Looking back on my younger days I can say, without question, I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff. Actually, I don’t have to look back that far.
One of my favorite clubs to work used to be Uncle Funnies Comedy Club in Davie, Florida, a suburb of Ft. Lauderdale. It was a top-notch room by all standards. I loved it. The staff became personal friends and the club was booked and operated by a husband-wife team that made me and a lot of other comedians feel like we were part of their family.
It goes without saying that to be a comedian, you have to be a little bit crazy. A lesser known fact is that to be a club owner, you have to be a lot crazy. You're putting the success of your business in the hands of people who are only slightly less crazy.
The club owner at Uncle Funnies was also a former comic who settled down to have a family and a life. He was really good at the whole living “life” thing, but being a comic-turned-comedy club owner meant that he probably should have been fitted for a straight jacket. Andrew was a big guy with an even bigger personality. He was honest, blunt, and had two philosophies: Make life an adventure and, "Better living through pharmaceuticals.
The working week at Uncle Funnies had ended and we had a couple nights off before the next week started. Andrew invited me, another comic, and the club manager to take a drive with him through the Everglades Parkway (known locally as Alligator Alley) to Naples, Florida, to pick up some new equipment for the club. Along the drive I noticed high fences along the road but I couldn’t see the bottom of the fence line. When I asked where the bottom of the fence was he said, “It’s in the swamp. The fence keeps alligators from coming onto the road, for the most part anyway." Up to that point I thought "Alligator Alley" was just a cute local name for the road.
Andrew's maniacal laugh indicated to me we were on the road to hell, and that road would be paved with alligators. I took comfort knowing we were in a big car, high off the ground, and tried not to think about it.
Luckily, we made it to Naples with no alligator encounters. We loaded in the new equipment and I expected we'd start heading back to Davie.
But Andrew had other ideas. “Let’s go have food and beers and wait for the sun to set so we can see some wildlife on the way back!”
I wasn’t a fan of that idea, but I was just an opener at that time, so I didn’t get a vote. It was 9 p.m. by the time we set out on our return trip along Alligator Alley. The moon was high in the sky and the temperature had cooled. According to Andrew, "the conditions were perfect."
About an hour into the drive Andrew suddenly slammed on the brakes and said, “Stay quiet and nobody move!” He turned off the headlights and I peered out the window from the backseat - fully expecting Jurassic Park to appear right in front of me. I think I peed a little, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. It was pitch black outside the car - we couldn't see a thing.
Andrew pulled out a giant flashlight and hopped out of the car like a teenager going to the beach. The rest of us stayed in the car expecting to hear the screams of someone being eaten at any moment.
A couple of minutes went by before we heard, “Hey guys! Come look at this!”
None of us moved.
Then, “First one out gets another two weeks at the club!”
We all jumped out of the car so fast you'd have thought there was an alligator IN the car. Comics will do anything for work.
I walked towards the light assuming it was a prelude to me walking towards THE light when I hear, “There it is. The Florida Cottonmouth!”
I asked, "Is it poisonous?”
“Hell yeah it’s poisonous! But don’t worry, I have a snakebite kit in the car.”
Having a snakebite kit didn’t make me feel better or any safer. Then he says, “They rarely bite humans. They only bite if they feel threatened.”
I said, “Don’t you think a car slamming on its brakes and four people staring at it might make it feel a little threatened?”
He said, “Maybe. Stay back. I’ll pick it up.”
“You’re going to WHAT?” Just as I said that I noticed the other comic and the club manager had already gotten back in the car. So it was just me and a wannabe Steve Irwin in a nature show I wanted no part of.
He said, “Hold my flashlight on it, and don’t move the light, it’ll spook him.”
At this point, I was in too deep to get away. I grasped the flashlight in my hands shaking like I was a Parkinson's patient and proceeded to shine what appeared to be a strobe light directly at the snake. But Andrew wasn’t complaining. He walked up behind the snake and in one fluid motion grabbed the tail and raised the snake off the ground. Holding it away from himself he said, “Look at this! It’s gorgeous!” Now I was convinced we were going to need the snakebite kit and I was hoping someone knew how to use it because, needless to say, the snake was now “spooked.”
With alarming speed, Andrew grabbed the head of the snake and positioned his hand in a way so the snake couldn’t bite him. Then he uttered the dumbest thing anyone has ever said to me. “Do you want to pet it?”
So I'm petting a poisonous snake! Andrew released the tail and the snake coiled itself around his arm. I was petting the tail. Then the snake hissed, and that’s when I peed a little more. Again, no shame in admitting that.
When the snake hissed Andrew calmly said, “I think this guy has had enough of us.” As if the snake was cool with us up to that point.
Andrew instructed me to stand back, which I happily obliged. He uncoiled the snake from his arm, threw it into the marshy swampland off the road, and said, “Wasn’t that cool? Feel my pulse!” His heart was racing and his smile was ear-to-ear. That’s when I realized Andrew is an adrenaline junkie, and it’s also when I realized I am not.
Then he said, “Let’s get back to the car. Where there’s one, there’s usually more.” Information that may have been useful before I got out of the car, but in retrospect, I was glad I didn’t know.
We drove back to Davie, had a few more drinks and laughed the night away at how terrified we all were, except for Andrew of course. All in all it was a great night! The other comic and I both did a joke about it and Andrew, always true to his word, gave us more dates.