In a deep, gravelly voice, comedian Al Aprill will tell you stories of how he knew Tim Allen "before he sold his soul to ABC and Disney" and Jim Carrey "when he was living in his car in Ontario, Canada."
"The difference," the 57-year-old stand-up comedian said, "is that they made it big and I'm still working gigs in little towns that don't show up on a state map. Spring Hill, Fla. _ yeah, my career is really skyrocketing."
Aprill, the headliner at a comedy dinner at the Hard Rack Cafe in Spring Hill this weekend, said he regards every audience as a comedy challenge.
"There's always those people who walk into my show with their arms crossed over their chests and a sour look on their face," he said. "They give me a look that says, "Okay, funny guy, try and make me laugh.'
Since 1980, Aprill has gotten the laughs. He has won national laugh-offs, been featured several times on the Comedy Channel and was on 48 Hours with Dan Rather.
He gained national attention when he became the first airborne stand-up comedian. Putting professional comedians on flights between Detroit and Cleveland was the ultimate publicity stunt by Continental Express _ and it worked like a charm.
Ironically, Aprill's career in the comedy business began as a joke. Some of his friends dared him to take the open mike at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Miracle of all miracles, he said, people laughed at his impromptu routine, and a career was born.
Getting paid to tell jokes was more fun than selling refrigerator valves, so Aprill became a full-time stand-up comedian. He started working five nights a week in Detroit.
"I worked anywhere," he said. "From the American Legion to the lowliest of bars. I spent a lot of time at the Comedy Castle in Detroit. It was me and this funny young kid named Tim Allen."
America fell in love with Allen's testosterone-gone-mad humor on ABC's hit series Home Improvement, and Allen's stand-up days in seedy bars are long gone. However, the two comedians stayed friends, and Aprill has appeared on Allen's popular sitcom three times.
Aprill has toured the United States with his act, which he said doesn't revolve around one "Jeff Foxworthy-like" topic. He likes to mix it up and has taken his tour to Cancun and Canada.
"I guess you could say I'm internationally unknown," he said.
It's tough for a guy in his 50s to make it, Aprill said. After all, Hollywood loves young, good lookers like Carrey.
"Carrey's good, though. Real funny," Aprill said. "I first met him when he was living in his car in Ontario, Canada. On stage during his act, his pants split right up the center. He just grabbed a napkin from someone in the audience and used it like a loin cloth. He's great."
Aprill has seen many of his fellow stand-up comics reach stardom, and he thinks his day is coming.
"Am I going to make it big?" he said. "There's no doubt about it. I think Hollywood is just waiting until I get a little older."
At a glance
WHAT: A comedy dinner show featuring comedian Al Aprill and opening act Michael Lawrence
WHEN: Friday and Saturday. Dinner is at 7 p.m.; the show begins about 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Hard Rack Cafe, 10463 County Line Road, Spring Hill
COST: Tickets are $20 per person and include the two comedy acts and a dinner of soup, salad, dessert and a choice of four entrees: prime rib, stuffed grouper, chicken cordon bleu and grilled shrimp