Sometime around 10:30 p.m. Friday, as the shuffling of patrons’ feet above reached its apex, comedy headliner Shane Torres paused to reflect.
“Yeah, I was on Conan," he said. "Look at what it did for my career. I'm playing a creepy basement underneath a pizza parlor for you clowns.”
The dig elicited hearty chuckles from the 30 or so folks in folding chairs scattered across the dimly lit and drafty room. To outsiders, Torres' comment may have seemed mean, but longtime regulars of J&J's Pizza's Ol’ Dirty Basement took it as a warm reminder that the beloved local venue was back in business.
After 15 years, the Ol' Dirty Basement abruptly closed in August 2016. Jamie and Jessie Ham, who own J&J's, said their landlord had other plans for the space. But last week, it reopened as suddenly as it had closed. Friday's comedy show was its first show back.
A glance around the basement revealed that some of the renovations the Hams had once proposed are underway. A few sections were cordoned off for sound system upgrades, and last week, Jessie Ham told The Dentonite that air conditioning is on its way. That's good news to anyone who's spent a muggy summer evening in the Ol' Dirty Basement.
Fort Worth native Torres headlined Friday's impressive lineup of local comics, which also included Andrew Burnette, Monna, Dalton Pruitt, Larry Campbell, Taylor Higginbotham and Josh Johnson. They riffed on topics like the overabundance of music majors at the University of North Texas and the difficulties of online dating.
The event was free, and Johnson handed out copies of his CD in exchange for donations.
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Many of the seats at the show were empty. Others were occupied by people who were just waiting for their pizza to be ready, heard the commotion and made the treacherous journey down the narrow steps to check out what was going on.
The event had been announced only a few days before, and possibly because of the holiday break, it didn't get the promotion it deserved. But those who attended were clearly surprised and relieved to have the basement back.
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“I got the Facebook notifications a day or two or ago and just reminded myself of how much fun things can be here,” said one inebriated patron hovering at the top of the basement steps who asked not to be named. "I mean, I’ve already run into three or four people I haven’t seen in months, and I’m on my fourth beer. This is the kind of stuff that happens here at the Basement.”
Despite the near-freezing temperatures outside, comedians and bartenders huddled together, smoked cigarettes and shared laughs. J&J employees hustled pizzas downstairs so that no one had to miss any jokes.
Even the to-go customers seemed enthused. “Whatever is going on down there, sounds like a good time," one curious woman remarked.
The Ol' Dirty Basement continued to host shows throughout the weekend. On Saturday, Richard Haskins headlined an unplugged show with Lydia Low and Brandon Dowd. More shows will be announced in the new year.