MANATEE COUNTY — Chiacgo native Jeff Allen’s first attempt as a stand-up comic wasn’t the polished, perfectly executed performance for which he had hoped.
It was Thanksgiving 1978. Allen was working at a jewelry store at the time. But on that holiday, he had garnered enough guts to take the stage at a local club.
“I went up there, and it was just awful,” Allen said.
And even in the first few years of his comedy career, it didn’t get better.
“I even had one club owner tell me, ‘Don’t make this your career,’” Allen said.
Good thing Allen didn’t listen.
After more than 30 years in the industry, Allen has become one of the most famous Christian comedians in the country. He has performed on HBO, ABC, VH1, Comedy Central, Showtime and more. He also was one of the featured performers at the 2005 Presidential Inauguration.
And this Sunday, Allen will perform in the East County at Woodland, The Community Church’s tailgate event at Lakewood Ranch High School.
During Allen’s early career, he battled the tough comedian lifestyle — spending hours on the road only to perform in dank comedy clubs littered throughout the country. He turned to alcohol to soothe his depression, but that didn’t work.
Allen found Alcoholics Anonymous and got sober at 31. Nine years later, he became a Christian, which changed his life forever.
“I remember my last show in the club scene,” he said. “It was in a casino in Vegas on 9/11. I couldn’t get out. I thought, ‘There must be a better life.’ I wasn’t offering anything to anyone. I was just babysitting drunks and getting a paycheck for it.”
Inspired by his faith, Allen contacted his agent. Together, they carved out a new niche — Christian comedy.
“The cool thing about churches is that people are used to sitting still,” Allen said.
The road did present its own hurdles. Allen recalled one show in Detroit on a New Year’s Eve. After the show, he received an e-mail from an audience member.
“The kid wrote, ‘My mom dragged me to your show,” Allen said. “He wrote, ‘How funny can a guy be if he’s working at a church on New Year’s Eve?’”
Fortunately for both Allen and the author of the e-mail, he could be hilarious.
“He did say he enjoyed the it,” Allen said.
Today, Allen’s show features family friendly hilarity — often taken from his relationship with his wife and their children.
“It’s comedy for everybody,” Allen said. “You don’t have to go to church to get it, that’s for sure.”
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].
Jeff Allen Show and Tailgate Event
WHEN: 4:30 p.m., Oct. 25. Jeff Allen performs at 6 p.m.
WHERE: Lakewood Ranch High School, 5500 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
TICKETS: $10 in advance; $12.50 at the door