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Comedy club goes mobile aboard luxury bus in Vegas

The bus is rolling, which means it’s time for a punchline or two about mashing the fingers of small children.

“Smiley” Joe Wiley’s on the mic, explaining how he tries to get a break from his kids from time to time by seeking refuge in the bathroom.

“They find you — they got their little hands under the door,” he begins. “ ‘When you coming out?’ I stomp their knuckles; take the plunger, beat their knuckles,” he continues to a round of guffaws. “They got knuckles like a carpenter — you should see their hands.”

A little later, he’s reminiscing about getting reprimanded in church by a stuttering pastor when he was a boy.

“ ‘D-d-d-don’t make me repeat myself,’ ” he says, imitating said clergyman. “I ain’t! You doin’ that.”

It’s a little past 8 p.m. on a Friday, and the “Best Comedy Show on Wheels” is just getting warmed up.

Aboard a 15-passenger luxury bus, Wiley entertains a crowd of eight flanked by his wife, who serves drinks, and longtime friend Steve Pearlman, who sings during the show.

It’s a loose, off-the-cuff, uniquely funny experience, a blend of music and comedy with no barrier between audience and performer during a 90-minute trip that begins on the south end of the Strip, with a stop at the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign for pictures.

Being in such close quarters with Wiley is akin to sitting at the kitchen table with a good buddy on a Saturday night, sharing drinks, stories and laughs in equal measure.

And that’s kind of where it all began for Wiley and Pearlman, both from Cleveland, where they worked in the mortgage business together.

After calling it a day on the job, they’d often hang out, Pearlman singing, Wiley cracking wise.

“I told him, ‘One day, man, we’re gonna take the show to Vegas,’” Wiley recalls telling Pearlman. “One day, this is gonna be a show in Vegas.’ He was like, ‘Oh man, gimme a break.’ I said, ‘Steve, just watch.’ ”

The class clown’s come-up

Give credit to the man in all that fire-hydrant-red leather.

On Oct. 15, 1983, Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” special premiered on HBO.

Wiley took it in the way a house plant does sunshine, particularly impressed by the number of impersonations Murphy did, nearly a dozen in all, ranging from Elvis to Mr. T, all while rocking some of the most flamboyant stage attire ever.

It was a game changer for the kid who aimed to follow in Murphy’s footsteps.

“After that special, I knew where my life was gonna be,” Wiley says.

A dedicated class clown who got his nickname “Smiley” when he was 14, Wiley still remembers the first joke he ever wrote, about a man being so bored in church, he leaves early.

“He’s driving down the road,” Wiley says. “And then all of a sudden, he gets into a car accident and his car’s flying off a cliff. And the first thing he says, is ‘Oh, God! Oh, God! Save me!’ And God be like, ‘Well, if you had your a-- in church. This wouldn’t be happening right now.’ And the class went crazy.”

Wiley would later run a comedy night in Cleveland and perform around town, before moving to Vegas in 2004, when he got a gig opening for hypnotist Justin Tranz at O’Shea’s. He’d also do comedy aboard Carnival cruise ships for years.

Then in 2011, Wiley’s former wife, who has since passed away from cancer, had a 40-year high school reunion in Phoenix, where she, Wiley and assorted friends gathered on a party bus during the festivities.

“I looked around and said, ‘Man, this would be great if I could just stand up and entertain these fools right now,’ ” Wiley recalls.

And so he did just that. It was a light-bulb moment.

“I saw it in my mind, ‘I could turn a party bus into a comedy club,’ ” he remembers thinking. “ ‘I could do this.’ ”

The wheels start turning

Back on the bus, “Smiley” Joe Wiley’s talking about aging a little less than gracefully.

“When I was young, you fall down on the ground, they laugh at ya,” he begins. “You fall down at this age, they shut the grocery store down. They got the news showing up. It’s just a slip, y’all.”

He riffs on the weather in his hometown — “It got so cold one winter, the snowman knocked on the door. Which one of you made me? Take this carrot” — and the perils of attempting to pass gas in church.

Pearlman then gives strong, sonorous voice to various old-school R&B hits from the likes of Johnny Gill and Levert.

Occasionally, Wiley’s words are as blue as the lighting that illuminates the bus, though he caters everything to the crowd, gauging their level of comedic spiciness, and also does kid-friendly shows.

Wiley realized his long-gestating dream of launching a comedy bus in 2020, during the pandemic.

“People wanted to get out, but they couldn’t go anywhere,” he says. “I’m on a bus, I can put y’all four in this pocket, then I could put another pocket of people on the other side, and everybody’s 6 feet apart. We mask. That’s how I started it.”

Business has been growing steadily ever since, with Wiley now regularly performing upward of four nights a week.

He is a ceaselessly buoyant presence, though his comedy is often rooted in tragedy: In addition to the death of his wife, one of his sons was murdered in 2015.

“I had to bury him,” Wiley reflects. “So, I tell people, ‘If I can go through that, and still bring a smile to my face, no matter what you guys are going through, it’s a brighter day, man.’

“Every day, the sun don’t shine,” he continues. “It’s ‘Can you stand the rain?’ Once the storm hits, you have to be prepared for it. We’re all going to die one day, so you take this life and you grab it and you embrace it.”

In other words, you get on the bus and do your best to enjoy the ride.

“Laughter, being happy, man, that’s something that nobody can take from you,” Wiley notes. “That’s what I feel about my comedy show on the party bus: I want to give back what I was given, and that was love.

“That’s what we all need,” he continues. “And that’s what I stand for.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram

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