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Nite Out

Just for laughs

By SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE
Published September 21, 2006


A comedian is using his industry connections to open a new comedy club in the barroom of a Pinellas Park restaurant, with hopes of recreating the intimate New York comedy clubs that nurtured his career.

Artie Fletcher earns his living as a comic and character actor, most recently with parts on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and a regular gig in the casinos of Atlantic City. He is creating the comedy lineup for My Big Fat Greek Restaurant and Comedy Club.

The Greek restaurant has been there for almost two years; it's the big fat comedy plan that's new.

Fletcher's lineup has a combination of up-and-comers including Jim Florentine of Crank Yankers and known entities (Michael Winslow of the Police Academy movies and Jimmy "JJ" Walker) as well as local and regional talent.

The grand opening is Friday and Saturday, with Fletcher, 51, taking the mike in the 125-seat club.

His inspiration, he said, is the New York clubs like the Comic Strip, Gotham and Catch a Rising Star that sprang up in the 1970s as a venue for comics, singers, magicians and novelty acts. They ended up focusing on stand-up comedy and were the launching pad for comics such as Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock.

"In those clubs you'd have a room with a tiny little stage and the audience packed in tables around the front," Fletcher said, "and the comic has to actually struggle to weave in and around the audience to get to the stage."

The New York scene was for audiences more interested in comedians than glitz, because you never knew if Robin Williams would drop in to try out some stuff or you'd see a rising comic who would soon be a household name.

Having cut his chops there, Fletcher, who has been living in Pinellas County for a year, bemoans the big clubs and chains that aren't nurturing local talent. So in addition to his Wednesday open mike night, he will work with promising locals and give them a chance to open for bigger acts on the weekends.

Even with no advertising, a recent Wednesday open mike night drew a couple of dozen people, half of whom were young comics nervously trying out material.

"I would like to be able to sit back and have a club to work on new material for myself, get to see my friends come down to Florida for a few days and since it's a comic running the place, I'll try to help these local comics develop their craft," Fletcher said.

Upcoming shows

* Jim Florentine, Dec. 1-2: He has a popular "I got mail" skit on Crank Yankers and appears on Howard Stern's show.

* Grandma Lee, Dec. 15-16: This "grandma from hell" was on Last Comic Standing and a hoot on BET's Comic View.

* Dustin Diamond, Jan. 26-27: Screech from Saved by the Bell is doing stand-up when he's not getting mugged or putting his house on eBay.

* Michael Winslow, Feb. 2-3: He's the "vocal effects" artist from the Police Academy movies.

* Jimmy "JJ" Walker, March 2-3: He's still doing his schtick from TV's Good Times.

IF YOU GO

The grand opening of My Big Fat Greek Restaurant and Comedy Club, 4300 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with Artie Fletcher and Filippo Montanna. $15 a person, $20 per couple, with a dinner and show package of $60 per couple. Two drink minimum. (727) 541-6356.

- SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified September 20, 2006, 10:33:32]


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