FunHouse at 526 West 26th Street, Manhattan, New York is a legendary club to clubbers and DJ’s all over the world. Mostly because of the fact one of the worlds most legendary DJ’s was the resident DJ of the club for three years, namely John “Jellybean” Benitez.
The club opened up on March 30, 1979 and invited guests only were allowed to enter. On the opening night the legendary DJ and Remixer – Jim Burgess -along with Bobby “DJ” Guttadaro, kept the dancefloor moving. Jonathan Fearing took over the DJ booth as the first resident DJ of the club. Jonathan played the crowd a mix of classic Disco tunes together with a little harder dance tracks. He also had a work at the hip radio station WKTU, this took more and more of his time and he had to give up his DJ’ing at the Fun House and he was replaced by “the man”… Jellybean.
Jellybean started his DJ career earlier in a club in the Bronx, called Charlie’s. But he really wanted to go further… he wanted to work in the famous Manhattan clubs. He got a gig at a club called Experiment 4 and by getting the right contacts he came to play at the trendy Xenon. This was really a break-through for his career…
During 1978 to 1981 all the hottest clubs, like Electric Circus and the legendary Studio 54, all wanted to hire Jellybean to play in their club. From April 1981 ’til June 1984 he was the resident DJ of the Manhattan club Fun House. It was during his sessions at this club the well known phrase “Jellybean Rocks the House” was founded!
The crowd at the Fun House were very musically aware and Jellybean got total freedom to explore dance music and examine the break beats, instrumental fills and all the other components of the 12-inch extended mixes. His style was so popular that he were asked to host a weekend dance show in America’s No.1 radio station – WKTU.
When Jellybean left FunHouse in June 1984 one of his protegees – Lil’ Louie Vega, another of the world most wellknown DJ’s and together with Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez they are the famous Masters At Work remixer/producer team, became the new resident DJs of the Club. But the FunHouse had seen it’s best days already and the club closed down in 1985. The place became a new club called Heart Throbs but it just lasted a year or two.
The FunHouse had this clown for its logo. The clown became famous far outside the New York area. Even the DJ-booth was painted as a giant clown, where the DJ was seen in the clown’s happy mouth…
The club got so famous that it got included in many articles about disco and the dance scene. The following is part of an article called “Beatin’ it with the Juice Crew (Saturday Night at the FunHouse)” written by Steven Hager for the Village Voice back in May 17, 1983…
Saturday 9:45 p.m.
John “Jellybean” Benitez, who is short, boyishly handsome and has a long mane of silky black hair, comes in to the FunHouse at 526 West 26th Street in Manhattan. Although only 25 years old, Jellybean has been a professional deejay for over seven years, working at such clubs as Xenon, Hurrah, La Mouche and New York, New York. In his two years spinning at the FunHouse his popularity has sky-rocketed, especially among Hispanic and Italian kids from Brooklyn and Queens.
Tonight Jellybean looks a bit distracted. Earlier in the evening his mother was stranded at the airport, and with all the ensuing commotion he forgot to bring an important tape with him, a rough mix of a new record he is producing. Jellybean stops at the entrance desk and calls a friend in his building, who agrees to bring the tape. Satisfied, Jellybean crosses the dance floor and enters a door marked “private”. Located near the door is a 12-foot-high clown’s head, complete with a gigantic, three-dimensional nose and yellow lights for eyes. The clown’s mouth is open and partially blocked by a glass panel. Before long, Jellybean’s face appears in the clown’s mouth. It is through this window that he keeps a close watch on his audience.
Jellybean looks out on the main dance floor, which has a hard wood surface and is flanked by enormous speaker columns. The back wall and several support columns located throughout the rooms are sheathed in mirrors. When it’s packed, this floor holds over a thousand dancers. To the left of the dance floor is a square four-foot-high platform, which holds several hundred other dancers – it is called the center stage. Past the center stage is an open carpeted area, a bar, a hotdog wagon, an inc cream booth and a smaller circular stage known as the back stage. The back stage holds only 20 to 30 dancers and often features solo performances. A long narrow balcony overlooks both the center and back stages. Around a corner of the main floor is a game room stocked with dozens of video machines. The room also has an electronic punching bag. For 25 cents a punch, the bag will rate one’s boxing prowess. Possible scores range from 100 (disaster) to 150 (try again) to 200 (good) to 300 (you’re unbeatable). At 300 points, an ear-piercing siren erupts.
Randy Murray, who runs the light show every weekend, comes in the deejay booth and stands next to Jellybean, who is bent over three Technics 1200 turntables, all with records spinning. The crowd is beginning to filter in and Jellybean is cueing his first record of the night. Murray notices a dancer pouring talcum powder on the floor in front of the booth. Murray shakes his head incredulously. “That’s his spot,” he says. “He’s gonna dance on that spot until eight o’clock tomorrow morning”.
Sunday 12:45 a.m.
A dozen beefy, musclebound bouncers are standing near the entrance, frisking males for weapons and turning away unwanted customers. Near the bouncers is a red alarm bell that goes off whenever a fight breaks out on the dance floor – something that takes place at least twice a night. Fights can spread faster than bushfire through the FunHouse, so the bouncers need to act quickly. The offending parties are usually tossed into the street within seconds of hitting each other.
The secret to this system is a network of closed-circuit TV cameras which continually scan the FunHouse. Somewhere deep inside the building is a fortified bunker where one of the owners sits looking at a bank of video monitors and counting the money delivered into the room straight from the box office via a pneumatic tube. The room has an entrance guarded by a pair of steel doors that open into each other, and make it impossible for more than one person to enter at a time.
When Arthur Baker and John Robie arrive they are immediately spotted by Angelo, the head bouncer, and ushered through a VIP entrance. Bake and Robie fight their way through a crowd near the center stage, passing a line of girls from Ozone Park who are doing leg kicks and singing along with the music. No one recognizes the two men edging through the crowd, even though Baker and Robie are responsible for five songs played in the last three hours. A year ago, the pair collaborated with Afrika Bambaata & the Soul Sonic Force on the first electronic hip hop record, “Planet Rock”. The record quickly became a FunHouse classic and spawned a genre of music Baker calls electro-boogie. Since then, Baker and Robie have tested all their mixes on the FunHouse crowd. If the song doesn’t go over here, they go back to the studio and rework it. The FunHouse has been good to them. So good, in fact, that they are known in dance music circles as the gurus. “I really feel the Spanish kids are the trendsetters over the black kids now”, says Baker. Tonight many blacks are arriving and most are turned away with the explanation that the club is “private”. Baker is a huge, hulking man who could pass for a Grateful Dead rodie, but he tends to be quiet and reserved. Robie, on the other hand, is a live wire: jittery, cocky, sarcastic. They head straight for the deejay booth where Jellybean is mixing into the new David Bowie single, “Let’s dance”. “It’s a good night”, says Jellybean. When a deejay feels each segue pumping in the crowd, he knows it’s all working – he’s at one with the crowd, he’s hot. “It’s nights like this that I feel I could play anything and they’d still go crazy. Sometimes it’s like an endless peak.”
Baker looks out through the clown’s gaping mouth and sees three Buggas dancing. Two years ago, long before Baker arrived, the Buggas ruled the FunHouse. They brought in a new style: gym shorts, T-shirts cut off at the midriff, sweatbands. The look was a reaction agains the let’s-dress-up-and-hustle craze that swept through New York in the ’70s. The Buggas hate the hustle, which they think is too formal, too bourgeois, too social and too lame. According to some FunHouse regulars, the Buggas prefer to take a lot of drugs (mostly speed) and just… bug out. They usually dance in front of the mirrors, slowly accelerating until they are functioning at the dance world equivalent of Mach-5. The dance is fairly simple, a cross between the Monkey and running in place. The outer limbs are a furious, windmilling blur, while the upper torso and head remain remarkably stationary. They can perform this ritual facing the mirrors for hours. If a hair falls out of place, a hand will move up and correct the problem, while the rest of the body continues dancing.
Some people here still respect the Buggas, but their time has probably come and gone. The Buggas are getting a little too old (over 20), a little too burnt out. “There are a few people here,” observes Jellybean, “who seem to be trapped in a strange time warp.”
Sunday 2:30 a.m.
For the past three hours, the Juice Crew has been underneath the balcony, trading gossip, warming up, practicing a few routines. Now, with the first big peak coming fast, they gather on the back stage. Everyone is present: Mama Juice (Alyse), Berico, Brown Sugar, Brian, Chino, Cal, Starstruck, Crazy Evette, Coco, Stepsaver and, unexpectedly, Tony, who is also known as White Lightning. Although widely considered the best dancer in the crew, Tony has not been at the FunHouse in months. Instead, he has been frequenting other clubs like Paradise Garage and the Loft.
“I love the FunHouse,” he says. “It’s like a home away from home. But I’m looking for a new club. I’ve been to practically all the clubs, and I can tell you none of them are like one. How would I describe this place? Weird. I think a lot of insecure people come here. I don’t know why they dance in front of mirrors. I guess they get off on seeing themselves dance. Believe me, there’s a lot of tense people at the FunHouse.”
Tony decides to check out the competition in the rest of the club and wanders off to the main floor. “Hip Hop, Be Bop” by Man Parrish is playing and the song provokes a guttural doglike barking from all corners of the room. “Wooff! Wooff! Wooff!” Two glassy-eyed friends meet on the floor. The music is too loud to talk over, but the intensity and duration of their barking signals they are having a good time. Tony moves to the center of the floor and executes a few spins. He is suddenly aware of two Spanish kids staring at him. They are wearing Lees, Garrison belts, and chains galore. The tall one wears a Civil War cap with crossed rifles on the front.
“Check this white boy out,” says the one with the cap. Tony has a very distinctive style that incorporates elements of modern jazz and classical ballet. He has gotten into many fights after hearing the word “fag” whispered in his direction.
“You want to check this white boy out?” he says. “You do your thing and I’ll do mine.” A circle forms around them. The one with the hat looks at the crowd, smirks, and crosses his arms on his chest. He waves a hand in Tony’s face indicating “No thanks!”
“Listen,” says Tony, his voice tense. “Either we throw down dancing or we throw down fighting.”
“Ooh,” says the short one. “That’s a call.”
“Yeah, I’m calling” says Tony.
“You think you’re bad, don’t you?” he says cooly.
“I know I’m bad” answers Tony.
The one with the cap moves to the center of the circle and starts to dance. His style is a mixture of freestyle and B-boy. He executes a rapid succession of choreographed steps, spins, and backbends. “He’s good,” Tony says later, “But not good enough.” Just as the Spanish kid is losing energy, “Time Warp” by Eddy Grant comes on. It just happens to be Tony’s favorite song. Tony spins to the center of the circle, dips his hands down and throws an imaginary substance in his opponent’s face. The crowd applauds. “Go Tony, go” shouts a friend. Tony glides effortlessly across the floor. He kicks out, back bends, and throws his torso in the direction of the Spanish kids, who are already looking humiliated. Tony has burned the guy.
When Tony finally stops there is a line of sweat running down his forehead. “Before you can shoot someone down,” he says, “you got to know what you can do.”
Sunday 6:05 a.m.
Three-quarters of the dancers have left. Others are slumped on the floor, lying on couches, or sitting with their backs against the wall. Only the hardcore dancers are left. The Juice Crew has scattered to all corners of the floor. Jellybean mixes into a live version of “Sex Machine” by James Brown.
Sunday 8:30 a.m.
The music stops. The crowd boos. “Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it” screams one dancer. Six scavengers are crawling across the floor of the balcony, picking up foil wrappers, and checking them for drugs. The wrappers are the trash left by users of cocaine, angel dust, speed, or mescaline. A dozen bouncers form a chain and gently prod the dancers out the door, like cowhands driving a herd of weary cattle. The dancers collect on the front steps. They look sleepy but are reluctant to leave…
Some FunHouse classics…
Bounce, rock, skate, roll
Vaughan Mason & Crew
Jimmy “Bo” Horne
Work that body
There are many people who loved and still love this legendary club… With it’s famous happy clown logo. Numerous of people have it as a precious part of their life and many have great stories to tell about the club and the people fequenting it.