The last joke was told on June 25 at Chicago’s only black-owned comedy club founded by Austin native Mary Lindsey.
Jokes and Notes, located on the city’s South Side, has closed after 11 years of laughter and now leaves a void for blacks seeking an urban venue. Lindsey attributed the closure of the club to a loss of business, namely declining operating revenues.
A long vacation is among the first things Lindsey said she would do during what she called “a break.” And within a year she said you could see her reopening Jokes and Notes somewhere else or starting a new business for the community.
“Don’t count me out yet. Once I get bored being at home I’m sure I will redirect my energy to do something else,” said Lindsey, a mother of one adult daughter and a 6-year-old grandson.
The sold out crowd at the 150-seat venue was treated to eight different comedians on the club’s final night, including West Side-native Anthony “The Storyteller” Walker, who said his career was launched at the club.
“There’s no way I could let this club close without coming back to thank Mary (Lindsey) for giving me my start,” Walker told an enthusiastic crowd that gave him a standing ovation at the end of his skit. “When you think about the West Side, you usually think about a bunch of unemployed negroes shooting and killing each other, and plenty of abandoned buildings and vacant lots. Well, I am here to tell you that positive black men do exist on the West Side.”
Despite fighting through an economic recession that crippled many businesses, Lindsey said it was not enough to keep the club open.
“I’ve tried to go as long as I could, but at the end of the day we just didn’t get the support needed to cover operating expenses,” explained Lindsey, who declined to give annual operating costs. “I have 12 employees that work here and between payroll, rent and utilities I could not keep the business going.”
According to Lindsey, there are no “magnet” businesses around her club that would attract people to the area.
“You really need that to thrive especially when your business it not downtown, because tourism does not come to 47th and King Drive,” said Lindsey. “There’s no way I can stay here. The business is basically dying.”
People attending the final show said while they enjoyed themselves they were sad to see the club close.
“I remember ‘All Jokes Aside’ in the 90s. It was the place to be every weekend,” recalled Karen White, a 62-year-old North Lawndale resident, who attended the show with her husband. “People might not think seniors come out to comedy clubs but we do.”
Some of the notable comedians that performed at Jokes and Notes include actors Bill Bellamy, Tony Roberts and Kevin Hart; actress Mo’Nique; and national radio host Jay Anthony Brown.
Another Chicagoan, Damon Williams, headlined the club’s last show.
“Where’s all my South Siders at?” Williams asked at the beginning of his skit. “This club was the launching pad for so many black comedians and it will always remain a historic site in the black community rather it’s open or not. This place is pretty much like a student loan. No matter what you do to it will always be there!”
At the end of the night WGCI radio personality Leon Rogers joined a stage of 20 comedians as Lindsey thanked customers for their years of support.
“I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate all the support I received from everyone all these years. We gave it a good run and we made a few careers on along the way thanks to everyone who came out to watch these amazing comedians,” Lindsey said as she fought back tears. “I will miss this place because this was my life and my legacy and without you this place would have closed years ago. Thank you Chicago for having my back.”