By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
From the days where he roamed the Morgan State University campus Tracy Wiggs has always had the gift of gab. With his raw wit and business savvy he found his niche as a promotional entrepreneur and it has served him well staging events for some of the largest comedians over the last quarter century.
For 25 years, Wiggs has been the man behind the Black comedian. HBO’s Def Comedy Jam and the Kings of Comedy opened the doors to the emergence of a new generation of talent that still struggled with finding venues to host them as late as the mid-1990s. Despite the success of Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric The Entertainer, Kevin Hart, and the late Bernie Mac on television, touring was a whole different matter.
“Black comics weren’t getting the chance to perform in the White clubs like the Improv or the Comedy Store,” Wiggs told the AFRO. “I can remember when there was a time when I walked into a club in Los Angeles and [WPGC’s] Joe Clair was bigger than Chris Tucker.”
Wiggs, launched Jus’ Wiggin Entertainment in 1991 after realizing that despite his track moving faster than most at NBC-4 in D.C., the salary couldn’t compete. He went from the mailroom to their assignment desk then ultimately to work with George Michael’s Sports Machine in 18 months. However, the compensation versus the time spent in TV didn’t make sense.
“If I’m making as much in two nights as a promoter as I make in two weeks in television I had to go full time,” Wiggs said.
The relationships he’s built in the comedy game with the acts who have been seen from coast to coast is simple. In an era of instant messaging and electronic communication, Wiggs telephone remains his best friend. The rolodex that long time promoter Dave Rubin gave him before he left to work for Vince McMahon and, what became WWE, serves as a reminder how to conduct business.
“Be simple, straightforward and honest,” Wiggs said. “I need them as much as they need me so you’ve got to be able to feed them. There aren’t too many promoters who can say they’ve booked acts of the caliber I have at least once every year for the last 20 years.”
“It’s all about relationships because we want the same things,” Wiggs added.
However, his latest promotion may be the biggest of them all. After decades of finding venues around the country for the Kings and Queens of Comedy, Wiggs is hoping a southern Maryland venue will give local comedy fans a place to watch the next generation take off, while becoming a haven for those same big name acts.
“The original dream was always to own my own club,” Wiggs said. “I’ve never been the type of person that would go up the ladder and not reach back to pull somebody else up. That would be irresponsible as a Black man.”
In early July, Wiggs cut the ribbon on his “original dream” when he opened The House of Comedy in Waldorf. The demographics of the area and the gentrification of Baltimore and D.C. makes it the perfect time to open his club there. While property is too expensive and increases the risk of failure for small businesses to succeed in Charm City or the District, Wiggs feels southern Maryland is primed for a venue that will cater to a diverse audience.
“There’s a lot of comedy fans [in Prince George’s and Charles County] who don’t want to travel all the way to D.C. and Baltimore for a quality show,” Wiggs said. “We got fans who want to stay close to home for a good time after a long work week and White people always enjoy Black comedy too.”