Les and Pam McCurdy didn't just want to open a comedy club. They wanted to open a comedy club in paradise. And the them, that's the Bradenton/Sarasota area.
"To me, there's not a more beautiful and more vibrant area in a tropical setting," Les McCurdy said. "You might be able to name some places that are as nice, but not better. Where would you like to retire? If you can go there and make a living, you've won."
McCurdy's Comedy Theatre will celebrate its 25th anniversary in June. It's grown from a weekend-only club in a Holiday Inn banquet room to a nationally known comedy club that attracts the biggest comics in the business. Rob Schneider, of "Saturday Night Live" and "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" fame, will be on hand May 24-25 to help start the celebration.
McCurdy said he's working out the details of an anniversary event in the next few weeks that will feature some of the best comedians who live in this area. About half the audience will be invited, he said, and half will win tickets. The date for that event hasn't been set.
A quarter-century ago, the McCurdys had fallen in love with the Bradenton/Sarasota area. They knew they wanted to live here but had not yet figured out how to make a living here. Les McCurdy was working as a stand-up comic, and Pam was getting her master's degree in fine arts at the Asolo.
The Holiday Inn just on the Manatee side of the county line had a banquet room that was not being used too much. The McCurdy's basically pestered the owners into letting them open a weekend-only comedy club in the room.
"I went and talked them three times," Les McCurdy said. "The first two times they said no. Pam told me I had to go back. I said 'What for? They've already said no.'"But the owners finally said yes, and the first version of McCurdy's Comedy club opened in June 1988.
It was hit right from the start, even with lesser-known comics. Jeff Foxworthy was the first big-name comedian to appear at McCurdy's. He worked for about half his usual price just to help the McCurdys see whether their new club could support A-list talent.
It could, and McCurdy's has been featuring the biggest stars is the comedy business ever since.
The current location in Sarasota opened two weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. The McCurdys had sunk all their money into the new club, and had even borrowed some more."If it failed, we're finished," Les McCurdy said. "We would have been left with nothing. Then 9/11 happened and we we're thinking 'Who's going to want to come to a comedy club?' But we had our grand opening with David Brenner, and he put it through the roof."
There have been to many great names and great moments for McCurdy to pick favorites. But he mentions a little-known comic named Dan Whitney who appeared at McCurdy's. Whitney had a popular character called Larry the Cable Guy on a Tampa radio morning show. Les McCurdy talked Whitney into doing a few minutes of Larry during his early show at McCurdy. Whitney resisted but finally agreed. He did his entire second how that night as Larry the Cable Guy, and he's been Larry ever since.
And, Les McCurdy said, that's the kind of magic that happens at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre.
"When you step through that door," he said, "It's Oz."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow at twitter.com/martinclear.