Wilmington’s gain was Charlotte’s loss. But it almost happened the other way around.
“I was never a comic myself,” U’Gundi Jacobs admits, “but from my 21st birthday in October 1991, I knew I wanted to be a promoter of comedy concerts and events.” Which he was, and quite successfully, for most of the next two decades, working to establish the careers of a variety of up-and-coming comic and musical acts.
But Jacobs had this dream of opening his own comedy club, and two years ago, he decided that Charlotte was going to be where that dream would come true and had made final plans to relocate to that North Carolina city. “My lady was in real estate, and she said just before I was ready to leave, ‘There’s this place I’d like you to see. Let’s just drive by,’” Jacobs says.
That place is today the House of Laffs Comedy Lounge & Event Center, located at 1206 N. Union St., bordering Pennsylvania Avenue. It had a successful soft opening during Super Bowl weekend “to get that cash register ringing” and is now featuring booked entertainment on weekends with plans to also serve lunches and brunches.
“When we drove by, it met my description of everything I wanted—the location was right and the building had the right bones for a club,” Jacobs says. “I could see my vision coming to life.” He signed a long-term lease in April 2019, and was soon scheduling contractors to make renovations for its grand opening.
“Then COVID hit. The cost of materials skyrocketed,” Jacobs says, “and the contractors took on other, larger jobs.” But gradually, through the 2020 lockdowns, the House of Laffs took shape to become a glamorous venue with plenty of space that allows it today to look elegant while being suitable for cautionary social distancing as it gradually opens fully.
“Booking acts has been difficult during COVID, but I fortunately had the relationships with the artists, so they trusted me,” Jacobs says. “That part—the front of the house—was easy for me, but the food and beverage was a new component. Fortunately, I had people to help me, and I also have an incredible chef.” Indeed, the food menu at House of Laffs is varied and long. “I wanted five-star taste,” Jacobs says.
Professional comic and musical acts have been booked well in advance for the weekends, but as Jacobs begins to open for lunches and weekday entertainment, he will also have happy hours that will roll into open mic and karaoke nights.
Now Jacobs says he is “building on my dreams” at the House of Laffs. And Wilmington is enjoying having the last laugh.