Stand-up comedian and recent author G. David Howard of Largo is in the Guinness World Records for performing 18 hours on stage without a break and without repeating a joke.
LARGO – G. David Howard is not your typical comedian. The author of a recently published political memoir has been telling jokes for a living for more than four decades.
He was recognized in the Guinness World Book of Records for 16 hours of stand-up without so much as a bathroom break.
He started his career in Ohio, of all places, before comedy clubs were even popular and later was a staple performer in Las Vegas for five years.
He once raised a pet mountain lion, who made appearances on stage and in the club he owned at the time. He’s played with professional baseball players during spring training, just because they liked him. He collects jokes like baseball cards, drawers filled with binders of hundreds of thousands of jokes, much to his wife’s dismay.
At 75, the comedian, whose friends call him just by “G,” isn’t about to slow down.
“I’m funnier right now than I’ve ever been in my career,” he said. “I’ll retire when I can’t make people laugh anymore.”
Howard lives in Largo with his wife of 50 years, Dana. He has a regular show at Leo’s Italian Grill in Palm Harbor on most Saturdays, at exactly 9:01 p.m., though he recently pushed the start time back to 9:02 p.m., due to seasonal traffic, he said.
His focus for the last couple of years has been a politically charged book entitled, “Half of America Is Nuts and They were Allowed To Vote.” The self-described right-wing conservative said he wrote the book for independent thinkers stubbornly against forming a group.
But he wanted the book to be funny to all political leanings, so he tested it out on his liberal friends to make sure they were still laughing at the jokes as they read it.
“They told me, ‘The bad thing is you’re serious about this stuff,’” Howard said. “And they’re laughing and giggling at it, so I knew I was on the right track.”
Born to tell jokes
Howard’s career as a comedian started in high school in Ohio. He had developed a reputation as a funny guy before starting as a 10th grader at the school but thought he might be in trouble when he was first called to the principal’s office. In fact, the principal invited him to open a full-school assembly every Tuesday morning with a funny, 5-10 minute monologue in front of 1,300 students. Howard happily accepted the gig.
“So I was pretty accustomed to being in front of people and talking,” he said.
As an adult, working as a Nationwide insurance agent, he began to put a stand-up act together and befriend other entertainers, usually singers and musicians who would invite him on stage as 15-minute comedic relief to their show. After about a year, he landed his first paid gig, on Dec. 31, 1973 in Centerville, Ohio. Performing a New Year’s Eve show was daunting, but Howard felt well prepared.
There weren’t any comedy clubs in the Mid-West at the time, so to book his own act, he had to convince hotels, lounges and clubs to forgo a band and give a comedian a chance to entertain their customers.
“It was an uphill climb just to get booked,” Howard said.
He kept his day job until he started developing a following, and his district manager noticed an ad for his show in a local newspaper.
“We can’t have that. It’s not the image we want,” Howard remembered the man saying, giving him the choice of his steady job or budding comedic career. He tried to argue that his production had not been affected, but the manager would have nothing of it.
“I was born to this. I have to do it,” he said.
So Howard quit, then and there. He was married and had four young sons, but he promised Dana he would make it work. He found a job unloading trucks late at night after his comedy gigs.
Then in 1975, he got a big break. He was performing in Dayton, Ohio, when he met a man who said he was a Marine buddy of Woody Woodbury, one of Howard’s comedic idols. The man was so impressed with Howard, that he gave him Woodbury’s home phone number.
Woodbury, who ran a night club in Fort Lauderdale, advised Howard that the west coast of Florida was devoid of good comics and gave him the number of the biggest booking agency in the state.
By May 23, 1975, Howard had a one-week contract to perform at the Witches Brew Lounge in Naples. He ended up working there 53 consecutive weeks.
“They were lined up out in the parking lot trying to get in. They had never heard anything like what I do in that town,” Howard said. “Word spread quickly, so I had a very successful run there.”
His next move was to the Hilton in Clearwater Beach. He started with a four-week contract and stayed for five years, working six nights a week. After the Hilton was sold, Howard bought a place across the street on Bayway Boulevard and called it G. David’s. He later moved the club to a Ramada Inn, leasing the food and beverage operation from the hotel.
He moved back to Fort Meyers to open what he called the Comedy Cafe. While he was there, the man in charge of booking comedians into the Comedy Stop at the Tropicana Las Vegas saw his act and invited him to perform in January 1992.
Howard began performing twice a year in Las Vegas and then once a month.
“I just fell in love with the west, and the mountains and the dessert. I liked it a lot. I liked the energy of the city. The wife liked it, so we sold everything here and moved out there,” Howard said.
Howard said he had a nice, five-year run in Las Vegas, playing a different club along the strip each week. He was used to being a one-man show, performing from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. each night. His first experience in an actual comedy club, sharing the stage with other comedians – who were far more casually dressed, he noted – was his first show at the Comedy Stop.
He already has been published in the Guinness World Records for longest stand-up, going 13 hours and 47 minutes without a break at the Hilton in Clearwater. The following year, he beat his own record, starting at 10 a.m. and never repeating a joke until the club closed at 2 a.m.
He didn’t take a break to even visit the restroom. He was strategic in what he consumed during that time, starting with hot tea with honey and lemon for a couple of hours, switching to hot chicken broth next, then a beer until the sun set, concluding with scotch. He answered interview questions with media representatives for another 90 minutes before he finally made it to the restroom.
The Guinness medical staff decided that 16 hours was far too long without a break and so, after publishing Howard’s feat, altered the rules of the category to include 5-minute breaks every hour.
Howard said it wasn’t hard to keep the jokes coming. He started collecting jokes in a six-ring binder in second grade and says he has about 10,000 stored at the ready in his brain. His wife has urged him to convert the file cabinets of jokes to electronic form to save space, which Howard said he’s tried.
“It’s overwhelming. I’ve got drawers full, file drawers and file drawers,” he said.
Many of the younger comedians he encountered in Vegas had significantly less material, he discovered. The comedy clubs had a different format than Howard was used to, using three comedians at a time on stage in one night. The format was developed after comedy clubs exploded in the 1980s.
“It afforded opportunity for guys that didn’t have a whole lot of material to work,” he explained.
These days, Howard keeps his shows between 90 minutes and two hours, advised at one point that the shorter shows require less of a time commitment from his audience, thus encouraging more repeat fans. And his jokes have gotten shorter.
“I used to spend a lot of time between jokes, setting them up and storytelling,” he explained. “Now you listen to my show, there’s a roar of laughter every three seconds. I chopped (out) all the deadwood.”
He said he could still do a four-hour show, if the audience can stay with him. But usually, they can’t.
“People can’t laugh anymore. They sit there and hold their jaws,” Howard said. “They’re looking at me, ‘Give me a time out!’ They can’t laugh; they’re crying.”
The Vegas strip began to lose its luster when the hotels added non-compete clauses to his contract, preventing Howard from performing anywhere else in Las Vegas for 60 days after a performance. For a while, he tried traveling in between Vegas gigs, but soon discovered that living on the road was for younger comedians.
When he moved back to Florida, he and his wife operated a place called the Brewmaster Steakhouse in Indian Rocks Beach until December 2010. The restaurant employed 60 people and could sit 500 customers at a time.
“We did a nice business, but it was too much work for a mom-and-pop operation,” he said.
Howard had a run-in with the city of Indian Rocks Beach when he tried to replace his sign for the rotted sign for the restaurant. At issue, he discovered after a series of wrangling, was the name of the tiki bar, which he had dubbed “G’s spot.” In the end, the sign was changed to say “G’s place.”
“I don’t get along well with bureaucrats,” Howard said. “They won’t let you have a sense of humor.”
Howard said he wouldn’t want to go back to being the boss of his own place.
“After 10 years there, my wife and I were just exhausted with it,” he said.
He sold his half to his business partner, though the restaurant didn’t stay open much longer. Howard had a book in his head he wanted to write, a task he found rather time-consuming.
These days, Howard performs only a few times a month. In his career, he’s had offers to perform in Los Angeles and New York, but had to turn the opportunities down because they weren’t willing to pay him enough, if anything at all. With a mortgage and four kids, he couldn’t afford not to be “seen by the right people” in order to become famous.
“I feel kind of lucky in a way,” he said. “I’ve had a nice 40 years without becoming a big star. I had a chance to meet all these wonderful people.”
He doesn’t envy more successful comedians.
“They have no time. They’re not their own person, even though they’re very wealthy,” he explained. “You can become a prisoner of your money.”
Howard will next perform Friday and Saturday, April 11-12, 7 p.m., at Snappers Grill and Comedy Club, 36657 U.S. 19 N., in Palm Harbor. Tickets are $15. Call 938-2027 or visit www.snappersgrill.com.
His normal venue on Saturday nights is Leo’s Italian Grill, 33286 U.S. 19 N., in Palm Harbor. The cover charge is $15. For reservations, call 786-9110.