By Jefferson Geiger
Joel Richardson ’02 M’07 knows how to navigate the twists and turns life throws at him. Opening a comedy club months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic meant he had to keep his business alive with ingenuity and perseverance. His journey in the industry is the subject of a debut memoir, “Not Funny,” due out in March.
Wagner College, the school he credits with shaping his career path, figures prominently in the book. Richardson, 43, grew up in Moorestown, N.J., and was recruited to Wagner’s wrestling team.
“Wagner was a smaller school with an active alumni,” Richardson said. “Its close proximity to Manhattan and being in New York City is what ultimately made my decision easy to attend Wagner. Also, they always said, ‘If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.’”
Alumni connections helped Richardson secure internships at businesses like Saatchi & Saatchi, and he credits his experience as a resident advisor for boosting his leadership skills. The business major enjoyed his time as a Seahawk so much that he returned to pursue his MBA.
“The moment you step on campus, it’s like being home — it feels like family being up there on Grymes Hill,” said Richardson, who served on the Wagner College Alumni Association Board of Directors for six years.
A highlight of his education was having Donald L. Crooks ’68 M’72 as a professor; the pair bonded as fellow members of the Delta Nu fraternity. After Richardson participated in his first open mic event in graduate school at Staten Island hangout Martini Red, it was Crooks who convinced him to get into entertainment management.
Richardson, knowing there was something out there bigger for him, followed Crooks’s advice and created Soul Joel Productions in 2007 with Scott Chamberlain M’07. Together, they produced regular shows for Wagner and venues such as Valley Forge Casino in King of Prussia, Penn., bringing in comedians like Sean O’Connor, Godfrey and Pete Correale.
Richardson then opened up his own club, SoulJoel’s, in November 2019. However, the pandemic forced him to invest in alternative entertainment, and acts performed instead in the outdoor Comedy Dome for 16 months. Unfortunately, their lease for SoulJoel's wasn’t renewed, and the last Comedy Dome show was Oct. 30, 2021, featuring the late Gilbert Gottfried.
The following year, Richardson bought the SunnyBrook Ballroom in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Built in 1931, the historic venue has seen stars like Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington perform. Success returned for Richardson, and he’s since hosted comedians such as Jim Breuer, known for his roles on “Saturday Night Live” and “Half Baked.”
“We went from trying to get 1,200 people in a month and then 1,000 people in a week and now we get 1,000 people in a day,” Richardson said of the change in venues.
With a seasonal menu of fresh ingredients — Richardson’s brother-in-law is the executive chef — this comedy club offers an elevated dining experience. Additionally, the 14,000-square-foot venue hosts line dancing, salsa, swing, zumba events, psychic mediums, drag brunches and more.
“I'm more fulfilled by doing more than just comedy events,” Richardson said.
Preorder Richardson's book here.