Jokes on the Bus Go Round and Round

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Bull City Laughs
The five founders of Bull City Laughs: Omar Helms, chief technician; Akili Hester, president; Q Randle, business ambassador; Terrell Wilder, financial officer; Brandon Wright, “laugh engineer.” Photography by Joshua Steadman

The five founders of Bull City Laughs are all standing in a packed barber shop off of Fayetteville Street. This is where it all started for them. And one of them just wrapped up with a customer.

“Who’s next?” Akili Hester, Bull City Laughs president, aka “the Bull,” calls out to the small waiting area of Black Wall Street Barber Shop.

“Do you cut everyone’s hair?” I ask Akili about this group – Brandon Wright, Omar Helms, Q Randle and Terrell Wilder – standing around us.

“Yeah,” he says with a smile. But that’s only half the story of how this quintet came to own Durham’s only comedy tour bus business. “We did a North Carolina hip-hop documentary – that was me, Omar and Q,” Akili says. “Before that, I used to do battle rap events, and Terrell did my security. Before that, I was doing film, and I was doing work with Brandon.”

Brandon, who worked for the Funny Bus in Charlotte, a similar concept, was driving there every weekend. Akili encouraged him to think about starting one here. Once Brandon was convinced it was viable, Akili asked if he was ready to pull the trigger. “I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Cool, cause I’ve told a few guys who are interested to hear what you have to say,’” Brandon says. “We met here one evening, and we were all like, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Akili says, “Everybody I pulled in, I had worked with before. I knew they had a good work ethic, and good character. And they all had the urge to do something different. Everybody’s conversation was, ‘Man, I want to start a business.’ Sometimes it wasn’t exactly specific, but everybody had the urge to do something special. [We wanted to] do something for the city that nobody’s ever done before. So when I put the word out, it was like gasoline was already on it. Everything moved pretty quickly after that.”

Bull City LaughsThat conversation happened just a year-and-a-half ago. The Bull City Laughs bus went on its first tour March 15 – Omar’s late mother’s birthday – after months of hard work, and a little help. They bought the bus from a woman Akili knew through cutting her husband’s hair. “It’s the haircut network,” he says. The material and labor to build and install the seats was essentially donated by a man who had been in Brandon’s military unit in the Air Force (Omar and Terrell are also veterans of the Army and Air Force, respectively). Some of the audio equipment was donated by audio-visual company Maestro Productions. “We definitely had a lot of help, people who believed in the business,” Omar says. “And who believed in us,” Terrell adds.

The bus has been making tours for a few months now, and based on the reviews they’re receiving, Brandon says, most people didn’t know quite what to expect, but nearly always end up having a great time.

Q says he feels a sense of pride that the group committed to making this dream happen. “I’m sure we all start something and drop it,” he says. “This time, we stuck it through. That was the cherry on the cake for me – the fact that we just did it.”

Akili adds, “I feel like when it comes to black-owned businesses, we have to continue to push and continue to create because that was like, that’s the heart of the history of Durham, that is Black Wall Street.

“And I’ll just say, I’m just excited to see where my brothers go from here. ‘Cause I feel like 10 years from now, based on this success –”

Q chimes in, “We could be anywhere.”

Just the FAQs

  • Tours are Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. (They are looking to expand
    to Fridays.
  • Meet the bus at Beer Durham to stock up on drinks; the tour takes a 15-minute break at Louella for restrooms and to stock up on beverages.
  • Max capacity is 30.
  • “We can cater a package to you, your company, your team, your wedding,” Q says.
    “We can handle any type of big parties.”
  • The guys warn that the tours are R-rated – “Things get a little crazy on the bus sometimes,” Brandon says. “You’ve got to be good with that.”
  • For more frequently asked questions, visit bullcitylaughs.com/faqs

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Amanda MacLaren

Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Arizona, she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for eight years. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Guasaca.

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