Summer Smiles Big Names in Comedy Bring the Funny to the First Coast

by Katie Gile
“Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you.” A lot has been said about the therapy of laughter and sharing that makes the entire experience contagiously healthy. Jacksonville will certainly be smiling this June; quite a variety of comedy is coming to town.
Comedy Zone
With decades of history to its name, the Comedy Zone (located inside the Mandarin Ramada) just feels like “funny.” From the moment a crowd fills the club, high-energy music and announcements of incipient acts permeate the dull roar. Like the best comedians, the venue doesn’t try too hard to please, yet effortlessly puts its audience at ease. Its intimate yet practical seating, stylishly designed stage, well-stocked bar and helpful, efficient staff supply the audience with everything they need for a good time. Coming this month, the Comedy Zone will host a number of famous faces and new names alike.
Starting the month and closing his tour with two shows on June 1 is Jeff Dye. Dye made a splash as a finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and has also hosted two MTV shows. June 5-8, Mike Lawrence will take the Comedy Zone stage. A South Florida native, Lawrence now lives in New York City, where he spends his time writing about his Florida experiences. June 13-15, Lavell Crawford will bring the funny. Crawford is well known from his appearances on Motown Live, Showtime at the Apollo, BET’s ComicView, Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam, as well as on The Jamie Foxx Show. Taking the stage June 20-22, is Jen Kober. In addition to her stand-up work, Kober is known for appearances on FOX’s The Mindy Project and as a guest star on Anger Management with Charlie Sheen. And ending the month on a strong note is Keenan Ivory Wayans with shows June 27-29. Wayans is known for decades of entertainment, with his hands and name on everything from In Living Color to the Scary Movie franchise. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit comedyzone.com.

Florida Theatre
Since its original opening in 1927, the Florida Theatre has seen decades of talent in all its forms. This month, the historic downtown theater welcomes comedic bigwigs Kevin James, Bill Engvall and Margaret Cho. James, who performs on June 9, is known for his starring roles in CBS’s King of Queens as well as for numerous film credits including Hitch, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Here Comes the Boom, and more. Bill Engvall, who performs on June 22, is famous for his appearance on The Blue Collar Comedy Tour, TBS’s Bill Engvall Show, and currently hosts Country Fried Home Videos on CMT. Margaret Cho, who performs on June 29, is known for her many stand-up performances, some of which have been featured on Comedy Central, and an acclaimed U.S.A./UK tour in late 2012. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit floridatheatre.com.

Comedy Club of Jacksonville
The Comedy Club of Jacksonville is the newest official member of the elite comedic venues. Founded earlier this year and located off Beach Blvd., the club is making a name for itself with expansive seating, a full bar and kitchen, a high-tech server system and an excellent array of comedic offerings.
This month, the Comedy Club of Jacksonville welcomes a full calendar of comedians onto its stage. Josh Sneed kicks off the month with shows on May 31 and June 1, for the club’s “Fun in a Bun” special, which occurs for each Thursday show and includes food in the ticket price. June 6-8 Isaac Witty takes the stage, followed by Kermit Apio with a number of shows from June 13-15. On June 21 and 22, Tom Clark will perform his signature frenetic, off-kilter brand of comedy. June 28-29, J.R. Brow will cap the month as he performs his stand-up routine, which includes characters, impressions and music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.jacksonvillecomedy.com.
MARGARET CHO
June 29th at the Florida Theatre BY LIZA MITCHELL

No topic is ever considered off-limits to Margaret Cho, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is sacred. The comedienne has made a name for herself by pushing buttons and pushing boundaries. Sexuality, religion and politics figure prominently in her stand-up, drawing criticism from those opposed to marriage equality (which she vigorously supports) and fans of George W. Bush (whom she openly despises).
But Cho isn’t starting fires just to inflict a burn. She fans the flames to bring attention to the causes that are personal touchstones. They remind her of her journey growing up as a bullied, Asian teen to an empowered, gay woman in the male-dominated world of comedy.
“These are issues that define me,” she says. “These subjects are always interesting to me. I have always been political, but it’s also fun.” Cho brings her latest show, “Mother,” to the Florida Theatre at 8 pm on June 29. Tickets are $35 and $45 and a portion of the proceeds will benefit JASMYN, Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network, and the Oasis House for the LGBT community.
The Oasis House is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 2009 to provide educational and enrichment services to the city’s gay community. Cho said she didn’t have that special home away from home growing up and having such a support network would have drastically altered her experience. “There would [have been] a place to go. The loneliness is the hardest. But there are many more resources now than there were when I was growing up, and that is wonderful,” she says. “Let’s survive. Let’s live. Let’s rise above.”
In her show “Mother,” Cho explores the roles of nontraditional maternal figures and the perception of strong women in gay culture. Cho often refers to her own mother in her material which this show proves without exception. “It’s great because I can put a lot of emphasis on my own mother,” she says. “My mother did not prepare me for the world. First – I was named the poetic Korean name Moran which was perfect for the kids at school to call me “moron” and set me up for a good quarter of century of therapy. However, I can clean a fish with my bare hands. So there are pros and cons of being from an Asian immigrant family.”
Cho has also discovered the benefits of using her voice to advocate for important social issues. While touring, she selects organizations in each city that champion causes that are sacred to her. She graciously donates a portion of all concert sales to these groups as a way to give back.
“Every city is different. Sometimes it’s LGBT youth organizations or political groups that support marriage equality,” she says. “It’s always something important to me. I love to support my community, and working with local organizations is the best way to help. I’m thrilled that we get to do this together.”
Cho still bears the scars of her childhood and often takes to Twitter to denounce the bullies and the mean girls who made her life hell and now pay to come see her perform; i.e. “Haters gonna hate, but they are also going to pay.” Her posts are full of the piss and vinegar one would expect from Cho, but her residual pain is still palpable. The hateful remarks of those subscribing to the homophobic agenda still sting, and Cho is defending it for everyone. “I help gay kids survive. I try to make people laugh to make their lives better. I work every day to make this world happy,” she tweeted on May 14. “People hate that.”
Visit www.margaretcho.com/tour/ and www.floridatheatre.com for more details.
Bill Engvall
June 22nd at the Florida Theatre By Katie Gile

On Saturday, June 22 at 7 pm, Bill Engvall will fill the historic Florida Theatre with raucous laughter as he entertains with his view on life “through the eyes of bifocals.”
Engvall is well known for his many years of stand-up comedy and work in films such as The Blue Collar Comedy Tour, Delta Farce, his TBS show, The Bill Engvall Show, as well as hosting two shows on CMT. His “Here’s Your Sign” catchphrase and prodigious ability to take his audience on a relatable, hilarious journey have made Engvall a star. But his path to comedic distinction was not as direct as some of his fellow comedians.
Working as a DJ in a nightclub, Engvall and a friend went to watch the amateur night at the newly opened comedy club there. After a few rounds of “liquid encouragement,” Engvall found himself onstage. Now a long-time addict to the rush of stand-up, he says he’s never looked back. “There’s something intrinsically healthy about making people laugh,” Engvall says.
But being the funny kid was something that came naturally to Engvall, who moved around a great deal with his family. Never much of a jock growing up, he made friends by making people laugh. “I didn’t know you could make a living at it,” Engvall laughs. “It was the furthest thing from my mind, but thank God it worked out.”
Since he started touring in 1983, life in the comedy business has changed. “It goes through its peaks and valleys,” Engvall says. “Back when I started, [stand-up] was the hottest thing around. But comedians change, and styles change.”
Some of the changes have made a tough environment for new comics. “It’s hard to sell tickets. People don’t go out to the clubs as much,” says Engvall “Honestly, if I had to start over today, I don’t know if I’d make it.” But Engvall doesn’t sweat it much, enjoying the calm that he says has come with age.
“The other day, I opened for Train. And I remember back in the clubs, when we were happy to be the middle act. And here I am on the co-bill with Train, and people knew who I was. When you’re younger, you tend to plow through that stuff. But now I really appreciate it and take the time to savor things as they happen.”
One of Engvall’s proudest and most savor-worthy career moments came when he performed at the Grand Ole Opry. Says Engvall: “My grandmother used to stand around ironing and folding clothes, with the Grand Ole Opry playing on the radio. So when I got the opportunity to perform there, I had to take a really good look around. It was a real moment for me.”
His favorite venues are older theaters humming with history and dripping with the ornate decoration of decades past. “They really don’t build them like that anymore. These days, they slap four walls up, add some acoustic tiles and call it a day. It’s not like they take the trouble to create these beautiful facades and the big stage. Those are the ones that are really fun to work.”
But no matter if he’s performing in a glorified tent or the storied stage of the Grand Ole Opry itself, Engvall finds the joy of meeting people and making them laugh is what’s kept him at it for over 30 years now. “My wife said the other day that I have friends all over the country. And she’s right. One of the things wrong with comedy today is that comedians don’t realize that you do affect people. You do reach people. It’s not just a job; you really do affect people’s lives.”

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