Cambria Heights comedy club closes after 30-plus years of laughter

Dean Edwards, Diane Gibbs, Drew Fraser, DJ Vernon Feurtado, Mook Diamond , Lisa Ray, Purnell Holloway, Kool Bubba Ice, Kenny Williams (l-r) showed up to the last stand-up show at the Manhattan Proper Cafe in Cambria Heights.
By Naeisha Rose

Guests lined the walls of the Manhattan Proper Cafe last week to get a final laugh after learning of the impending closing of the restaurant and club, which had been a mainstay in Cambria Heights for over 30 years, according to host Lisa Ray.

Ray and her friend Diane Gibbs, both South Jamaica residents, collaborated as comedy promoters under the marquee Non-Stop Entertainment and were the creators of the “Tuesday Night Comedy” at the Proper in 1990, according to Ray.

On Oct. 24, the Proper, which was an outlet for people who wanted to dance to the latest hip-hop track and see up-and-coming black comedians, including Bill Bellamy, Tracy Morgan, Mike Epps, Sheryl Underwood, and most recently “Last Comic Standing” star Nikki Carr, had its last stand-up night, according to its current promoter Mook Diamond, of Hood Royalty Comedy.

“It started as an idea with me hanging out with Bill Bellamy at the time,” said Gibbs. “I was following him as he hosted comedies from club to club to see what he does. Then I decided to bring that same concept to Queens.”

There was a lack of spots for black comedians to shine in Manhattan comedy clubs like Caroline’s in the 1980s, according to the Non-Stop Entertainment duo.

“They wouldn’t allow me to bring a full show there of black comedians,” Gibbs said. “I knew Queens, I grew up in Queens and in Queens, we all support each other.”

With the addition of comedy shows at Proper — located at 217-01 Linden Blvd. — the club became a hotspot, not just for young adults and adults who loved hip-hop and comedy, but a place that hip-hop stars wanted to be after hopping off the plane from JFK Airport, a short 15-minute drive, according to the promoters.

“If you got off the airplane and you were Puff Daddy or LL Cool J, you came there on the Tuesday nights for the comedy,” Ray said. “It was the place to be and in the ‘90s urban comedy was really starting to take off.”

Many of the comics like Bellamy, Morgan, Epps, and Underwood got their start at Proper, according to Ray.

In the 2000s, Diamond took over the responsibilities of promoting the Tuesday night shows, and as Proper came to a close, he knew he had to get in touch with the progenitors of the event.

“I couldn’t close the night without calling Diane and Lisa,” Diamond said. “I had to close it out in the right fashion.”

As the last Tuesday night came, there was a red carpet for photographs, and people lined the block to get in. Inside the Proper, the promoters received a certificate of recognition from state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans). The club itself received a proclamation from Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans).

Helping people laugh was host Drew Fraser, and comedians Kool Bubba Ice, Kenny Williams, Dead Edwards, Omar Thompson, Purnell Holloway, and Nikki Carr.

“When we received recognition from Senator Comrie and a proclamation, we were like ‘wow,’ this is officially going in the history books and we are a part of history in comedy.”

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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