Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

A funny little secret

By day, James Vernon tinkers as a boat technician, not a mechanic, he said. He is captain of his own mobile marine repair company.

But by night, he has been seen keeping his act afloat on stage at Coconuts Comedy Club on St. Pete Beach, making the tourists and some locals laugh and blush at his sometimes kinky, sometimes gross bedroom humor.

"Everybody that's funny doesn't become famous," said Vernon. He said he was on the road for 12 years and performed on HBO, BET and Showtime comedy shows and at improv clubs around the country before embarking on a boat-mending career. "You need a Plan B."

Clearly, he has found a way to have the best of both worlds.

He steps up on stage at Coconuts.

"Welcome to the dark side," he said. "Welcome to my show."

Vernon was performing recently at the club, a dim, intimate place that seats 150 people. It seems cozy. There is a basket of popcorn on every table.

Trint Cole was the host. He informed the audience that he recently quit smoking marijuana.

"Pot's great for writing jokes," he said. "But terrible for remembering them."

On a recent Saturday night, most of the tables and two bar stools were filled, even though club owner Tom Gribbin insisted this was the slow period.

Patrons come to see touring comics, some of whom appear on shows on channels such as Comedy Central.

Gribbin boasted that his 15-year-old comedy club, part of a chain that stretches to the Cayman Islands, is the "oldest continual in Florida. It's a real classic comedy club. We have no pool tables in the back, no TV's."

"We know what people want," said Gribbin, who owns the chain with Bob Shoemaker. "What they want is to come in here and laugh. Some people like it clean. Some people like it dirty."

Chris and Heidi Pelfrey like comedy any way they can get it. They live less than a mile from Coconuts and come an average of six times per month.

"There's nothing better than laughing to turn a bad day around," Chris Pelfrey said.

Heidi Pelfrey said that they come to the club almost every Friday night.

"Not enough locals know about it," she said. "This is the best-kept secret on the beach."