Yes, we have another Ping Pong venue in the city of Chicago. I wouldn’t say “move over SPIN,” because AceBounce is quite a different experience. For starters, it originates from London and it’s feel is something out of a dark warehouse rave, only with ping pong tables and a delicious menu. It illuminates at night, with blacklight paint from floor to ceiling. The atmosphere screams of a good time.

So how does a London based concept based off of ping pong make a splash in the Chicago market? It’s hard enough for Chicago natives to nail it. And AceBounce is no small venue so you know there’s a large group of investors losing sleep at night. As usual, I made friends with someone on a boat that had all the answers I needed, Ollie Raison.

Ollie was born in Woolwich, London, so his vocabulary might be a bit different than yours. Here’s a KEY to help you understand what this bloke is saying:
Bloke – dude
Nan – grandma
Housemate – roommate

“I was a comedian when you were just a twinkle in the milk man’s eye. I started in 2004 and I was hanging out with a bunch of comedians because it came natural. I started doing comedy myself. I ended up opening West Australia’s first ‘comedy only’ venue. Then I got booked with 92.9 radio station (it’s on the biggest network in Australia), to join their breakfast radio team. I wasn’t the nicest guy on there but I was never nasty, only opinionated. My job, along with being funny, was to be pressure release valve. I never masked anything with bullshit. I interviewed big stars and I let people know I wasn’t a fan (or didn’t hide the fact that I didn’t adore their music/tv shows. In that job, you either have to be loved or hated. I wanted to be loved for challenging what was expected of me. But towards the end, I just wasn’t interested in that career path anymore and I got depressed. I decided to come back to the UK in 2007, left my house with furniture in it, and started over.

…. Three years past of doing almost nothing. As I said, I was depressed.” admits Ollie.

“In 2010 I became an owner of Wiff Waff Brothers, a Ping Pong night, in Dalston, London. We set up shop in a warehouse of all places but it had an edgy vibe unlike no other. That’s when the AceBounce guys (Adam and Dov) came along – I reached out to them after closing the warehouse and explained that everyone would be putting ping pong tables in bars, but not everyone knew you could turn a night out into an entertainment experience based around ping pong. I wanted to bring my interactive concept of ping pong to the general game so the three of us met in Notting Hill (a fancy area in West London) to discuss business.”

‘Interactive concept’ meaning what?

“My main role was to control the atmosphere, even the music. Making sure we are attracting a varied crowd is very important. We didn’t want our venue being just for groups of competitive guys (we needed a mixture of guys and girls). We wanted to bring over an East London feel all while injecting enough humor so that the nature of the place is for everyone.”

Wait, humor?.… what do you mean?

“It’s a huge part of the hosted events that we do. We wanted to get the energy and atmosphere from Wiff Waff Brothers and bring it to this corporate space. I don’t like hierarchy in a social environment and humor eliminates that. I initially wanted actors but they weren’t funny and they couldn’t go “off” script. I knew a comedian friend, Barnaby, who was housemates with this guy Ed. That’s how I came to know Ed. (You all don’t know Ed yet, but Ed is a Games Guru for the London AceBounce location)

When I came to Chicago, I downloaded 80-90 hours of comedies and I was honestly disappointed and concerned. I didn’t know how I was going to find the right staff. Everyone, although very funny, seemed so angry and always complaining. Then it clicked…. IMPROV! That’s how I came across Second City.”

“I held a party with a bunch of comedians and put them on the spot. I got drunk off some KettleOne vodka and let myself go! If I was a dick to them, I wanted them to be a dick back. I needed realism and I got it. That’s how we hired our staff.” says Ollie.

Getting Personal

If there’s something I’ve noticed about most of my industry’s professionals, it’s that when we’re one on one, we don’t do much talking. These interviews are at some points very difficult, because in that moment we don’t feel the need to be “on.” And I hear it all the time, ‘I like my alone time.’ Although this is definitely a character trait that develops with age and maturity, it happens much faster to those in the hospitality industry because we have a lack of it. You always want what you don’t have I suppose.

“With coming of age, I’ve developed a love of being by myself. All of my past jobs, I’ve had to be “on” even though I would never fake an emotion. I wear my emotions on my face…literally. And I’m very weary when I meet people. I like to watch people first to see where I can start. Even with people I work with. I like to asses the situation first, and that’s that. Then there’s no wasting time.” admits Ollie.

And that brings me to another observation – being cautious with the relationships you encounter (particularly yourself if I might add). I’m constantly in a judgmental state because I’ve been dicked over so many times by people that I thought were my friends. If I were to simply assess them for a longer period of time, I wouldn’t have wasted my time on them in the first place. I’m so much more reserved and not as trusting as I was ten years ago. Not everyone gets my time of day and not everyone gets the benefit of the doubt anymore. You can call me jaded, I accept it.

How do you choose your employees?

“I’ve never had an official job interview so I don’t have that structure. I’ve always had to just learn the ropes, and now, that transpires into who I hire by being a judge of character.” says Ollie.

The TV was on in the background and a pop tart commercial came on…
“Are pop tarts still a thing? Oh wow.” Ollie commentates.

Are you in a relationship?

“I really do enjoy my own company. I like getting home and there is no sound of anyone else. I struggle in relationships because I lose interest very quickly. Once things become structured and once I’m not doing anything for the first time anymore, I get antsy.” says Ollie.

Well welcome to the club Ollie – and not the Ping Pong Club. It’s hard to go from one life to another, which is essentially what we do every day we work and then come home to a completely different lifestyle. I’ve always struggled with this, and until you find a balanced personality that you can carry back and forth with you from work to home, it’s complicated to say the least.

“My granddad just had a stroke but he had my nan and family there. Do I want that? Yes. I just don’t know how to get it. I think I would need to meet someone I was completely enamored with, that I could worship, in order to snap out of this. Like I said, I’ve never had structure so I don’t want it now and I’m most certainly not willing to change.” says Ollie.

It’s kind of funny how one can be so comical, extroverted, and witty, yet feel so unexpressive. I believe we’ve all experienced this from time to time, but it’s how we release ourselves from it is what’s important. I do believe that feeling lonely isn’t always a bad thing, as feeling sad isn’t either. You can’t experience true bliss if you haven’t experienced the complete opposite; how would you know the difference? Like I said, it’s about finding that personality within yourself that can carry from work to home. You should be wary of meeting yourself, watch yourself, and see where to start. Only then can you properly assess yourself and learn how to release the real you.

I’m curious to see the development of not only the brand here in Chicago, but the people behind it. It seems as though brands that adapt due to popular demand don’t always do so well past people getting what they wanted, so perhaps us as people shouldn’t either. So raise a toast to this delicious Ollie Palmer, because it in itself is an experience.