Comedy’s Status ‘Whoa’ — a Q&A with Michael Murillo
“Comedy isn’t pretty,” Steve Martin once said, but it is an art form that can be therapeutic during uncertain times.
Comedian, promoter, writer and radio personality Michael Murillo is no activist and doesn’t wish to speechify but instead strives to bring exposure to comedians of all types to the Pinellas comedy scene.
The Tampa native has been writing for nearly two decades, promoting comedy for eight years and booking shows for seven.
“I still play Atari 2600 games, but they won’t let me put that on my LinkedIn profile,” he adds.
Murillo caught up with Creative Pinellas to bring us up to date on the state of the local comedy scene and the upcoming Girls Night Out comedy show at the Central Park Performing Arts Center. Rene Bray, Juanita Lolita and Shereen bring the laughs on Thursday, February 2.
In what ways has the comedy scene in Pinellas grown in the past decade?
At the top level, Pinellas venues are bringing A-list talent to the Bay area. Steve Martin, Elayne Boosler and Carrot Top are all scheduled in the first quarter this year, and we just had Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal here in January.
At the ground level, there are a good number of open mics and one-nighters (regular shows that happen once a month or every few months) going on each week. But in the middle, there’s probably room for another comedy club or two. Snappers, in Palm Harbor, and Coconuts, on the beach, do a good job of bringing in funny talent each weekend. But it’s a big county, so there’s room for more.
There seem to be more women than ever performing comedy locally. Do you feel like the celeb comics have paved the way? Certainly, the role of women in society has changed and there’s pressure to be demure, stay home at night and leave the joke-telling to the guys. Any other factors you can think of?
Honestly, I don’t think there are many more women performing. I think we’re doing a better job of supporting the ones we have, and getting them the exposure they deserve. That’s probably the result of more visibility at the top, with people like Amy Schumer on stage, and Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling on screens. Crowds are starting to accept female comedians like they would any other comedian.
When we have shows like the annual Girls Night Out on February 2 at the Central Park Performing Arts Center in Largo, Pinellas residents always come out and support in full force. But it’s up to us to keep giving them those opportunities, and hopefully that will translate to more women giving it a shot at local open mics. There are some funny ladies performing in the area, but not as many as there should be.
We are very divided politically nowadays as I’m sure you’ve observed. Do most comedians in Pinellas veer to the left or right or are they equal-opportunity offenders?
The most important thing about a joke is that it’s funny. It doesn’t matter which side you critique, or if you even pick a side at all. The joke needs to be funny first and foremost, and I think that’s how the good comedians approach it. When it works, even supporters of that side will laugh and admit it was funny. And that’s good for everyone in a tense political climate.
How has your act evolved over the years?
I think everyone sounds more natural over time. It’s hard to sound like yourself when you’re doing prepared material that has a specific flow to it. As the years go by, you get better at it, but the greatest ones are like that from the beginning. For the rest of us, it’s a slow process.
What are some of your comedy show pet peeves?
For comedians, it’s important to remember that you’re there to entertain the audience — not just shock them or elicit gasps or make them angry on purpose. If you do that while being funny, great. Comedy pushes boundaries. But if your set is just shock value, it will wear thin quickly.
For the audience, the best way to show your disapproval is with silence. Believe me, we hear it. But if you don’t like a comedian, don’t heckle or shout something or argue with them. You’re not part of the show. Nobody came to see you.
A lot of people are shy about going to comedy shows. Could you give us some suggestions on making the experience more enticing to the uninitiated?
Well, a good comedy show runs about 90 minutes or so. If you’re waiting much more than an hour for the headliner, something’s wrong. Professional comedy clubs know this, so you won’t get stuck in a never-ending show at a professional venue.
Your best bet is to know what type of show you’re seeing. Is it a regular show with a headliner, feature (middle act) and emcee? That’s a 90-minute show. Is it a showcase, which is probably several comedians each doing 12-15 minutes and no designated headliner? That might not have a seasoned pro at the end. And an open mic is a free-for-all that includes amateurs, working comedians doing totally-new material and some people who shouldn’t be on stage at all. They can be fun and it’s great to support them, but don’t bring lofty expectations.
Finally, don’t assume that just because you’ve never heard of the comedians that they aren’t any good. Some of the funniest comedians I’ve ever seen are people you don’t know. They didn’t get a big break on a sitcom or land a national commercial. But their sets are tight and their material is strong. Give the unknowns a chance.
Who are some newbies you recommend to check out in 2017?
The Girls Night Out show I’m producing includes Juanita Lolita, who was named Best Up-and-Coming Female Comedian by Creative Loafing. She’s a clean comedian who travels all over the country, and she lives in Pinellas.
He’s not a newbie, but Mike Rivera was named “America’s Most Hilarious Teacher” by ABC’s The View, and he also lives (and teaches) here. If you see his name on a show, go to it. You’ll thank me later.
Do you have a wish list for the comedy scene next year?
More. More opportunities for people to see comedy shows, more venues that want to give comedy a chance and more people who want to give it a try on open mic night. I’m always looking for places that need a good, local comedy show to entertain their patrons. There’s always room for more laughter, and I think we need all we can get these days.