The next time you’re looking for an alternative nightlife idea, think comedy. Florida has some of the best comedy clubs in the nation, many of which attract national acts. Whether you want to experience stand-up in cozy venues, outrageous improv or want to develop your own side-splitting act, Florida’s comedy venues can answer your needs.
Bonkerz, Daytona Beach
To see traditional stand up, take in a show at Bonkerz Comedy Club (www.bonkerzcomedy.com). This Orlando-based outfit has two dozen locations nationwide, including several locations throughout Florida and has been welcoming the likes of Rita Rudner, Jerry Seinfeld and Paula Poundstone to their stage for three decades. They are one of America’s longest-running comedy clubs and were voted "Best Comedy Club" in various cities, including Orlando and Las Vegas.
I went to the Daytona Beach location at the Penthouse Lounge at the LaPlaya Resort. Offering panoramic views of the beach and strip, the room is well set up with both table and bar seating. Small enough to be intimate. Whenever you go, you’ll get a great show -- all of the headliners are comedians who have appeared on your favorite shows, such as Leno, Letterman, Showtime and Comedy Central.
Off the Hook Comedy Club, Marco Island
Another great traditional stand-up venue is the Off The Hook Comedy Club at Capt. Brien’s Seafood and Raw Bar in Marco Island (offthehookcomedy.com). The club is on the Improv's comedy circuit, meaning that top headliners making the rounds in major cities like Atlanta, Tampa and Orlando make a pit stop here on Marco Island for a weekend as part of their tour. Past performers have included Pauly Shore, Andrew Dice Clay, Gallagher, Jackie Mason and Jimmie J.J. Walker. Arrive before the show starts to eat at the restaurant, then yuk it up with a handful of your new best friends.
Coconuts, St. Pete Beach
When in St. Pete Beach, take some time out from the beach to catch a show at Coconuts Comedy Club (www.coconutscomedyclubs.com), located in the Tradewinds Sandpiper Resort. This is an intimate (read, small) space, but it attracts high-end acts. I saw Nick Gaza, from Chicago, when I was there, dubbed “laziest comic in America.” His act is a mixture of hysterical true stories and audience participation (read, poking fun at the audience and himself). Nick has been on “The Drew Carey Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Becker”. The club will celebrate its 26th anniversary as the oldest comedy club in Florida.
McCurdy's Comedy Theater and Humor Institute (www.mccurdyscomedy.com) in Sarasota was established more than 22 years ago and welcomes stand-up and improvisational performances. This is a specially designed, 4,000-square-foot room where, even at the very back of the room, seats are no more than 40 feet away from the stage. Past performers have included Jeff Foxworthy, Chris Rock, Elayne Boosler, Soupy Sales, Judy Tenuta, Pat Paulsen, Larry "The Cable Guy", Kevin Pollack, Ron White, David Brenner, Bobcat Goldthwait . . . you get the idea. This unsuspecting spot draws in big-name acts.
In addition to hosting live comedy performances, they also present McCurdy’s Humor Institute. This program is dedicated to showing corporations how to use humor to present new information to their employees – statistics show that humor is the best way for employees to retain new information. The comedy team known as The Bermuda Mavericks uses both improvisation and sketch comedy to help businesses develop more productive, less stressful workplaces. What a concept.
SAK Comedy Lab, Orlando
Check out the SAK Comedy Lab (www.sak.com), a 200-seat improv comedy theater in downtown Orlando. Not a stand-up comedy club, this friendly comedy theater (bad language earns a humorous penalty) is suitable for everyone and features improv comedy similar to the style of "Whose Line is it Anyway?".
SAK also runs an extensive improv training program. SAK has been teaching improv for over 30 years and their alumni are a testament to their success – most notably Wayne Brady ("Let’s Make a Deal," "Wayne Brady Show," "Whose Line"), and including Jonathan Mangum ("Improvaganza," "Let’s Make a Deal"), Paul Vogt ("Mad TV"), Lauren Pritchard ("Mad TV", "True Blood"), Joel McCrary ("Princess Diaries", "Thor," "American Beauty") and many others.
Comedy Zone, Jacksonville
Further north, the Comedy Zone (www.comedyzone.com) has hosted favorite acts such as Tommy Chong and Ralphie May. Aspiring stand up comedians are urged to drop in to the Jacksonville location to sign up for a Comedy Zone Workshop. If you’re an amateur comedian or just a want to be able to tell a joke without making your friends groan, give this eight-week course a try.
Whether you want to be a comedian, see a comedian or just want to get your boss to lighten up, there’s a Florida comedy club for you. So get out there and make laughter a part of your fun in the sun itinerary.