Decades of laughs: Wiley’s Comedy Club celebrates 40th anniversary

Dan "Wiley" Lafferty with the Dayton Oregon District mural. CONTRIBUTED

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Dan "Wiley" Lafferty with the Dayton Oregon District mural. CONTRIBUTED

Tuesday, April 20, 1982, wasn’t just a normal Tuesday for Dan “Wiley” Lafferty. Wiley’s Comedy Club opened up its doors for the first time, making comedy history. This history will be celebrated Saturday, April 16 at Wiley’s Pre-40th Anniversary Bash with comedian Tommy Davidson.

Wiley’s is Ohio’s oldest comedy club and Dayton’s first comedy club. The original club, located at 970 Patterson Road, is now Patterson Pub. Lafferty remembers small details from the opening.

“I remember the guy who closed,” he said. “Several comedians from Cincinnati drove up. Blair Shannon got lost. It was a Tuesday night.”

The club only had comedy on Tuesdays for the next year and a half. As comedy became more popular, Thursdays were added. Finally, in 1983, the club offered comedy full time. Eventually, it was clear the club had grown so much that a move was necessary.

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“Comedy was really, really hot and we only had 150 seats,” Lafferty said. “Wiley’s had a bigger room and restaurant, so we expanded.”

The club moved to its present location at 101 Pine St. in the Oregon District. Numerous acts performed on the stage with the famous cityscape mural. Working with comedians including Rob Schneider, Dave Chappelle, Tommy Chong and Steve Harvey is Lafferty’s best memory of the club. While he never performed, he understands comedy’s importance.

“The fact that comics could have a platform to say and do whatever they wanted was great,” Lafferty said. “It’s all different now. If you didn’t like it, you heckled them or booed them. I’m an old guy who likes things old school.”

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Comedians at one of Wiley's Christmas Toy Drives. CONTRIBUTED

Comedians at one of Wiley's Christmas Toy Drives. CONTRIBUTED

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Comedians at one of Wiley's Christmas Toy Drives. CONTRIBUTED

Lafferty admitted while he had a good run at Wiley’s, the business of running a club was tough and getting people in seats was especially difficult. Eventually, after a clash with a comic one night, he decided to sell the club to comedian Rob Haney who took over in June 2000.

Haney had been a touring comedian since 1977. By 1990, he decided he was somewhat tired of the comedian lifestyle and wanted to be closer to home for personal reasons.

“It was a certain point, and I was of a certain age,” Haney said. “I did what I wanted to do traveling the country and a doing TV pilot. This way, I could still be involved with comedy.”

While Haney owned the club, he said his favorite moments usually happened after the shows and behind the scenes when comedians just hung out and acted goofy.

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Wiley's Comedy Club's first venue was at 970 Patterson Road. CONTRIBUTED

Wiley's Comedy Club's first venue was at 970 Patterson Road. CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Wiley's Comedy Club's first venue was at 970 Patterson Road. CONTRIBUTED

“Comics just sitting around shooting the breeze and telling stories – we were pure comedy,” he said. “Also, the club had a certain style, an old feel to the place. You appreciated that stage where a lot of famous acts also stood.”

Eventually, Haney turned 62 and decided it was time to sell. Comedian Steve Hofstetter and a group of comedians inquired about purchasing the club, and Haney liked the idea of selling the club to another group of comics.

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Beyond performing, many comedians expressed their love of Wiley’s stems from the people and the camaraderie that go along with being a comedian. Many local comedians consider Wiley’s their home.

Michael Wells, Kettering, comedian for 7 years: “Wiley’s gives up-and-coming comics the chance to headline. For example, they had Ryan Niemiller at Wiley’s headline the year before he placed third on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ My best memory would have to be the first show after COVID lockdowns. I had the privilege to be on the show, and the crowd was electric. It gave a sense of everything going back to normal even though it was still far from normal.”

Karen Jaffe, Dayton, comedian for 12 years: “I love that Wiley’s is the classic ‘old school’ comedy club; the setup allows for contagious laughter, and it’s comfortable. The veteran staff knows how to service the customers without interrupting the show, and they’re like a family to each other and the comics who come through the doors. Whenever I’m there, whether I’m teaching a class on off nights, performing, or helping seat the room on the busiest nights, I feel like I’m home. I had my first hosting set, my first feature set, and my first co-headlining set there. I also sat in the corner of the bench for five years running Wiley’s Sunday Comics, seeing hundreds of first-timers and veterans make people laugh. I’ve made myself proud there, failed there, have been a protégé and a mentor there. Now that I’ve traveled around the country and have seen other clubs, I know how unique and special it is, and how lucky we are to have it in Dayton.”

Keith Irvin, Dayton, comedian for 9 years: “My favorite thing about Wiley’s is probably the pre-and after-show hanging with the comedians on and off the show. When I first started and maybe on my third Sunday open mic, I had more than five people come out to support. The comedian running the mic at the time (Mike Canestaro) rewarded me by giving me an extra minute, so six minutes instead of five. I was terrified and I said I’ll just do the five, like that extra 60 seconds was going to kill me.”

Mike Canestaro, Dayton, comedian for 12 years: “I love Wiley’s for being an all-accepting club. There is a wide variety of booked acts who perform there. I also greatly appreciate this accepting culture as it was partially responsible for my start as comedian. I possess countless precious memories of Wiley’s. After grinding at comedy for about five years, I was asked to help run their Sunday open mic shows (The Sunday Comics). I served in this role for a couple of years, during which I was able to bump elbows with some high-profile names in terms of touring comics. I am proud of these affiliations, but I found the interactions with new comics to be even more enjoyable. Watching these people grow while on stage or afterward was quite an enjoyable experience. Many of them have become good friends of mine. I enjoy Wiley’s because it’s a classy, old school comedy club. It just feels like the way comedy should exist when you walk in there.”

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Cal Westray, Jamestown, Godfather of Dayton comedy: “I was on stage for the first time in 2013. I consider myself a storyteller and comedy fan. Wiley’s is a safe and supportive place for comedians. I’ve been fortunate to watch hundreds of people go on stage for their first time and then watch as they get better over the years. Watching people gather the courage to get on stage and give it their best effort never gets old.”

Larry Hansgen, Washington Township, comedian for 12 years: “My favorite thing about Wiley’s is the sense of connection to the past as well as the future. Comedic greats who have performed on the same stage as new up-and-comers. After open mics for several years, I had the opportunity to feature for touring comedian Mark Klein. The first show crowd was very sparse. I did OK, but Mark just killed it and gave those few an amazing show. Afterward I commented on what a great job he had done for so few people and he said: ‘I never focus on who is not there. I only care about the people who are here.’ That’s great advice that has stayed with me.”

Travis Charles, Dayton, comedian for 15 years: “Wiley’s allows comics to produce independent shows and allows us to take chances. I love Wiley’s. They have been a good comedy home to me for the past five years.”

The laughs at Wiley’s Comedy Club continue this weekend with Tommy Davidson at Saturday’s pre-anniversary bash with two shows at 7:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Davidson has been in movies and was a member of the influential sketch show “In Living Color.” He tours the country performing stand-up and still makes TV appearances. Tickets are $30 and are on sale now. Call 937-224-5653 or visit www.wileyscomedy.com.

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