MANSFIELD -- James Jones believes you shouldn't have to leave town to hear a good stand-up comedy routine. That's why he has spent the last two years producing comedy shows at a Mansfield nightclub.
“I want to provide a chance to see quality comics and a nice night out without having to travel to Cleveland or Columbus,” Jones said.
He produced his first show two years ago at Kosta’s, where he works as the manager.
Since then, Jones has continued to produce the Crown Royal Comedy Show monthly at Kosta’s (with the exception of a few months during the height of the pandemic) as well as other locations under the name of PartyBus Jones Productions.
Over the past two years, shows have attracted larger audiences and more high-profile comedians.
“I went from a Wednesday with 20 people to a Saturday with potentially 120 people," he said. “My plan is to go from Kosta’s night club to a 300- or 400-seat venue to selling out the Renaissance."
Jones' shows started as open mic nights, but soon they grew into something bigger. Over the past two years, the Mansfield native built a network in the entertainment industry that allows him to bring new talent to town.
Shows typically include a headliner, a host and a featured comic. Headliners often include nationally touring comics, while shorter slots are reserved for new, up-and-comers and locals who want to give it a shot.
“Anybody from Mansfield or anybody local, I'll give you a chance. If you are funny and people think you're funny, I'll bring you back,” Jones said. “I try to keep the comedians fresh, but I will bring back people that I know are funny.”
Kosta's owner Steve Bulakovski praised Jones' efforts, including the recent addition of local music. Just like local comics, Jones wants to create a place where local musicians and bands can enjoy the spotlight.
“There’s a lot of kids that are into the rap scene, the R&B scene," Bulakovski said. "The kids have been great and all the musicians have been really talented.
"It’s worked out in everybody’s favor.”
Jones didn't always aspire to be the man behind-the-scenes. In fact, he initially started the project as a way to try his hand at stand-up comedy.
“Initially (people would tell me), ‘Hey you're funny, you should do stand-up,’ ” he said. “I figured if I do my own show, they can’t tell me no.”
Jones described himself as a class clown and natural conversationalist, but he quickly learned that doing stand-up is more difficult than it looks. Crafting bits and jokes that have mass appeal takes planning.
“It has to be funny in general, not just in a specific situation,” he explained. “A lot of times comedy is about repetition. It’s all about getting the comedic timing down.”
These days, Jones rarely has time to hop on stage for more than a couple of minutes. He’s too busy running things.
“The show’s taken off to a point where I actually have to run the show,” he said. “It’s a good and a bad thing. It’s a bad thing for my original idea.”
Nevertheless, Jones is proud of the momentum he’s built so far.
“I put my little aspirations to the side," he said. "I’m doing something that people enjoy.”
Jones’ interest in comedy started early. His family liked to tease and toss zingers back and forth. As a child, he mimicked television characters to make them laugh.
But Jones also knew early that laughter was a powerful tool -- not just for amusement, but for escaping one’s cares.
Jones lived with his grandparents from the time he was just 6 weeks old. His grandfather, Bill Riggins, was a strong and disciplined man. He’d endured hardships as a Korean War veteran and as a Black man who married into a White family.
When his grandfather laughed, his soft side came through.
“My grandfather was a strict man, but when he would laugh he would break,” Jones recalled. “It was different. When you see him laugh, the military wasn’t there. You could tell that the life experiences that he went through wasn't there.”
Jones believes his grandfather would be most proud of the hard work he puts in to pulling off shows.
"I talked about it for a long time. I was like 15, 16 and saying I want to do comedy," he said. “I think my grandparents would be proud that I actually stuck with it."
The next Crown Royal Comedy Show will take place May 22 at 924 W. Fourth St. Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door. Rob Ward, who was recently featured on Comedy Central's Hart of the City, will be the headliner.