Vibe Out: ‘Speak Easy Comedy Lounge’ boosting laughs, smiles amid pandemic
Written by Nakia Cooper on June 30, 2021
They say laughter is the best medicine, and if that is true, then this entire country needs a good old belly aching laugh to heal us from all we’ve been through during these times of racial tension, social and civil unrest, job and food insecurity and, of course, a global pandemic. The new Speak Easy Comedy Lounge at Phil & Derek’s Restaurant and Jazz Lounge was launched last year to help give Houstonians a hearty dose of fun to lift our spirits. Vibe Houston spoke to the owner of P&D’s, John Cruise, about his decision to open the comedy lounge and what they are doing to survive the pandemic.
Vibe Houston: How did you come up with the idea of turning a portion of your restaurant into a comedy lounge?
Cruise: Prior to COVID, all three parts of our restaurant were very busy. The patio, the main dining room and the lounge. But when COVID started we could only accommodate enough business to keep the patio and the main dining room open. The lounge stayed closed all week. Our good friend Steven Kay came and talked to us about using the lounge for comedy on the weekends. He explained that we can staff the room only if we sell enough tickets to do a show. If the tickets don’t sell then we can just keep the room closed for business which will not negatively affect the restaurant’s bottom line. From the time that we advertised the first show in the lounge, it took off, and the room has been used on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights for comedy shows.
Vibe Houston: Do you feel this was a necessary adjustment due to the pandemic?
Cruise: Absolutely. What the pandemic has taught all entrepreneurs is that you had better become creative and now learn how to pivot your business based on the information and circumstances that you are faced with. We have changed many of the ways that we ran our business post-COVID. If we hadn’t made those changes then we would probably not have survived the downturn that all restaurants were faced with.
Vibe Houston: You’ve been on the front lines this entire time, being in the service industry, so you’ve seen many of the frustratios. Do you feel that laughter is the best medicine for patrons?
Cruise: Laughter is probably not as important as fresh air, but I will definitely say that’s its about as important as food is! Just as food nourishes the body, laughter nourishes the body, mind and soul. How we approach a problem in our lives affects all of our ability to solve or cope with the problem. Laughter has assisted many of us in the life-changing adjustments brought on by COVID-19. We are all about having a great time at Phil & Derek’s and that two hours of fun and laughter often gives a person a much-needed break from the fear and monotony that life brings to each of us.
Vibe Houston: What other adjustments has your restaurant made to survive COVID?
Cruise: We have had so many challenges to deal with since March 2019. The biggest change that was very noticeable to our guests was us having to end our world-famous unlimited brunch buffet that we did on weekends. COVID forced us to have to come up with a brunch menu with individual plate options so that we could continue to serve our guests safely. But since then, we have come up with some great brunch plate options and our community has continued to celebrate with us every weekend as usual.
Vibe Houston: Tell us about your show? How often? Average price of tickets?
Cruise: Every weekend we are hosting two types of shows: live band music in the main dining room (at no charge), and ticketed comedy shows every Friday and Saturday in the lounge. The comedy show is a small, cozy dark room that seats 50 people which is a great outing for a date night. Tickets range from $20 to $25 per seat, depending on the comedian that we have booked for the evening. The stage is directly in the middle of the room so there is truly no bad seat in the whole house. All tickets can be purchased directly from our website.
Vibe Houston: What major acts have you brought to town?
Cruise: We have had some great talent in our small room. We have the likes of upcoming talent like comedian Lil Darrell, Thea Vidale who was the first Black Woman to have her own sitcom “Thea” on a major network (ABC). We have had comedian Christopher Reid from the rap duo Kin N’ Play and just recently we featured the Mooney Twins who are the sons of Paul Mooney. The told the most hilarious stories of being brought up by an American comedy icon and his relationships with all the comedic greats such as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Redd Foxx.
Vibe Houston: This is the only laugh spot in the midtown/ downtown area? Correct? What does your club provide that others do not?
Cruise: We are the only place in midtown that features comedy routinely every week. Wednesday nights are free open mic nights, and Friday and Saturday nights are professionally paid comedians that have worked all the best rooms in the country. What Phil & Derek’s provides over most other venues is funny in-your-face-comedians in a small cozy room coupled with the best southern-cajun/creole food, full bar and great music all in one place.
Vibe Houston: Any advice for small businesses looking to not only survive, but reinvent themselves to keep up with the changing times?
Cruise: I would encourage entrepreneurs to adjust their thinking as they approach business challenges. COVID definitely brought on many challenges for our business that we are still working our way through. But no matter how bleak our situation seems there is always a major opportunity to be had if we can (1) Stay calm, (2) Operate with the mindset that all things we experience are for our continued growth and expansion. I own several successful businesses and my biggest opportunities have always come wrapped inside of the biggest problems.