The Night I Killed Sarasota

An amateur takes to the open-mic at McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre.


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By Jim Brosseau

The language of live entertainment can be incongruously dark. Well-wishers chirp, “Break a leg.” Performers aspire to “nail it.” And those who do are said to “kill.” I like to think I broke, nailed and killed the night I took to the McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre stage.

There was little reason to expect such a feat, since I hadn’t done an open-mic stand-up routine in years. My dabbling in midlife masochism began when, on a dare, I stood before a club full of New York skeptics and actually got laughs during a five-minute routine. I experienced the high you hear about from seasoned comedians, including club owner Les McCurdy.

It was, in fact, listening to McCurdy speak of that thrill while hosting a show earlier this year that made me long for another shot at the microphone. When his club booked me for one of its coveted open-mic slots, the siren song of audience laughter filled my head, but it didn’t drown out the pounding of my heart: Why hadn’t my loved ones saved me from myself?

There’s something about Sarasota’s generous winter sun and Gulf breezes—of particular appeal to a Northern snowbird—that can lead you to let down your guard. I had done just that, big time. (It’s no accident one of my jokes involves the fictional college fraternity “Phi Beta Blocker.”)

Determined to open my set with something that resonated with locals and fellow snowbirds, I ventured into cosmetic surgery with a Longboat Key hook. Thankfully, the jab was taken in its intended spirit. I was off and running. So seduced by the laughs was I that I lost track of time. Vanity had kept me from wearing my glasses, and I never saw the green light that serves as a one-minute warning.

Even though I got the bum’s rush when music was played, I exited the stage in comedy heaven. I’d remembered all my punch lines, and each had yielded the desired response.

Moments later, while watching another earnest amateur, McCurdy swung by my table. I apologized for exceeding my allotted three minutes, but there was no rebuff. Instead, the affable showman whispered, “Next time, you get five minutes!”

Now, what were some of those lines I didn’t have time to use? Let me see…there’s that one about early-bird specials….

Jim Brosseau, who divides his time between Sarasota and Provincetown, Mass., is a veteran editor at such magazines as Town & Country and ForbesLife. A pianist and composer, Brosseau wrote the musical Delicate Lessons, which debuted last year on Cape Cod.