March 20, 2010
The Haunted Comedy Club
Article and photos by Mike Brody
Let's imagine a scenario: You're a ghost. For whatever reason, you've got to lurk and linger around the earthly realm for who knows how long. Most people can't see you, and that's probably a good thing because you died in 1976 and those rhinestone bell-bottoms aren't doing your image any favors. Where do you go?
A) A musty, dusty cellar
B) A creepy, crawly cemetery
C) The bathroom to peep on people in showers
D) A comedy club
If you answered A or B, you are a sad little specter in need of a ghost-hug. If you answered C, you probably have a file at the police department. If you answered D, you're starting to make some sense. Comedy clubs have a history of haunting allegations and it's understandable. After all, humans like to laugh and ghosts are humans, right?
Maybe I'm biased. Since I am both a professional stand-up comedian and a novice ghost hunter, I am logically drawn to the idea of a haunted comedy club. I don't know what would happen if my two other big interests -- Greek Mythology and shark jaw collecting -- collided. But I guarantee nobody would be getting laid within a 50-mile radius.
Certainly the most famous haunted comedy club in the world is the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, California, which is said to be inhabited by the spirit of comedy legend Andy Kaufman. However, the phenomenon is definitely not limited to Hollywood. I remember a now-defunct comedy club in the Twin Cities of Minnesota that was allegedly haunted by a local narcoleptic comedian. Yep, narcoleptic. He also looked exactly like a lawn gnome, beard and all. He was the nicest guy in the world, but one minute he'd be talking to you about chili fries and the next he'd be drooling on his napkin. Then he'd be up on stage telling a joke. Then he'd nod off in a booth. One day at the club, years after he'd passed away, we were telling stories about him at the bar. Suddenly the bartender, who had just been hired a month before, got a weird expression on her face. "I've seen that guy! He sits in that booth over there and sleeps!" Then the manager walked by and said, "I've seen him, too." Neither one of them had met him before and both of them recognized him from my description. Unfortunately for our ghostly friend, the club is now a karaoke bar. I hope he likes Neil Diamond.
And now you can add a new haunted comedy club to the list: The Joke Joint Comedy Club in St. Paul, Minnesota. The venue opened on March 4, 2010, and is the sister club to the original Joke Joint in Bloomington, Minnesota. "But wait a minute, Mike Brody. What's all this bologna about ghosts if the place just opened?" Well, check it out boyos, before it was a comedy club it was Diamond Jim's Supper Club -- a fancy-pants saloon where girls danced in frilly outfits and did flips off of trapeze swings. The structure itself was built in the mid-60s and is located right next to the famous Wabasha Street Caves on the bluffs of the Mississippi River.
The building has decades of ghostly activity reports and is theorized by locals to be haunted by the famous businessman and entrepreneur, Diamond Jim Brady himself. Diamond Jim is my kind of man. According to his wikipedia page, "a typical Brady breakfast would be: eggs, pancakes, pork chops, cornbread, fried potatoes, hominy, muffins, and a beefsteak. For refreshment, a gallon of orange juice -- or 'golden nectar,' as he called his favorite drink. Lunch might be two lobsters, deviled crabs, clams, oysters and beef, with a few pies for dessert. The usual evening meal began with an appetizer of two or three dozen oysters, six crabs, and a few servings of green turtle soup, followed by a main course of two whole ducks, six or seven lobsters, a sirloin steak, two servings of terrapin and a host of vegetables. For dessert, the gourmand enjoyed pastries and a two pound box of candy." God bless America!
There were several reasons why I wanted to investigate this location. For one, I know the owners, Ken and Becky Reed, and would have access to stay the whole night, no questions asked. But secondly, the Reed's don't believe in ghosts. They've been listening to my hoopla about the paranormal for years and have always given me a glance that every ghost enthusiast is familiar with. It's the I-think-you're-a-nice-person-but-I'm-not-letting-you-near-my-valuables look. And yet... starting the day they began re-construction, things have been happening. Ken experienced the sound of footsteps behind him on the stairway when he was all alone at night. There is a toilet that likes to flush itself. Another time, while Ken was at the club late at night, two police officers on patrol stopped by to say welcome to the neighborhood. As conversation turned to ghost stories, they all suddenly heard a loud bang. Minutes later, one of the bar stools tipped over by itself and hit one of the officers. He was completely freaked and announced that it was time to leave. Ha-HA! Who's crazy NOW, Ken and Becky Reed?! That's the POLICE! Stop hiding your laptop from me!
Although Ken wanted me to do my investigation after the club opened so it would look its finest for the photos, I convinced him that construction time is the best. The theory is that ghosts frequent a place because they are familiar with it and may even have had a hand in decorating or building it in the past. So when a new owner begins to tear things down and put up new walls and such, it tends to stir things up a bit. Ghosts get cranky and possessive and can cause a ruckus to scare people off. Think Beetlejuice. (Note to Ken: Diamond Jim had a penchant for seafood. Don't serve shrimp!)
I prefer to freelance as a paranormal investigator, partially because my comedy schedule doesn't allow me to be around regularly, but also because it helps me avoid the inevitable drama. If you're in a paranormal group, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're reading this as an outsider, let me explain really quickly: The paranormal community has more in-fighting than a hillbilly family reunion. Imagine your crazy uncle Carl. Then imagine him running around in the dark with thousands of dollars of equipment trying to get a reality show. That's the paranormal world right now. Don't get me wrong, there are many good people in the field really trying to get to the bottom of things. But unfortunately, there's also a lot of the Balloon Boy's dads out there too. I don't need it!
So with this in mind, I thought it'd be fun to bring along some local comedians who were sincerely interested in learning about the field. Meet my crew for the night:
Ghost experience: When Bill was five years old, he saw a glowing woman in a white dress with dark hair who looked just like his mother float through his backyard. He never told a soul about it until around ten years later, when his older brother saw an apparition of the same description glide through their living room. After Bill fessed up that he'd seen the same thing, they did some research into the house and discovered that a woman who fit that exact description died in their house before they moved in. And here's the kicker -- unbeknown to them, the case had recently been re-opened as a homicide.
Why do you want to ghost hunt?: "Playing with flashlights is fun! I also look forward to catching my limit of ghosts. There's a limit, right? I don't want to piss off the ghost DNR."
Ghost experience: None
Why do you want to ghost hunt?: Alvin explains in his own words (with a shockingly accurate impression of me):
Ghost experience: When driving past a former psych ward dubbed "The Hell House," Jen and her boyfriend at the time suddenly experienced headlights directly behind their car when none were there before. The lights kept the same distance from their vehicle no matter how fast or slow they went. A dark feeling of uneasiness ensued. Finally, Jen's boyfriend yelled out "Go away!" and the lights disappeared. No car had parked or turned off the road.
Why do you want to ghost hunt?: "Investigating can make things less freaky. Whether it's a ghost or just old pipes. I like to know the truth of something."
Also joining us were my friends David Schrader and Mallie Fox from Darkness Radio and two guests who won an auction on the show to tag along (with the proceeds going to Second Harvest Food Bank). Unfortunately, I've forgotten the names of the two people, because apparently I am a bad person. Sorry! Honestly, I'd forget my dad's name if I didn't see him for three months. Just kidding Dad, you're the best...ummm, Hubert? Roscoe? We really need to hang out more, Dad.
For the first time in history, the comedians were the first ones to arrive. We all parked our cars in a line outside of the otherwise empty parking lot. What's that? How do baller comedians like us roll? Check it: a Ford Focus, Toyota Camry and an Olds Cutlass! It must have looked like three separate pizza delivery boys just showed up. What's up?! Make it rain!
After taking a quick tour, we decided to get started with an EVP session in the coat room. The coat room was still unfinished at this point and all that was in there were a couple pictures on the floor and a tricycle (The Reeds have two small children). This is where bringing comedians on a ghost hunt can be a problem. With any other paranormal group, somebody would have commented on how creepy that looked and we would have begun our session. Instead, Bill yells "A tricycle!" and immediately started to ride it around in circles like a kid on Christmas. I've known Bill for ten years and I know from experience that you can't stop him. You just have to wait and let him tricycle himself out. Usually, after a fair amount of time, he'll tire of it and sit down with a glazed look of contentment in his eyes like he just had a big turkey dinner.
Since nobody in the room had ever done an EVP session before, I tried to show them the different ways it can be done. Some people like to just set a recorder down and let it go for hours at a time. Then some time later in the day or week they go back and listen for voices. I am not a fan of this. I am lazy. I like to watch SpongeBob SquarePants and play video games. If I am ever presented with the option of killing zombies on Xbox or listening to six hours of white noise, I will almost always go with zombie-whupping. So what I prefer to do is record audio for two to three minutes at a time and then play it back right there. All slothiness aside, it actually does have it's advantages. If you do pick up something on your recorder like a voice or breathing, you can then start another two minute recording session where you try to interact more appropriately with what you think is going on. Also, let's say you have a recording and two people are talking. All of a sudden, a voice in the background goes "Oooh, a quarter!" If you listen to that recording for the first time three days later, you might not recall if somebody else in the room said that. But if you play it back after a two minute session, you would know immediately that it was Bill's A.D.D. acting up again. (He likes shiny things.)
This being said, I hit record and had Alvin, Bill, Jen, and myself all announced our names into the recorder so as to get a good vibe for who's voices were whose and where we were in relation to the device. We did about four or five two minute sessions, asking pretty simple questions like "Is there anybody here with us?" and "What's your name?" After each time, we'd go back and listen for anything that sounded out of the ordinary. 99% of the recordings revealed absolutely nothing. But we did get something that piqued our interest a bit. It's very quiet and hard to hear, but after Bill asked, "Is there anybody here with us?" there is a moment of silence and then something that could be a voice. I think it sounds like Rick or Nick or Dick. The beginning of the "word" is unclear, but it sounds like a "ck" noise at the end. Keep in mind, I'm not presenting this as "proof" of any kind. I played it for David later in the night and he said it sounded like water dripping. I know for a fact that there was no water of any kind in that room, but he could definitely (and most likely) be right that the sound is something explainable. Click here to take a listen. (Editor's note: We just watched the video from this session and the noise does not appear on the camera's audio -- only the digital recorder.)
After spending what we thought was an appropriate amount of time in the coat room (and prying Bill away from the tricycle) we set out to follow our ghost-noses to another part of the building. When investigating, I don't like to prepare a game-plan for where we're going to look. I like to just follow the vibes and go wherever I'm drawn to. For whatever reason, the women's bathroom on the eastern side seemed like a good spot.
We did a fair amount of EVP recordings and although the room had a very weird vibe about it, we didn't catch anything unusual. Just as we were finishing the bathroom sessions (isn't that a Bob Dylan album?) David, Mallie, and their two guests showed up. After we gave them their own quick tour and let them get their equipment out, we decided to let David take control and go wherever he wanted. Interestingly enough, without us telling him that we were just in there, David felt like the women's bathroom had a feeling to it. Was there some kind of ghost black-hole in there, pulling us in? Or is it some kind of perverted man thing where we all subconsciously get our rocks off by going into women's bathrooms? Why not both?
Okay, I should sidebar for a bit here. Some of you might be wondering what this "ghost feeling" is that I'm talking about. Let me try to shed some light by quickly telling you about my first experience with it. It was about a year ago. I was in New Hampshire, staying at the Spalding Inn during a TAPS/Ghost Hunters event. A group of us that included Britt Griffith from Ghost Hunters and demonologist Adam Blai were investigating the carriage house on the property. To use the vernacular of New England: The place is wicked haunted. So Britt was describing to me the "feeling" you get when ghosts are around. The theory is that ghosts are/use energy and that this can be felt physically when you're around them often enough and get familiar with it. Britt described it as a general tingly/buzzing feeling that you get in your body. As we were walking down the hallway, Britt announced that he was getting the feeling. He grabbed me and put me right in the center of where he felt the energy was and asked me if I felt anything. I did. I felt a really, really strong buzzing sensation. When Britt asked me where I felt it, I was hesitant to tell him. He had to prod me about five more times before I finally told him. I could feel it. And it was in my... ummmm... nether regions. I have been taking constant crap for a year now because of this. My happy parts are now commonly referred to in those circles as my "ghost detector." Not surprisingly, I really love ghosts. I keep an Al Green mixtape on me at all times just in case I run into one.
Okay, now back to the women's bathroom of the Joke Joint. David was getting the feeling that something might be going on in there. I'm fairly certain that David doesn't have the same kind of ghost detector that I do -- although I've never asked. We did some more EVP sessions with David, and although nothing showed up on tape, David felt he heard the voice of a child. Click here to listen. So why weren't the ghosts loudly announcing their presence if they were there? Some people speculate that when a building has been empty for a while (it's been sometime between the Joke Joint and Diamond Jim's) that the ghosts can become unaccustomed to people around and tend to be shy. After all, if ghosts are people then they share all of the personality qualities that we possess in life. This may be the case, or perhaps more logically, nothing was happening and our imaginations were running wild. Who can say? Personally, I tend to believe David due to his decades of experience and general unwillingness to believe in something "just because." Another question might be: Why could David hear a voice and yet nothing showed up on the tape? Some people think that it takes a large amount of energy for a spirit to manifest itself sonically on a recorder. Maybe it's easier for a ghost to communicate through feelings and thoughts? Of course, theories are all we have. This is why ghost hunting has always been a personal journey for me. After everything I just said, how could anyone possibly say they've got 100% irrefutable proof that it's for real? It's just not how it works.
Our group walked through various parts of the comedy club throughout the night with very little activity going on. There were some weird feelings in the kitchen walk-in freezer (Cold spots. Go figure!) But basically it felt like if there was anything here, it wasn't showing itself. We were all getting tired and it probably didn't help that I organized the investigation on a Sunday night. Sometimes as a professional comedian I forget that some people actually have to get up before noon. If we didn't finish up soon, the morning birds would begin chirping and that is the most taunting noise ever. It sounds like they're saying "Nee-ner Nee-ner! You haven't slept yet! Nee-ner! You're 32 years old! Get your life together! NEE-NER!"
We decided to finish up by doing a Shack Hack session on the main floor in front of the stage. A Shack Hack is basically a radio that is "broken" on purpose so that the stations skip from one to the other in a quick succession. The idea is that spirits can manipulate the sound to carry their voices through it. According to people who swear by it, it's not the voices on the radio that you're looking for, but a voice over the top of it that carries over. It's as if the ghosts use the cacophony to mold their words. Like I said, some people are true believers in it, while I personally have yet to have it knock my socks off. But I try to keep an open mind. I've seen weirder things happen. We recorded several sessions. Click here for to hear an example of what it sounds like. Being the general clodhopper that I am, I put my recorder away before the last session when something may have actually happened. Both David and Alvin think that a voice that may or may not have been Alvin's uncle Sam might have come through. I do remember that it sounded like a deeper, fuller voice than the radio stations coming through and that it sounded like it actually straddled multiple radio frequencies. Ultimately, I am skeptical. I honestly don't feel like it's a grand revelation to hear voices on a radio. I'm not saying it wasn't Alvin's uncle, I'm just going to going to have to chalk it up to "Who knows?"
And that is my general conclusion on whether or not The Joke Joint is haunted. Who knows? We got a lot of weird feelings and good leads, but it's not enough for me to really say one way or the other. Luckily, I'll certainly have many more opportunities to come back and check it out again -- both as an investigator and a comedian. I can't help but think that a comedy club will help bring out more ghostly activity as the months go by. They say ghosts feed off of energy. What better energy than laughter? I would love to have some kind of paranormal activity happen when I'm on stage. Perhaps I'll hear the sound of trapeze-swinging girls of days past? Maybe Diamond Jim will see my act so many times that the next time I forget a line he can whisper it in my ear? Knowing Jim's eating habits, he'd probably just say "Mmmmm...beef steak." My only real hope is that there's no such thing as ghost crickets.