By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
A funny thing happened to Bob Shoemaker on his way to becoming a music impresario.
Back in 1986, Shoemaker and partner Tom Gribbin booked concerts for such acts as the Righteous Brothers and Robert Cray at a now-defunct Mexican restaurant near the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport. Shoemaker also managed a band recording and touring in Europe — and one standup comedian hosting shows at a local club.
Shoemaker knew the music business but next to nothing about standup comedy. Never visited a comedy club before, even to watch his client perform.
That's the setup; now here's the punch line:
These days, Shoemaker is the dean of Florida's joker circuit, with his flagship Coconuts Comedy Club in St. Pete Beach and many others through the years. More than 1,150 comedians have performed in his St. Pete Beach venue alone, including future TV stars Jon Stewart (The Daily Show), Billy Gardell (Mike & Molly), Kevin James (The King of Queens) and Saturday Night Live stars Jim Breuer and Darrell Hammond.
"Twenty-five years later, it has been quite a ride," Shoemaker said by phone. "So we figured it's time to celebrate being the longest-running comedy club in Florida."
To that end, Shoemaker created the Tampa Bay Comedy Fest, a six-day event bringing back 35 comedians who cut their teeth on Coconuts. Don't expect stars like Stewart or James — Shoemaker admits they're too big for his joint now — but venerable performers such as G. David Howard, Lou Angelwolf and Eddie Brill who have tickled local audiences for years will be there.
"We have one of the largest community of comedians in the country, living right here in Tampa Bay," Shoemaker said. "It isn't hard to get a solid lineup together."
Tickets are $25 and $35, with group discounts available, or inquire at the TradeWinds Sandpiper front desk about a money-saving coupon.
There will be a new roster of comedians each night. Here are some, and the themes connecting them:
8 p.m. — All women's show starring Rene Bray, Trish Keating, Karen Fitzgerald, Valarie Storm, Juanita Lolita, Mariannette Torres, Robin Savage and Long Island Mary.
8 p.m. — The fun moves to Beach Theatre for one night, with the 8 p.m. Florida premiere of Uncle Melvin's Apartment, starring Coconuts alumni Mitchell Walters and Jimmy Shubert. Admission is free. After the movie, join Walters and Shubert for free food and live music at Swigwam Beach Bar just down the street.
7 p.m. — "Best of the Bay, Part 1" hosted by G. David Howard. Acts include Steve Netta, Carmen Ciricillo, Lou Angelwolf, Ward Smith, Michael Dean Ester, Alan Prophet, Chad Hufford, Jimmy V and Rick Stepinsky.
10 p.m. — "Rainbow Show" featuring gay comedians Christine O'Leary and Kim Richie.
7 p.m. — "Best of the Bay, Part 2" hosted by Howard, featuring Bull, Karen Fitzgerald, Tim Pulnik, Mike Rivera, Pete Dearaujo, Chris Gorges, Shawn Purvis, Pat Duax, Kevin D.D. and Kevin Knows.
10 p.m. — "The Urban Show" starring Special K.
Feb. 25 and 26
7 and 10 p.m. — "Comedy Show of the Year" starring Eddie Brill, Dale Jones, Chris Barnes, Jennifer Grant and Uncle Dow Thomas.