Standup comedy is a funny business. No matter how many crowds you woo, there’s always someone who wants to boo you off your platform for good. So goes the story of the rise and fall of the comedy giant All Jokes Aside. Before Lafapalooza, Def Comedy Jam, Kings of Comedy and Comic View the preeminent Black comic showcase in America was All Jokes Aside. Anyone who was anyone in the 1990s came up through the ranks of this comedy club located on the South Side of Chicago owned and operated by a then young 20-something named Raymond Lambert.
Lambert, a kid from Wilmington, Del., together with his partner he’d met in business school at Morehouse College in Atlanta eventually ditched the banking business for show business. The outcome was All Jokes Aside and it brought them some serious business, and notoriety, for a decade or more. Now, Lambert is sharing his success story, pitfalls and lessons learned in a new book. The book is also called “All Jokes Aside,” which serves as the autobiography of Lambert with help from Columbus’s own Chris Bournea. Making its rounds in the literary circuit, the book tour is scheduled to stop in Columbus at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, May 11 at Barnes and Noble at the Easton Town Center, 4005 Townsfair Way for a book talk and author signing featuring both Lambert and Bournea.
“Raymond just kind of called me out the blue,” Bournea said of how he met the businessman turned club owner turned documentary film subject and now his co-author. “I didn’t know him from a can of paint [laughs]. The way that we connected was through Wil Haygood. He just called me up and said, ‘hey I got your number from Wil.’” Haygood is a Columbus native who works as a reporter for the Washington Post but got his start at the Call & Post Newspapers’ Columbus office with the legendary Amos Lynch back in the 1980s. Haygood wrote the article that the Lee Daniels directed movie “The Butler” was based on starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. Haygood has also penned several other critically acclaimed and best selling biographies including the stories of Sammy Davis Jr., Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Sugar Ray Robinson. So, a recommendation from Haygood is something Lambert thought he’d better cash in on.
Lambert had already been approached himself by a filmmaker who wanted to do a documentary about the club because so many comedians had gotten their start there – Cleveland’s own Steve Harvey (who actually kept the club from closing), Jamie Foxx, Dave Chappelle, Mo’Nique, Carlos Mencia all the kings and queens of comedy, you name ‘em, they got their start there. It became a talent pipeline for BET’s “Comic View” and “Def Comedy Jam.” The documentary, “Phunny Business: A Black Comedy,” got picked up on the Showtime network and debuted during Black History Month in 2012. “When the documentary was still making its way through film festivals, Raymond decided that he had more stories that couldn’t all be told in an hour and a half so he decided to do a full length book,” Bournea said. Lambert called up Haygood, whose work preceded him, to help pen his very own autobiography. At the time, Haygood was working on the script for “The Butler” and unfortunately didn’t have time for “All Jokes Aside,” but fortunately for Bournea, it was right on time. Bournea, a current writer for the Call & Post, was suggested to Lambert by Haygood as the next best man for the job. Lambert and Bournea connected and embarked on a two-year journey that ended in Lambert’s autobiography (that of course bares the same name as the club) released this year and will be featured at Barnes and Noble next week.
For more information on the book “All Jokes Aside” and/or the author event, visit www.chrisbournea.com. The book is available for purchase at www.barnesandnoble.com as well as Amazon.com. The documentary “Phunny Business: A Black Comedy” is available on Showtime, Netflix and Amazon.com.