giving them. The comics were looking forward to it because it gave them something to promote and look forward to on social media.”

Richardson said whether it’s a hobby or profession, when you’ve been doing something for 30 years and it’s taken away from you, you miss doing it. And while virtual gigs were popular at the height of the pandemic, Richardson said nothing beats the energy you get from an in-person crowd.

“They would start applauding the minute my intro music came on,” he remembered. “It was like a rock concert. The comics loved that because they felt the electricity. Chappelle is one of the only guys we didn’t get but simultaneously he was doing the same thing in Yellow Springs, Ohio, that I did in Pennsylvania.”

Chappelle’s documentary “Dave Chappelle: Live in Real Life” shows the series of socially distant shows he hosted at an outdoor space amid cornfields in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in the summer of 2020.

Comedy is all around you

Cherry Hill native Joe Matarese moved to New York City more than 30 years ago to pursue his comedy dreams.

He lives in New Rochelle, New York, Westchester County, and recently opened his own comedy club called B-Side Comedy Club in Scarsdale, New York, inspired by Richardson.

Matarese, 55, is headlining several shows in South Jersey under Soul Joel Production company, including shows in Ventnor City and Mullica Hill.

“Comedians are happier to be on stage now,” said Matarese, who has appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman”, Comedy Central and other places. “It’s like you don’t realize you have something you needed until it was taken away. I can remember in my career at times when I had to go do 18 shows in a week in a city somewhere and being like ‘Oh, God’. Now when I get somewhere that’s a long run, I’m so excited.”

And comedy is all around, including at venues you might not expect.

In June, the Harbor Pines Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township offered Comedy and Cocktails. In March, the South Camden Waterfront Theatre presented a stand-up comedy event. Upstairs at Kaycee Ray’s in Vineland hosted comedy nights in July and early August. And the Ritz Theatre Company in Haddon Township had its second annual 10-minute Comedy Play Festival in July.

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Robin’s Nest owner and chef Robin Winzinger said her restaurant has hosted comedy shows produced by Richardson for about a decade.

“He sells out every time,” Winzinger said. “We only can hold 50 people upstairs. We do it year-round. During the pandemic, we didn’t do it for a little while because people couldn’t sit right next to each other.

“Joel is a friend of a friend and started working for me as a server to subsidize his income,” she said. “He said, ‘Can we possibly talk about doing something here?’ I said ‘absolutely’. He emcees it. He comes out, says a few jokes and introduces the comedians. He’s funny.”

So if you’re in need of a good joke, you won’t have to go far to find it.

Said Curtis: “Everybody likes to laugh.”

Upcoming comedy shows:

Aug. 13: The Willingboro Comedy Festival, 429 JFK Way, Willingboro. Doors open at 7, show begins at 8 p.m. Free admission;

Aug. 13: Joe Matarese headlines Harbaugh Village, 126 Bridgeton Pike, Mullica Hill, 8 p.m. Tickets $20. Preferred seating $30;

Aug. 14: Andy Fiori headlines Harbor Square Theatre, 271 96th St., Stone Harbor, 9 p.m.; Tickets $25;

Aug. 17: Mike Britt headlines Ventnor Square Theatre, 5211 Ventnor Ave., Ventnor City, 8 p.m. Tickets $25;

Aug. 27: Tim Krompier headlines The Robin’s Nest, 2 Washington St., Mount Holly, 7 p.m. Tickets $20;

Sept. 28: Kricket Comedy at Blue Cork Winery, 1093 Blue Bell Road, Williamstown, 6:30 p.m. Tickets $20 in advance, $25 week of show. Ashley Gutermuth, Bob Marsdale, Shana Horton and Eddie Gallagher;

Oct. 8-9: Atlantic City Comedy Festival, Boardwalk Hall, 2301 Boardwalk, Atlantic City. Featuring Sommore, Bruce Bruce, Gary Owen, Lavell Crawford and more. Saturday 8 p.m., Sunday 9 p.m. Tickets $59-$125;

Celeste E. Whittaker is a features reporter for the Courier Post, Daily Journal and Burlington County Times. The South Jersey native started at the CP in 1998 and has covered the Philadelphia 76ers, college and high school sports and has won numerous awards for her work. Reach her at 856.486.2437 or

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This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: It’s no joke: ‘Comedians are happier to be on stage now’ and people need to laugh


Author: deman