Walking into McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre is kind of like burrowing under an old dark blanket. The dimly lit North Sarasota comedy club, which is buried in the back of a strip mall, is especially dear to Sarasota comedians.
It’s the chicken soup to their comedic soul. Or, at least it’s this way for Tim Wilkins.
The minute Wilkins walks through the door, it’s as if Norm Peterson just walked into Cheers. And it’s still early by comedy-club standards: one o’clock in the afternoon. A handful of staffers trickle in and out the theater, each one graciously greeting the comedian like a long-lost brother.
“This place is home,” Wilkins says, settling into an empty table. “It’s one of my favorite places to play. It’s like the whole country lives in Sarasota. If you can make people laugh here, you can make ’em laugh anywhere.”
The 41-year-old Los Angeles native moved in 1994 to Sarasota on the recommendation of a fellow comedian who told him the city was a great place to raise a family.
For 15 years he called Sarasota home, through all his radio, television and comedy club appearances. He continued to live here through all his cruise ship and corporate entertainment gigs and during his two-year stint as co-host of the breezy Tampa talk show that introduced him to his wife — “Studio 10” — which he left in 2008, after receiving an offer to do voice work for the Disney Channel.
But the Disney job never panned out. When Wilkins got to California, a writers strike had put the entertainment industry on hold and, to make matters worse, he was in love with his former “Studio 10” co-host, Michelle Phillips.
“I cried my way across the country,” he says. “We just couldn’t be apart. I knew by the time I reached Arizona that I had made a huge mistake.”
Still, Wilkins spent a year on the road, playing familiar comedy clubs around Los Angeles, flying back and forth to Florida to spend time with Phillips, each time purposely returning to L.A. with an empty suitcase.
“By the end of the year I had moved my entire wardrobe back to Florida,” Wilkins says.
Most comedians don’t wax this poetic about their personal lives, but Wilkins owns it as only a smitten man can.
The couple was married in May 2009. Together they have five children, a blended family that Wilkins describes as “one Bobby short of a Brady Bunch.”
After spending a year in Minneapolis, where Phillips worked as a host on the QVC competitor ShopNBC, they moved back to Sarasota in June.
“The road just doesn’t call my name anymore,” Wilkins says. “I enjoy the process, but I don’t want to do it in Greenville, S.C., from Tuesday to Saturday. I love being home with my wife.”
He reaches for his iPhone and pulls up a sparkling image of the Gulf of Mexico framed by palm trees — the view from his backyard.
“This is why I moved back,” he says, holding out the phone. “I don’t need to go out and hump the big city anymore.”
This sentiment is as close to crude as Wilkins comes.
Despite the fact that many slovenly well-known comedians have made good hygiene and manners passé, Wilkins, a former Marine and personal trainer, is clean-cut, well-dressed and in shape, attributes that even he admits are a hard sell in an industry that made his friend, Larry the Cable Guy, a star.
“Being a good-looking comedian,” Wilkins says, “is like being a good-looking elephant man.”
And even more unusual, his comedy routine is clean.
His 2008 album, “Tim Wilkins Live @ Side Splitters,” which led to an hour-long comedy special on XM Radio, is, according to Wilkins, “PG-13, even in its roughest bits.”
It’s precisely this poise and mass appeal that earned Wilkins gigs opening for big-name acts such as Earth Wind & Fire, The Righteous Brothers, Aretha Franklin, Olivia Newton-John and Julio Iglesias.
He’ll record his third comedy album next month during a week of homecoming shows at McCurdy’s. He says the highs and lows of the last few years have provided him with more material than he could have ever dreamed.
“The hardest thing to be on stage is yourself,” Wilkins says. “It took me a long time to realize my act was my life. Some guys do stand-up because they want to be famous. I do stand-up so I can gain notoriety to do more stand-up.”
• “Staying in shape in Sarasota is different. I work out at Old’s Gym –– the only gym in the country with a Walkermill. It’s an assisted-lifting facility.”
• “If the groundhog sees his shadow, Sarasota gets six more weeks of traffic.”
• “When I first moved to Sarasota I used to make fun of old people. Now I make fun of those darn kids.”
• “Hurricane preparedness in Sarasota is different for me. No canned goods or water, just duct tape. When the storm hits I’m gonna go out to Siesta, get three trophy wives and tape ’em together. Between the Botox and the implants, I’m floatin’ to safety on Noah’s rack.”
IF YOU GO
Tim Wilkins will perform Sept. 15 to Sept. 19, at McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre. For more information, call 925-3869 or visit www.mccurdyscomedy.com.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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