A ghost town no longer

  • Article by: TOM HORGEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 19, 2010 - 4:42 PM

A former Wild West saloon is now a comedy club. They didn't get rid of all the ghosts, though.

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Local comic Wendy Maybury warms up the crowd on stage at the Lilydale Joke Joint show.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Joke Joint owner Ken Reed has a knack for picking 'em, and I'm not talking about talent (although he's good at that, too). I'm talking about the club itself.

Reed's first Joke Joint opened in 2007 in Bloomington's Ramada Mall of America -- aka the Thunderbird Hotel. That oddity of Midwestern kitsch is famous for its politically incorrect American Indian theme. Two totem polls still flank the Joke Joint's stage.

Earlier this year, Reed opened a second Joke Joint in a location that once again drips with Minnesota kitsch. Remember the old Diamond Jim's Supper Club in tiny Lilydale? No? Then you weren't living the high life in the 1960s and '70s.

Inspired by the gaudy tastes of early-20th century New York tycoon Diamond Jim Brady, it was famous for having showgirls perched on swings high above the dining room. But good ol' Diamond Jim's closed in the '80s, leaving behind a cowboy-themed strip mall that's mostly known today as the home of the Moose Country nightclub.

During his set last Saturday, comedian Dave Waite had this to say about the ambience:

"Lilydale? Is that where I am? Awesome. Dreams do come true," he said. "I am the king of the Western comedy club."

Oh, one other thing: It's haunted. Well, supposedly. Reed himself is a skeptic, but he's had some strange experiences since taking over the creaky space. On one occasion, he was giving a pair of police officers a tour when a bar stool suddenly bumped into one of them. "I haven't seen him since," Reed said. Freaky.

Even funnier: When Twin Cities comedian Mike Brody heard about the paranormal activity, he decided to investigate. Brody, who likes to incorporate paranormal humor into his sets, is also a friend of the SyFy channel's "Ghost Hunters." During the club's remodeling, Brody and a squad of fellow ghost hunters (i.e., his comedy buddies) stayed overnight in the building, surveying the creepiness with EVP (electronic voice phenomena) equipment.

"It's not like 'Ghostbusters'; there's no backpacks or anything," he said. What they found was ... well, they didn't find a lot. But, he said, "there was definitely some weird stuff in there."

OK, enough about ghosts. What about the comedy? While it's easy (and sort of fun) to needle Reed for his peculiar club locations, the Diamond Jim's spot is perfectly suited for comedy. Although the ceilings soar to about 30 feet, the club has an intimate feel. Reed and his wife, Becky, have tweaked the Western decor to represent more of a carnival/circus atmosphere to go along with the laughs. But some stuff you just can't throw away. The club came with a pair of framed, oversized vintage portraits, most likely of Diamond Jim and his gal, Diamond Lil. Reed hung them behind the stage on the blood-red wall.

"A lot of comedy clubs look the same, but no other club looks like this," Brody said.

Westward expansion

After years of stagnation, the Twin Cities comedy scene has been growing in the past few years, with the addition of more suburban clubs, including the bright and shiny House of Comedy on the Mall of America's fourth floor. Reed expected that club to hurt business at his original Joke Joint nearby. But the Bloomington location has held its own.

Still, opening another club seemed like a logical backup in case his first club went belly up. The two-story Lilydale location has a beautiful mezzanine with a full bar and views of the stage below.

Both Joke Joints book touring comedians Thursday through Sunday. Many, like last weekend's headliner, have appeared on TV's Comedy Central but aren't necessarily household names.

"We like to think of ourselves as having the funniest comedians you've never heard of," Reed said.

The new Joke Joint, however, is presenting a bigger-name act this weekend: veteran comedian Cathy Ladman, a regular stand-up guest on late-night talk shows who often gets supporting roles in TV shows. (In the recent "Mad Men" season premiere, she played one of two actresses who fight over a ham.)

Like many suburban comedy rooms, the Joke Joint is keen on advertising if its shows will be "clean" or "dirty." Last weekend's leaned toward the latter. Reed said having two rooms allows him to offer clean and dirty shows on the same weekend.

Most of the jokes from Saturday's show are unprintable here. But the opener and host, Wendy Maybury, had a little gem about her last boyfriend, who would e-mail her photos of his penis. To which she said: "Girls don't like junk mail."

Yes, the club is located in Lilydale and, yes, it could pass for a saloon in "Deadwood" and, hell, the place might just be haunted. Whatever. I like it.

I think the ghost of Diamond Jim would, too.

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909

  • JOKE JOINT COMEDY CLUB

    Where: 801 Hwy. 13, Lilydale (where Interstate 35E crosses the Mississippi River).

    Next show: Cathy Ladman, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Sun.

    Tickets: $14. 651-330-9078 or Jokejointcomedyclub.com.

    Two-for-one deal: Come to the early show on Fridays or Saturdays at either Joke Joint (Lilydale and Bloomington) and get into the late show at the other location on the same night for free. There's no show in Bloomington this weekend, though.

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