Stand-up comedy is making a comeback locally, thanks to Brandon Jackson and his shows in Wilmington and around the state
Here’s how Brandon Vincent Jackson remembers his life before he got into comedy:
“I had a full-time job, three or four years ago. I was making like $34,000 a year, which was more money than I’d ever seen in my life. But they were trying to kill me for that money. They wanted me to die for it. Every day, I’d come to work and they’d try to stab me.” Pause. “I mean, I exaggerate, but I worked in a prison.”
With not much room for advancement and an understandable aversion to getting shivved, Jackson left his first job to pursue his comedy dreams. He has found a new day job—he’s a grad assistant while getting a master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language at the slightly less rowdy University of Delaware—and he started playing rooms in Philly at night, working Fergie’s Pub and the now-closed Lickety Split. He performed at Santa Fe in Wilmington and competed at LOL at the Grand. Then he began organizing comedy shows at UD and the Newark Bike Shop, before moving to Wilmington to start a weekly show at 1984, on West Fourth Street.
And then someone tagged him on a Facebook post advertising a new comedy night at a place called Spaceboy Clothing. He signed up, imagining he’d be performing his set between a bunch of t-shirt racks. But when he arrived that first night, they walked him past the shirts, down the stairs and into…
“It was a comedy club,” Jackson says. “It’s just there. Brick walls, the lighting is perfect, low ceilings. It’s like they accidentally built the Comedy Cellar down there.”
A complete accident, says Spaceboy Clothing’s David Sanchez. Before Spaceboy moved into its current location on Market Street in 2014, the basement was used by the former tenant as storage, if it was used at all.
“We just cleaned it up a bit,” Sanchez says.
Jackson immediately asked if he could start organizing shows. Sanchez was happy to pass along the task of gathering talent.
And so Spaceboy became the latest unlikely comedy hot spot in Delaware. Monthly shows organized by Jackson, and often hosted by local comedian Ty Jamison, bring dozens downtown to see local comics and Philly “heavies” performing in a BYO venue, below the shirts, and on Market Street.
Vincent and Jamison first met at a comedy competition Jamison was judging, at an unnamed Wilmington venue that was, well, not quite as nice as Spaceboy.
Jackson: “That was the shadiest place.”
Jamison: “The place was probably illegal. They did not have good paperwork there.”
Jackson: “You had to get buzzed in.”
But that was a reality of the underground Delaware comedy scene, a scene Jamison has been working for years, dating all the way back to “the days of mass texts,” when legions of comedy fans could be summoned from one flip phone.
Today, it’s all about Facebook. At the first show Jackson held at Spaceboy, more than 50 people showed up, filling the room. People they didn’t know stood out on the street, hustling people inside. The diverse crowd was full of 20-30 somethings, all out for a laugh.
“Everyone is super chill,” Sanchez says. “You laugh, maybe you socialize a bit before or after, and then everyone goes home.” (Sanchez repeats “everyone goes home” as the main positive of comedy shows, thus giving the impression that things might have been different when Spaceboy hosted punk rock shows in the basement.)
The comedy plays a bit differently in Wilmington than in Newark. College crowds tend to be more reserved in their laughs, more sensitive to a punchline with real punch, as Jackson learned when he tried out some material about race and privilege in town. (“They get uncomfortable,” he says. “They moan a lot.”)
“The frequency is different in Wilmington,” Jamison said.
Actually, knowing your room is important no matter where you play in Delaware. Jamison on performing in Milton: “That crowd is an average of 62. They’re all a retired, support-the-arts crew, and they come out for a good laugh. You keep it a little cleaner, but a little more direct. You crack a lot of jokes about Slaughter Beach.”
With regular shows now at Spaceboy that Jackson hopes to grow, as well as pop-ups at UD, in Smyrna, and elsewhere around the state, Jackson and Jamison see the start of something the area hasn’t had in a long time—a comedy circuit, one that could nurture local comics, provide local opportunities to work out new material, and draw out-of-towners.
Jamison: “Philly cats are comin’ down!”
Jackson: “They’re thirsty. I go to Philadelphia, and they’re like, ‘Hey, what’s going on with that show? What’s going on with that room?’”
Before a show in June, the first after his comedy series got some local press, Jackson got a call from Sanchez at Spaceboy: the fire inspectors were in the basement checking everything out. Jackson figured they were done, busted, over. He had already rented the chairs, man, and now the City had arrived to kill the show.
Actually, just the opposite.
“Those dudes were awesome,” Sanchez says. “The fire chief came through during a show, and he’s a big fan of comedy. He brought his wife.”
It helped that the building, owned by The Buccini/Polin Group, was fully up to code, with sprinklers and alarms and such, Sanchez says. But more than that, both Sanchez and Jackson found city officials to be genuinely welcoming and supportive (at least, after everything checked out).
Jackson and Jamison are planning a comedy week in November, with comedy showcases, concept shows and stand-up in multiple Delaware cities.
It looks a lot like that dream Jackson chased when he left the prison—and he admits it’s something that might not have been possible even a few years ago.
“This one night, I was on Market Street after LOL at the Grand,” he says. “There were people everywhere after the show, people out to go to Chelsea and to go to Merchant Bar. This is like what my great-grandma used to tell me Wilmington was like in the ‘30s, people just out. It’s been so long. I’d never seen that before.”