599 South Collier Boulevard, Unit 218, Marco
MARCO ISLAND — This economy is no laughing matter, but a local comedy club is finding success nonetheless.
One Marco Island businessman has found a way to not only grow his business, but also contribute to the growth of businesses around him.
In a town of about 12,000 year-round residents, this comedy club owner had his doubters since the inception of Captain Brien’s about eight years ago. Perhaps he still does, but they’re not slowing him down.
BUILDING A BUSINESS IN A SMALL TOWN
Capt. Brien’s ability to draw nationally acclaimed talent to the once asleep-by-9 Island keeps growing every year.
Chippendales? On Marco Island?
“Some people might think it’s raunchy. Some people think it’s funny. It’s a matter of personal taste,” said Councilman Ted Forcht.
The shows sold out on Thursday with women packing into the club to see five out of the 12 hot male models in the 2009 Chippendale’s calendar.
Club owner Brien Spina says he’s had his doubters in the club’s success since the beginning.
“My mom didn’t believe in it. My dad didn’t believe in it. I think even my wife (Karen) didn’t believe in it and my father-in-law definitely didn’t believe in it,” Spina said of the days when he first aspired to open the comedy club.
Spina’s father-in-law is current Naples City Manager Bill Moss and was Marco’s city manager when Capt. Brien’s opened in August 2001 at 317 North Collier Boulevard.
Capt. Brien’s then moved and expanded to the Marco Walk plaza in 2006.
“I didn’t truly vision from the start the type and quality of what it is now,” Spina said.
His success is due largely to marketing, including TV, radio and magazine advertising. Text messages and the Internet are also a large part of the marketing, Spina said.
“To market to the few thousand people who live on Marco Island would be a failure,” Spina says. Customers come from Cape Coral and from across the Everglades, including Miami and West Palm, where Spina operates one of four comedy club locations.
Other locations include Louisville, Ky. and a new club opening in Hollywood, Fla., July 1.
Spina says he books as many as 20 hotel rooms in a week on-Island, sometimes in Naples, depending on the budget.
With each top-notch guest, managers, roadies and crews follow.
“They spend their money here.”
CONTROVERSY, MIXED CROWD
Spina said he’s had one resident adamantly against the acts he brings in.
“There are R-rated movies at the theater. Are you going to censor them? I don’t censor my acts and if I did, they wouldn’t come here,” he said.
Capt. Brien’s offers a wide variety of talent and draws a wide range of people from one night to the next.
Sunday, the club hosted a breast cancer benefit, which was followed by Pete Correale, a comic who finds the humor in everyday life and has a new show “The Things We Do For Love” on Comedy Central.
Andy Dick, an MTV star, is the guest comic beginning Friday. Dick, a self-titled bisexual with a criminal record for several public incidents and charges of drug use and sexual offenses, was on TV’s celebrity rehab. Spina said the comedian has been sober for one year.
While Dick may be on the wilder side of the wide spectrum of guests, the comedy club also has hosted classics including Jackie Mason, 73, who was on the Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s.
Guest variety is all by design, Spina says.
A controversial arrest in February 2008, which led to 20 guests being kicked out, four of them being arrested and an officer being charged with battery for pepper spraying them, led to some concern, but not much.
Islanders have stood behind the police department and stand behind the high caliber reputation of Capt. Brien’s.
Are the police in the Marco Walk plaza more than other locations on Island after 10 p.m.?
“Of course they are going to be there if that’s where all the action is. It’s better than them getting coffee and donuts at the 7-11,” says Councilman Jerry Gibson.
Spina said the police have only been called three times in the last eight years.
Marco Island Police Chief Thom Carr and Collier County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Michelle Batten said the number of times police have been called to the specific property within the plaza was not readily available.
However, Carr talked to lieutenants about whether there were many problems at the property, and the answer was “no,” Carr said.
Councilman Wayne Waldack said he feels it’s a safe place and is proud to see police are there when it’s busy.
“Capt. Brien’s brings Las Vegas quality entertainment to Marco Island ... I believe it brings lively entertainment to the island that helps our hotels and other businesses,” Waldack wrote in an e-mail to the reporter.
BUILDING UP THE ISLAND
Spina said about $450,000 is spent annually by the club on travel expenses, including hotels and ground transportation.
Initially, when the first show wrapped up at about 10 p.m., there weren’t many places on Marco for people to go if they wanted to dance or continue staying out after the show.
Recently, Da Vinci Ristorante Italiano, also located in Marco Walk, extended its hours and offerings of music and dance. Da Vinci’s now hosts disco nights on Fridays and Saturdays.
“We’re on the map. When Jay Leno mentions Marco Island eight times, and Howard Stern is talking about being on Marco Island’s beach, it may not seem relevant, it may not seem like a big deal. If you’re a business on this Island, it’s been a big help,” Spina said.
Spina, formerly an Island charter fisherman for about 10 years, shared a sneak peak of some of his featured guests anticipated later this year.
UPCOMING STARS COMING TO MARCO
Pauly Shore called Spina on the phone recently.
“Captain, hey buddy, It’s Pauly,” Spina said giving his impression of Pauly Shore. He is scheduled to do a show New Year’s Eve again on Marco.
Also coming later this year: Bill Bellamy, host of the “Last Comic Standing;” Eddie Griffin, a comedic movie and TV star; Michael McDonald, known for playing “Stuart” on “Mad TV,” and Carlos Mencia, who is known for finding the humor in social issues, which often involve race and culture.