APOLLO BEACH – Heather Campese knows anger. Lung cancer at 23. Divorced with kids at home in 2008. Online dating ups and downs. And most recently, her fiancée left her days before the wedding was scheduled. She didn’t need a doctor to tell her she was deeply depressed.
A friend told her to start writing all this bad karma down. Everything that was sour and painful was entered into a personal journal. When the words went down on paper, they were actually pretty funny.
“I turned my rage into a life on the stage,” said Campese, 50, a resident of Apollo Beach. “When I started to craft my anger into comedy routines, some kind of magic happened. People laughed.”
In February, Campese took her first step into the footlights at McCurdy’s Comedy Theater in Sarasota. McCurdy’s features big name comics from throughout the country. It was at one of the theater’s open mike nights that the spunky suburban mom took the stage to a standing-room-only crowd.
Her most recent gig was in mid-August at Side Splitters Comedy Club in Tampa.
“The audience doesn’t know what to expect when I come on,” Campese said. “I look like every 20-somethings mom. Then I open my mouth and they quickly discover I ain’t their mom.”
Caustic sarcasm is how Campese describes her comedy – edgy, angry and very blue.
“This is beyond R-rated entertainment,” Campese said. “You have to understand that I’m working from deep within my depression and I still am very, very angry. There is a lot of material left to write and develop.”
Angry comedians have been around for decades and some of the most successful in show business were very angry men. Lenny Bruce was one of the first modern men of rage, but today there are many doing an angry shtick like Lewis Black and Bill Maher.
“But there only a handful of angry women,” Campese said. “I resonate with young audiences that recognize anger, especially young women. My topics cover men, lousy relationships, sex, insecurity, infidelity, online dating, being a mom, sex, women’s political issues, being a mom with menopause and sex.”
Campese has a loyal South Shore following who came for her open mike debut at McCurdy’s and helped make the evening a sell-out at the popular night club.
“There was this guy who called me a few days after the short set and he asked if I would open for Tim Wilkins at a show at The Regent in Riverview,” Campese said.
Wilkins is a national touring comic and has been seen on HBO, “The Daily Buzz,” “Daytime,” and CMT’s “Next Big Comic.”
“The May show at the Regent had an audience of 400,” said Campese, “which is huge for a new act. The producer only had one request. He asked if I could do a G-rated show.”
Campese faced the challenge of cleaning up her act. She did just that and the audience loved her.
“It was a 20-minute opening gig and that seemed like a lifetime up there,” said Campese.
Then it happened again. The marketing director at a local entertainment center called and wanted to talk about another long-term opportunity.
“She asked me if I would help get a comedy club showcase started at The Alley at SouthShore, the bowling alley in Riverview off Big Bend Road. What could I say but yes,” Campese said.
In July, The Alley at SouthShore introduced Gutterballs Comedy Cabaret in its party room. The venue holds 70 seats. The two-hour, monthly showcase features local talent and between eight and 12 comics. Campese helps manage and recruit talent and serves as master of ceremonies with colleague and comic Todd Stimmell of Apollo Beach.
“It’s definitely an 18-and-older show,” Campese said. “The material is fresh, and much is being tested out by up-and-coming regional talent.”
The South Shore mom has three children – two teens at home, one adult child and a grandchild. Campese also has a full-time day job working with placing seniors in regional independent and assisted living centers.
“I’m so proud of my mom because in spite of so many tragedies in her life, she always manages to find the funny in it,” said Madison Campese, the comic’s 18-year-old daughter. “She is such a strong woman and me and my friends find inspiration in her. She takes life head on. If she wants to do something, she just does and doesn’t even worry about failure. I think that’s awesome.”
Gutterballs Comedy Cabaret’s next comic showcase is set for Friday, Aug. 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available by calling (813) 672-8353. The venue is at 10221 Big Bend Road, Riverview, inside The Alley at SouthShore.
For more information, visit Heather Campese Comedian on Facebook.
Freelance writer Douglas Arnold can be reached at [email protected]