Carl Faulkenberry thinks about words, maybe even more than he realizes.
"I was a sensitive kid. I never played "Step on a crack, break your mother's back.' I played "Step on a crack, give your mother a bloated feeling.' "
"You see, that works because nobody ever says the word "bloated.' It's a surprise to hear it," he says.
The stand-up comedian is performing through Sunday at St. Pete Beach's Coconuts Comedy Club. His sophisticated comic air _ he knows stuff; you should know it, too _ sets him apart from most comedy club veterans. He's not wiser than you, he just has a way of seeing the world and its insanities, and it's a way you should be aware of.
Beginning his career in the early '80s at Houston's Comedy Workshop, a club known for incubating major talent, Faulkenberry moved on to Los Angeles and New York, and Treasure Island.
"Even as we speak, I am in the Grand Caymans," he says by phone, "working a Carnival cruise ship. It's almost like having a real job. I go out Monday, come home Friday, get that paycheck every two weeks. It's terrific."
When he worked in Houston, "I got there in '81 just after Sam Kinison went to L.A. Brett Butler was there, Bill Hicks, Janeane Garofalo . . . all good people to learn from, especially (the late) Hicks, probably the best stand-up I ever saw. I am so proud that we were friends."
Faulkenberry is clearly mulling over Hicks. "There are a lot of British kids working on the cruise ship, and when they hear I'm from Texas, they ask if I knew Bill. They think of him like a rock star; they remember what they wore when they went to see him, whether they smoked a joint, what Bill was wearing. It's really amazing."
After working with a partner _ "His opening joke was, "I'm Jim Patterson, and I'm a perfectionist. Wait, I'll try that again . . .' By the time he repeats it a third time, the audience is staring at him, and I'm cracking up" _ in stand-up and radio in Chicago and Nashville, he moved to Florida ("Too cold up there") and got into cruise ship entertainment and appearing at Coconuts.