mural outside Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota
Florida Studio Theatre

Where to Have a Laugh in Sarasota

A good laugh in Sarasota isn't hard to find at some of the area's established institutes for comedy acts (and art).

November 20, 2020

Mark Twain once said, “Telling the truth is the funniest joke of them all.”

And if truth be told, a good laugh in Sarasota isn’t hard to find. The city has numerous venues that offer open-mic nights where local comedians are sure to tickle your funny bone with some great material.

But if you prefer your comedy on the professional level, Sarasota’s two mainstays, McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre and the Florida Studio Theatre, offer laughs from world-renowned talent that is only seen elsewhere in major cities. In fact, throughout the past 30 years, both venues have made Sarasota a major player in American comedy.

“When it comes to legit, nationally-touring, stand-up comedians, we’re it,” said Les McCurdy, co-founder of McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre. “You’ll see the same quality of acts in big cities as you see here.”

McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre

Established in 1988, McCurdy’s seats about 250 guests in its 4,200 square-foot showroom. Aside from being one of the most successful comedy theaters in the country, McCurdy’s is also known for launching the career of many comedians, including Daniel Whitney, who would later be known as Larry the Cable Guy.

Guests must be at least 18 years old to enter McCurdy’s shows, the content of which runs the gamut from family-friendly to downright raunchy. Concerned? Don’t be. McCurdy rates its shows ahead of time so guests know what they’re in for when they go to the box office: AC – Adult Clean, no profanity; AL – Adult Light, some profanity; AS – Adult Standard, profanity, sex, but no “dark comedy”; AB – Adult Bawdy, described as “If you’re easily offended, you probably will be.”

“Guests can expect everything,” McCurdy said. “Sarasota has an eclectic enough population that I can bring in all kinds of comedians and there’s audiences for them. In some cities it’s not that way. In some cities it’s homogenous.”

Florida Studio Theatre

If improvisational comedy is more your speed, then the Florida Studio Theatre (FST) is for you. Producer of the annual Sarasota Improv Festival, FST offers the best in sketch comedy, comedic storytelling, short-form improv, and even musical improv from Sarasota’s top performers.

“Our musicians create music on the spot; and our actors create lyrics on the spot,” said Will Luera, director of improvisation at Florida Studio Theatre. “As we say before each show, this is the opening and closing night of this musical. It will never be done again.”

For nearly 20 years, FST has offered patrons a high-quality mix of comedy and theater with each performance. Sometimes the act will involve true comedic stories told by one of FST’s performers; other times guests will be treated to sketch comedy in the tradition of Saturday Night Live. All of the comedy performed at FST is rooted in the organization’s classes for up-and-coming performers in the Sarasota area.

One graduate, however, was as far from amateur as one could get. Sarasota resident Dick Smothers, of the legendary comedy duo The Smothers Brothers, is a graduate FST’s improv program.

“He and his brother had a certain dynamic,” Luera said. “Dickie was the straight man and his brother, Tommy, was the jokester. But he wanted to break out of that dynamic and play off of other people so he could be the comic relief for a scene.”

Both McCurdy’s and FST boast a diverse audience. Both establishments offer “something for everybody.” At FST, however, shows that play in the winter months are geared more towards the tastes of the region’s snowbirds. At that time, comedy at FST is delivered, as Luera puts it, in a “kind and gentle way,” shedding light on the quirky things everyone loves about Sarasota.

But with multi-generational audiences, content is always a concern. FST players, however, are trained to adapt – improv style.

“Our cast is very good at adjusting,” Luera said. “If we see a 12-year-old out there, we’ll adjust the content on the spot. We may go more into inuendo as opposed to direct, explicit content. You want to make sure everyone is engaged and feels honored.”

So whether your funny bone craves high or low comedy, improv or stand-up, storytelling or sketch, Sarasota’s comedic scene is sure bring a smile to your face. Truth is, it’s top-notch stuff.

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