Brandon Smith at Joker’s Wild Comedy Club

Inside, Jokes

You expect a block known for its famed Italian restaurants to attract a few wiseguys, but not like this.

From door to stage, the Joker’s Wild Comedy Club on Wooster Street likes to yuk it up. Doorman Steve Acquarulo—nicknamed “Uncle Steve,” a consequence of his relationship with his nephew and ex-Wild owner Dominic Acquarulo—gets things started. Looking me up and down, he said, “I’ve got a pair of shoes older than you.”

I definitely don’t have a pair of shoes as old as Uncle Steve, nor as well-aged. The man could pass for 40, and though he prefers to divulge his exact duration in person, let’s just say he’s well into his golden years. And “golden” is right: he bench-presses 160 pounds, maintains a thick shock of dark coiffed hair and cracks jokes like he’s the talent. His secrets? Eating in moderation (except for olive oil) and staying away from drugs.

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After a greeting from Uncle Steve, it’s onto the main act: the working comedians, who perform in the center of a long thin staging area packed with tables and chairs. As bits build to punchlines, servers dressed in black comb the crowd for food and drink orders.

A ticket to a weekend show generally goes for about $15, and a recent Friday lineup was well worth the cash. Emcee Brandon Smith, hailing from Milford and speaking in a smooth radio-ready baritone, warmed up the crowd with an everyday-concerns type of routine, then introduced a couple of very funny regional comics: Bridgeport-based Stosh Mikita and New York-based Kase Raso.

The headliner was India-born, Texas-raised, New York City-living comedian Akaash Singh, who’s appeared on the HBO show The Leftovers and MTV2’s Wild ’n Out. Though Singh is relatively small in stature—a topic he’ll readily joke about—he’s a decent-sized fish in the comic world, and attracting his caliber isn’t such an uncommon phenomenon at Joker’s Wild. Many of the comics coming through have made the TV and radio comedy rounds, including this coming weekend’s headliner, Mark Normand, who’s appeared on Conan and Inside Amy Schumer and even starred in a half-hour stand-up special for Comedy Central.

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Engaging in a light, somewhat remorseful brand of insult comedy, Singh spent most of his set working the crowd, giving grief to a mother chaperoning her teenage daughter’s date, encouraging a local sports celebrity to make a move on his “just-a-friend,” roasting a bachelorette party 35 years in the making and pattering with a guy in the crowd who was doing a pretty good job heckling him. After an impressive marathon of improvised comedy before a howling, sometimes roaring, audience, Singh relieved his targets and switched to written material.

According to Andy Sharpe, who bartended at the club until recently, the building at 232 Wooster Street has been around for a century or so, with weathered doors looking about that old. But otherwise, like Uncle Steve, the building doesn’t show its age. It’s also in better shape than you’d expect for a comedy club, with no unwelcome aromas or spots where your shoes stick to the floor.

The structure has a history of sheltering Italian restaurants—not exactly a surprise given the neighborhood, though an emphasis on Italian food hasn’t carried over. Joker’s Wild’s food menu is dominated by standard bar fare—fries, mozzarella sticks, quesadillas and you can probably guess the rest.

For now, anyway. A group of five close friends from the New Haven area, bonded in part by a shared affection for stand-up comedy, finalized a purchase of the business just two Wednesdays ago. New co-owner and general manager Andrew Quintine says the group is planning to expand the club’s hours of operation and overhaul its bar and kitchen operations, hoping to turn Joker’s Wild into a viable spot to dine and lounge even when there’s no comedy happening.

That said, the plan also includes hosting more comedy than ever, according to manager/comedian Pat Oates, who’s been running Joker’s Wild’s day-to-day operations for the better part of 5 years now. Quintine’s crew intends to “provide more comedy on more nights” of the week, Oates says, and to attract even bigger fish. “We have really good names now, but these are guys who are gonna be big in a year or two. are going to help me bring in guys who are big now.”

“We get lost on this pizza street,” he adds, next to Pepe’s, Sally’s, Anastasio’s and Abate, but Quintine and company “want people to come to Wooster Street and recognize our name, too.”

Joker’s Wild Comedy Club
232 Wooster St, New Haven (map)
Wed 7:30pm-1am, Thurs-Fri 6:30pm-1am, Sat 6:30pm-2am, Sun 5:30pm-1am
(203) 773-0733

Written by Daniel Shkolnik. Photo #1 by Daniel Shkolnik; #2 by Dan Mims.

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