A funny thing happened to stand-up comedian Keith Stubbs on his way to South Dakota for a club engagement: He got in a car wreck, had a near-midlife crisis (he's 37), decided to change his life, and ended up as a Utah businessman . . . all in a single year.For an encore, Stubbs has to be credited with bringing what some say is a startling new concept to the Utah club scene: "clean" comedy.
Last month Stubbs opened his third Laffs Comedy Club in Utah, this one in Trolley Square. His Ogden Laffs opened last fall and the Logan Laffs kicked off in November. Business, he assures, has been good.
It's not part of his act, but his method of financing his businesses would make a pretty good stand-up routine.
When he got the brainstorm last year to go into business for himself, Stubbs had to contend with one teensy, weensy problem: He had no money.
The lack of start-up capital might have put a crimp in a lesser entrepreneur's plans, but not Stubbs. He didn't make the rounds of the banks, didn't present detailed financial proposals to local venture capitalists, and didn't ask his rich daddy to float him a loan.
"I put it all on my Visa card," said Stubbs. Ba-bip, ba-boom.
A trip to Circuit City, Home Depot and Sam's Club, and a meltdown of his Gold Card, was all Stubbs needed to equip his first Laffs Comedy Club in Ogden. Things have gone so well that he paid cash to stock the new Trolley Square club.
A former Los Angeles stockbroker, Stubbs had gotten into showbiz when the agent for comedian/actor Sinbad saw Stubbs "acting goofy" for his office cohorts during a company party. Since then, he has performed at the Improv and Comedy Store in Hollywood and has been on an array of TV shows, including America's Funniest People.
Sounds easy, but it's a very tough business, warns Stubbs. Lots of people can be funny when they're in the mood and have the right audience. But, as comedian Robert Cline once asked, "Can you be funny tonight at 8:30 for an hour?" That's the difference between the office cutup and a professional comedian.
Stubbs' decision to add entrepreneur to his role as performer was as unconventional as his financing. After six years on the road doing 300 shows per year, Stubbs and a friend were heading for a gig in Minot, N.D., when the friend fell asleep at the wheel, the car went off the road and Stubbs found himself hanging by his seat belt . . . contemplating a career change.
A South Carolina native, Stubbs had attended Brigham Young University and had completed an LDS mission to Ecuador, so Utah seemed like a nice place to settle down and go into the comedy biz.
In getting started on a shoestring, he has asked friends in the business to come to Utah and perform for little pay and they have obliged. And he makes it clear upfront that they have to keep the comedy clean.
"A lot of the comedy clubs get pretty blue," he said. "Our big thing is no alcohol, no smoking, we're open to all ages and we keep it clean. It's not kid humor, it's adult humor. But it's not dirty."
If you're 18 or 19 years old, it's tough to find a place to go for an evening's entertainment, says Stubbs. Laffs is their kind of place.
Laffs does two shows on Friday and Saturday nights and is also open Thursdays and Sundays. Light refreshments, cheesecake, root beer floats and such, also are available. Admission is $7 on weekends and $5 on Thursday, about the same price as a movie.
"And it isn't just Mormons who come," says Stubbs. "There are plenty of people who don't want to hear rude language and breathe in someone else's smoke."
Stubbs says Utah is a surprisingly good market for comedy. "The crowds here are pretty smart, pretty sophisticated, even though it's not a big city. I'm quite happy with the audiences we get."
All of the acts at Laffs are professionals. There are no "open mike" nights. Shows are an hour and a half and feature three comedians per club per night. The Trolley Laffs seats 200, up from 130 in the Ogden club and 150 at Logan.