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Promoter betting clean comedy will find local audience as music festival takes back seat

Published on: January 20, 2016

By KEVIN BRADY

Juanita Lolita. Rick Lindsay photo.

Juanita Lolita. Rick Lindsay photo.

There is an untapped market for clean, often Christian-centered, comedy in South County and Rick Lindsay is betting it’s a big one.

“There’s a whole world of clean comedians out there that most people have never heard of. And they’re some of the funniest people that I’ve ever met,” said Lindsay, who is helping bring Christian Comedy Night to Wellspring Community Church on Saturday, Jan 30. Proceeds from the show will fund church ministries.

Juanita Lolita, who earned the only standing ovation at a similar show last October at The Regent, will headline the show. Lolita, who stocked shelves at Publix and ran her own lawn-care business before she made the leap to a full-time career behind the mic, has appeared on NBC, ABC and the Christian Television networks.

“Juanita takes pride in the fact that she can make you laugh hysterically without profanity,” Self said. “Her comedy focuses on observations from everyday life that we can all relate to and she closes out each show with her much anticipated ‘list of things she doesn’t understand’ and her incredible testimony.

“Out of all of our opening acts for the shows [there were three fundraising shows for the music festival], we never had a response like we did with her,” Self added.

As an opening act, Lolita only had 30 minutes, “but I know there was more to her story. We had some of our Wellspring [Community Church] in the audience, and they just loved her,” Self said.

But while the new, clean comedy concerts may be a blessing for those who prefer their humor without the f-bombs, the shows could spell the death knell for the South Shore Music Festival, which Self and Lindsay and a dedicated group of volunteers have brought to the International Independent Showmen’s Association in Riverview for the last two years.

Last year’s event was a disappointment for organizers as it raised around the same amount for area military charities as the 2014 show — $7,000.

“I love doing the music festival but it’s 11 months of work, and then there’s the show, which we set up the night before. On the day of the festival, we get there at 7 a.m. And are lucky to be out of there by midnight,” Lindsay said.

Self admitted the work involved in staging the music festival required a lot of help, both voluntary and financial. “We need a stronger committee and we need more businesses to act as sponsors. It’s a lot of hard work so right now [the 2017 festival] is up in the air.”

Lindsay, who has worked in the entertainment industry for more than 40 years, recalls his own experience at a local comedy show several years ago, an experience he believes shows the need for clean comedy nights.

“I had a few extra tickets, and I took my mom and my dad, a couple people from my office as well as a business acquaintance and my little brother,” Lindsay said. “We happened to be there on a night when there was a guy performing who was not even R-rated, he was X-rated. The first lines out of his mouth, I cannot even repeat.”

Lindsay and Self are also reaching out to other local churches to help stage similar shows in the future.

“I think the South Shore and the surrounding areas are looking for something new and fresh to do … [with the new clean shows] you don’t need to worry about what’s being said. It’s a side to comedy people have not seen,” said Lindsay. “I didn’t know anything about it until we did our first show last year. There is an untapped market and I think it’s going to stay that way until others see this can be successful.”

There will be 4 and 8 p.m. shows on Saturday, Jan. 30, at Wellspring Community Church, 705 9th St. S.W. in Ruskin. Tickets are $25 a person and guests are invited to arrive two hours before the show to enjoy food provided by TaylorMae BBQ. Doors to the auditorium open 30 minutes before the show.

Tickets are available at www.FreshTix.com/Events/LaughNow or call Mike or Stacy Self at 813-690-2201 or 813-846-2805.

Juanita Lolita: From stocking shelves at Publix to the stage

Juanita Lolita — and no, that’s not a stage name — was performing at a local community theater group at the turn of the century when her fellow performers saw her talent for improv.

Walking around tables during intermission, Lolita was in her element. A natural at staying in character as she walked among guests at the murder mystery theater and joking.

“I love that part where I just walked round the tables and I’d stay in character and nothing was scripted. It was just jokes,” said the married mom of one, who headlines a comedy night at Wellspring Community Church in Ruskin this week.

A friend signed her up for an open mic night, unbeknownst to her, at a comedy club. She also didn’t know the open mic night doubled as a comedy contest to find Florida’s funniest person. She ended up making the finals, coming in fifth. She probably would have placed higher but for her nerves taking her over the allotted performance time.

“You get seven minutes and I didn’t realize they were flashing the light (her time was up) and that I needed to get off stage,” Lolita said. “People were laughing so much I forgot about the time.”

Several years later, married and running a solo lawn-care business by day and stocking shelves at Publix at night, Lolita took the plunge and decided to make comedy her vocation.

“I didn’t do anything with it for a very long time. Occasionally I would go to the comedy club who would call me and say ‘can you come do 10 minutes,  nothing paid, of course?’”

Her time at comedy clubs made Lolita realize how “filthy comedy was, especially the lady comedians. It’s like they have something to prove, and here I am out here being clean.”

A waitress approached her after one of her sets at a club and asked if she would pray with her. “We went into the bathrooms — she just asked me to pray for her — and it was kind of then that I was like ‘this is where I am supposed to be.’ I know that I’m supposed to perform clean comedy in the secular comedy clubs and let them know about God.”

Making the leap to a full-time comedian was easy for the Clearwater mom. “I had one booking on my books but I felt God was saying ‘this is what I want you to be’ so I talked to my husband about it and he said to go ahead.”

Living paycheck to paycheck to paycheck with no money in their savings account, Lolita knew she was taking a leap into the dark but had faith she was doing the right thing. A few weeks later, that faith paid off when a comedy club owner saw her perform and booked her at all eight of his Florida clubs.

While many Christian performers take a more humorous approach to their acts, telling stories, Lolita does not have the luxury. “I can’t be up on stage and take five or six minutes to get to a point. I have to be very quick.”

Lolita walks a fine line in her comedy. “I can’t be preachy up there but I’m letting them know about Christ and why I do what I do. [Audiences] like the clean aspect part of [her performances].  I have a lot of people that come up to me after the show and just say ‘thank you for keeping it G-rated and not cursing.’ The reality is that being a clean comedian is much harder. Even with the jokes that I have right now if I just slipped a line in here or there, it could be a really twisted joke and I know a lot more people in the audience would laugh at that because I’ve done that, but that’s not who I am.”

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