Hitting a comedy club can be a fun twist on the tired dinner-and-a-movie date night, and an evening of chuckles can be a memorable birthday party or girls night out. • Tampa Bay's rubber-chicken scene ranges from the well-known names of late-night stand-up, to the journeyman comics you might find on a cruise ship, to the up-and-comers just learning their craft. The up side is the ticket prices are way less than the average concert. The down side is unknown comics are like a can of mixed nuts with a 30-inch jumping snake inside: You never know what you are going to get. • Here's a look at what the local comedy scene has to offer. — Sharon Kennedy Wynne firstname.lastname@example.org
Improv Comedy Theater
1600 E Eighth Ave., Tampa. (813) 864-4000; improvtampa.com
The legendary comedy chain has more than two-dozen comedy spots around the country, including this one in Centro Ybor. The acts here tend to be people you've heard of or will hear more about in the coming years.
The scene: Seating is first-come, first-served, so a line starts forming about 30 minutes or more before a show. There's a bar serving drinks while you wait. Once inside, you are seated in a renovated 1930s brick theater with grand balcony seating. There is table service with a full menu of food and drinks. If it's a sold-out show, service slows down a lot, so order everything up front. Price range is about $2 to more than $20.
This weekend: Jeffrey Ross (see above)
Side Splitters Comedy Club
12938 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 960-1197; sidesplitterscomedy.com
This is the place to find low-priced, high-quality comedy since 1992. It's now fully a nonsmoking club, and you can find a range of comedy options from the stand-up circuit to the Chippendales.
The scene: Reserve your seat online, otherwise it's first-come, first-served. Patrons are packed in tight, but there are few bad seats. Look for frequent coupon deals, and they honor other clubs' coupons. Tickets are $15 to $20, with a two-item minimum. Food is casual, from loaded nachos to grilled paninis, ranging from about $5 to $9. Full bar.
This weekend: Tom Simmons, who's appeared on Comedy Central and Showtime and written for other comics. He performs at 8 and 10 p.m. Friday; 6, 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday; and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $6-$16.50.
Coconuts Comedy Clubs
Various locations in Brandon, St. Pete Beach, Clearwater Beach, Safety Harbor and Clearwater. coconutscomedyclubs.com
Saturday Night Live's Jim Breuer cut his teeth working the Coconuts Comedy Clubs up and down the coast. The King of Queens' Kevin James and SNL's Darrell Hammond have also taken the mike in a 100-seat hotel ballroom leased by Coconuts on the weekend. This is the place you find green comics, cruise ship comics and possibly rising stars. Since Bob Shoemaker opened his first club in St. Pete Beach in 1986, he has hired 1,150 comedians by his count.
The scene: The food and drink availability depends on the hotel, but usually there's a bar set up in the back, table service and a ballroom outfitted with tables and chairs to see a comic with at least two opening acts. Tickets range from $5 for open-mike nights to $15 for a comedy show. Reserve a seat at (727) 360-5653; otherwise it's first-come, first-served.
This weekend: Steve Netta (St. Pete Beach), Mike Rivera (Safety Harbor); see website for more.
More comedy options
Comedy in the Bayview Room: The Mahaffey Theater launched an experiment this year opening up its small but scenic Bayview Room as a monthly comedy spot. Veteran comic Lou Angelwolf is using this chance as a promoter to give some of his favorite journeyman comics a boost. Seating is first-come, first-served. Some seats in the back can be obstructed, so get there early. The room has a view of the bay and there is both bar and table service, where they serve classic bar food such as cheese sticks and sandwiches. Drinks are in the $5 to $8 range. The theater has ordered up four more low-priced comedy shows until spring, and the next one is Dec. 11. Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 892-5798; mahaffeytheater.com
Big Bang Show at Nova 535: Every first Thursday of the month, this show combines elements of the Gong Show and Whose Line Is It Anyway. It's at 535 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg. The next show is in November; doors open at 7 p.m., show at 8. $10 advance, $15 at door. (727) 821-6682.
Late Night with Got Jokes? The open-mike showcase on Fridays at Got Jokes? Comedy House also doubles as the official audition for the Big Bang Show. They run it like a late-night comedy show, with a host and a desk, sitting performers down to chat afterward. It starts at 8:30 p.m. Friday next to Peabody's Billiards, 15333 Amberly Drive in Tampa. Admission is $5 at the door; no fee for performers. gotjokesimprov.com.
Improv at American Stage: The "First Sunday Improv" show is part of American Stage's "After Hours" series at 8 p.m. every first Sunday. Starting with the audience suggestions of three character relationships. There's more improv at 8 p.m. Oct. 17. Strangers and Fools Improv is a short-form improv show that's like an absurdist Whose Line Is It Anyway. Both shows are "pay what you can" at the door and $15 in advance at American Stage, 163 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 823-7529.
Largo Cultural Center: This isn't a traditional comedy venue, but there is a big comedy show there this weekend: The Irish Comedy Tour, with Irish and Irish-American comics Keith Aherne, Derek Richards and Mike McCarthy. It's at 8 p.m. Saturday at 105 Central Park Drive Largo. $25 advance; $30 VIP; $30 day of show. (727) 587-6793, largo.com.