WHAT: Benefit shows by Christian comedy troupe Humor 2 Outreach WHEN: 7 p.m. June 7, 15 and 21 WHERE: June 7, Tampa Convention Center, 333 S. Franklin St., Tampa (813) 964-5511; June 15, St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 4518 S. Manhattan Ave., Tampa (813) 839-5056; and June 22, Christian Family Church, 3457 Kenyon Ave., Tampa (813) 802-8736. COST: $10 for each show. At least half of the proceeds will go directly to the charity designated by the host site. INFORMATION: Visit www.h2ohumor.com
Gutter humor? Nah. Trash talkin'? Nope. Crass cracks? Not from this group.
“I used to be funny for money,” says Pete O'Shea, founder of Humor 2 Outreach, a newly formed Christian comedy troupe. “Now, I'm laughing for the Lord.”
Since launching its “Summer of Love” tour late last month, H2O's six comedians are racking up bookings for their sanitized two-hour show at churches and other venues throughout the Tampa Bay area. They even have a June 7 booking at the Tampa Convention Center.
“Funny is funny,” says Juanita Lolita (yes, that's her real name) Williams, the only female in the group. With a hillbilly daddy from West Virginia and a Puerto Rican mother, she refers to herself as the group's “hillbilrican.”
“A joke doesn't have to be filthy to make people laugh. If it's good, keeping it clean gets the same reaction.”
But it's not all for fame and glory. H2O has a higher purpose.
The comics donate a portion of their ticket sales to the ministry or outreach of the host's choosing. So for a $10 ticket, patrons know that at least half of the proceeds will be directed to a charitable cause.
O'Shea, senior youth minister at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Largo and host of a daily radio show on WTIS (1110 AM) in St. Petersburg, says the concept for H2O was “divinely inspired.”
For 15 years, O'Shea worked as a professional stand-up comedian, appearing at clubs and colleges all over the country. He says the Lord spoke to him about using his talent to serve God and to benefit others.
But how? O'Shea says he had a vision about a comic ministry that could be used as a fundraiser for cash-strapped nonprofit groups. He scoured the Tampa Bay area for “clean” comedians who shared his vision to entertain, evangelize and raise funds.
He found them, one by one: Williams, a newcomer to the comedy scene and member of Calvary Chapel in St. Petersburg; singer-songwriter Johnny “Big Papa” Roberts of Abundant Life Church of Lakeland; Frank “SomeguynamedFrank” Hall of Baylife Church in Brandon; Bill “Bull” Ohse of Bayside Community Church in Safety Harbor; and Josh Loudermilk, a pastor and social media manager with KForce who belongs to Evangelical Presbyterian of Plant City.
They came from varied backgrounds, different denominations and a range of comedic styles. But their common ground — a commitment to their faith and desire to serve — gave them an immediate bond.
In just one month of working together, O'Shea says everything is clicking. And that's not always easy with a room full of big personalities.
A staff meeting with all six comedians is “a little like watching 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' over and over and over again with a couple of twists and turns you didn't see coming,” he says. “It's never boring and it's always fun. We're already like a family.”
And they've kept their promise to help raise much-needed money for specific projects. From their three bookings so far, proceeds will help fund two church mission trips and a youth ministry.
O'Shea also loves looking into the audience and hearing laughter coming from a crowd that ranges from young children to the elderly.
“You go to a comedy club and you would pay $100 to see six headliners like this,” he says. “Yet here we've got a show that is 'grandma-proofed' with suitable content for the entire family at an affordable price.”
They also take a break from the levity to deliver a more serious message at the shows. The host group gets the opportunity to share its vision and needs; the hope is to get more people involved as volunteers and supporters.
“We've got some ills in this community that just shouldn't be here, like hungry children,” O'Shea says. “The government has proven it can't take care of our problems. It's up to us to change society. And it starts with you and me.”
With no budget or agents, H20 is depending on word-of-mouth to promote its mission. It helps that O'Shea has his own platform through WTIS; the other comics continue to work other gigs or regular jobs to supplement their income. There's also a Facebook page (H20 – Humor 2 Outreach) and a website (www.h2ohumor.com).
Former Christian schoolteacher-turned-comic Roberts, who portrays a Southern cracker redneck and dresses the part, is the son of Pentecostal preachers. For that reason alone, resorting to a raunchy and ribald routine is out of the question.
“If I say a bad word,” he says, laughing, “my daddy will just appear and start whopping me with a belt.”
To book H2O for a charitable event, call (727) 710-4094 or email firstname.lastname@example.org