The new owner of Wiley’s Comedy Club in Dayton’s Oregon District says he plans to restore the club “to its former glory as one of Dayton’s top night spots” in part through strengthening its ties to the community and celebrating this region’s comedic history.
Gary Wood — himself a comedian, writer and former comedy club consultant and operations manager who current lives in Indianapolis — told this news outlet that his plans call for helping Wiley’s “regain its popular notoriety and respect as the first comedy club in the state of Ohio,” and will promote it as “not just a comedy entertainment venue, but as an historic venue that has hosted some of the greats in the comedy and entertainment business.”
Wood said he knows it would be very difficult for a comedy club in a small town to survive on traditional stand-up shows alone.
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“While that will be our main thrust, we want to diversify,” Wood said. “Comedy comes in all forms: improv, magic, one-man shows, and more. We will also begin scheduling family-friendly shows very soon. And we very much want to get involved with the University of Dayton with student discounts, comedy classes, improv leagues and more.”
Wood said his plans for Wiley’s — located at 101 Pine St. in Dayton — will help ensure that visitors will “not just enjoy a fun night of comedy, but will enjoy a SHOW at Wiley’s, to experience the same environment that visitors experienced in the ’80s and 90s, with the comedy legends and bands that stood that stage: Drew Carrey, Chris Rock, Dave Chappell, Bill Hicks, Emo Phillips, Carrot Top, Ellen, and more.”
Wiley’s, Wood said, “will also expand outside its walls by participating in local festivals and events, even producing outside events in satellite locations, increasing its brand recognition and reach. Wiley’s will also seek to begin producing and programming comedy competitions — local, regional, and national, school comedy programs, video production classes, screenwriting and comedy writing classes, company employee-bonding/team-building programs, and stress-relief programming through the use of humor.
“Wiley’s will also strive to be a valued part of Dayton’s current and future economic growth by investing time and resources to that end. We will partner with the Downtown Dayton Partnership to increase the awareness of our brand and as a committed member of the community that is ‘giving back.’”
Wood said the Dayton area has “produced several super-stars, actors, comedians, and musicians such as Martin Sheen and his sons, Rob Lowe, Katt Williams, Jonathan Winters, Allison Janney, Luke Grimes, Erma Bombeck, Nancy Cartwright, Pat Kilbane, and more.
“Most of these acts got their amateur start and professional development by performing in area events like those offered by Wiley’s or local theaters.”
Wiley’s will have both a Dayton Wall of Fame and The Wiley’s Wall of Fame, which will include “photos of well-known comedians, bands, and entertainers that have played Wiley’s on their way up the celebrity ladder,” Wood said.
Wood and two partners took over ownership of Wiley’s three weeks ago.
“I was doing some consulting and social media work at Morty’s Comedy Joint in Indianapolis when the owners, who also owned Wiley’s, made it known they were considering selling Wiley’s,” Wood said. “I threw my hat in the ring to buy it.” Former owners Chris Bowers, Todd McComas, and Anthony Deardorff “are still involved in the club as we transition.” Former owner Rob Haney, Wood said, still has a stake in the club and has helped with the transition. Haney owned Wiley’s for 14 years before selling it in 2014.
Wood has two partners: Eric D. Goodman of Baltimore, author and owner of The Historic York Inn/Smyser-Bair House, an 1830’s mansion that he has operated as an extended-stay inn and bed and breakfast since 2007; and Matthew Vollrath, owner and operator of Circle City Express trucking company in Indianapolis.
Wood said he has wanted to own a comedy club since serving as assistant operations manager of Crackers comedy club in Indianapolis in the 1990s.
“I’ve seen how to run a club wrong so often, that I’ve taken notes and learned for decades how to run a club right. While there were other options available, Wiley’s intrigued me most because of its history.
“I’ve been doing some research to find out how many clubs older than 35 are still out there running. It’s not too many. And, Wiley’s is the right-sized club, in the right-sized city on the verge of a rebirth. There were other clubs out there that were bigger, fancier, in bigger cities. But Wiley’s was my choice.”
Wood plans to offer professional video production of comedians’ shows, and said he “would very much like to get involved in the Dayton film community. Indiana and Indianapolis became a hot bed for Indie film in the early 2000’s and I was a part of that. I learned a lot.”
Wood was a semi-regular performer at Jokers Comedy Club in Dayton in the ’90s and said he “maintains a relationship with owners and managers of various nearby clubs from the past and present,” as well as with performers whom he opened for during his career, including Chris Rock, The Amazing Jonathan, Kevin Meaney, Tommy Davidson, Pat Kilbane, Mark Curry, A. Whitney Brown, Costaki Economopolis, Rodney Carrington, Tim Wilson, Etta May and others.
Wood is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and he said he intends to “reach out aggressively to the military presence in Dayton.
“Beginning immediately, all veterans and active duty military get free admission to any show if they are accompanied by a paying guest.” Some special events will have to be excluded because of contractual obligations, he said.