Capt. Brien is indeed a
certified boat captain who
started his Florida business
ventures at age 21 with a
fleet of ten charter fishing
boats on Marco Island.

Capt. Brien boasts,
“Steve-O, from the movie,
‘Jackass’ performed his
first live act ever
at Off the Hook.”

Scheduled to perform at the
Southwest Florida
Performing Arts Center
in the coming months
are comedy legends
Jerry Lewis and Jackie Mason,
as well as Blues Traveler,
folksinger Judy Collins,
bluesman Robert Cray,
and comic Jim Breuer.

Busting a Gut
in Bonita Beach

by Julie Clay

WITH ALL THE NEGATIVITY going on in the world, it doesn’t hurt to laugh once in a while. Here in Southwest Florida, there’s a place that specializes in making you laugh, and the good Captain would have it no other way. Capt. Brien’s Off the Hook Comedy Club has kept audiences in stitches since 2005, hosting both up-and-coming comedians as well as nationally known favorites.

Operating initially from its original location on Marco Island and more recently in its new North Naples home, Off the Hook has made a name for itself as a local hotspot for comedy. An impressive lineup of well-known acts are scheduled to appear soon, including Judy Tenuta (November 10-13), Michael Mack (November 25-27, Pauly Shore (December 8-11), and New Year’s Eve dinner shows with Owen Benjamin. Past stars to grace the Off the Hook stage include Amy Schumer, Ralphie May and one of the world’s current top comedians, Kevin Hart. “He wrote his Madison Square Garden show here,” says Off the Hook owner Capt. Brien, adding that Steve-O from the movie, Jackass performed his first live act ever at Off the Hook as well.

Spina acknowledges that building a comedy business on Marco Island was definitely a slow process. The club was initially opened to support his restaurant and drive traffic in the evening by offering something no one else was doing at the time. “It took a while to find an audience and clientele,” he remembers, with both the restaurant and club finding success. Building on that momentum, Spina moved Off the Hook off the island to North Naples in 2015 following a short time in Fort Myers. His Row restaurant accommodates 100 more patrons than his Marco Island location while continuing to offer a diverse slate of comedic talent to welcoming audiences.

“For us, one of the biggest factors [for our success] is that we are always doing the latest and greatest and newest acts,” says Brien, “We keep going after different genres. When a guy’s having a million followers on Twitter you’re bringing in a quality act. Everything has a kind of audience. We’re good at going after all different audiences, like urban style acts, more of a country blue collar type show, a variety of different genres of comedy. If we go after one, the next one is there. There’s a market for all of them.”

Off the Hook’s schedule is crammed full of exciting acts. Aside from the aforementioned Judy Tenuta and Pauly Shore shows, comedy audiences can look forward to appearances by Loni Love (November 17-19), Steve Sweeney (December 21-23), Tom Arnold (January 5-7), and comedy great Louie Anderson (April 27 – 30).

There’s also apparently enough of a market and audience in southwest Florida for another entertainment venue, a vision Capt. Brien actually had back on Marco Island. Finally, after years of permitting and building issues, the Southwest Florida Performing Arts Center (SWFL PAC) opened its doors in July 2016 in Bonita Springs. “This theatre is really new and we’re putting our hearts and souls into it,” promises Capt. Brien, “Something totally different and new is going on.”

The sprawling 27,000 sq. ft. facility at the corner of Bonita Beach Road & Imperial Parkway includes the 400+ capacity SanJan Theatre (named for Capt. Brien’s parents Santos and Janice), function rooms for weddings, banquets and corporate events, as well as a restaurant called Teatro run by renowned award-winning chef Michael Psilakis.

The roster of up-and-coming performances rivals that of both Barbara B. Mann and Artis-Naples. November alone brings artists Blues Traveler (November 9), King’s X (November 10), rockers Puddle of Mudd (November 26) and the final round of Gulfshore’s Got Talent, a combined effort of SWFLPAC and Gulfshore Opera to search and discover young vocal talent (November 15). December events include folk legend Judy Collins (December 11), Edwin McCain (December 17), and two holiday concert shows with 15-year-old piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick (December 18). Looking into 2017 the excitement builds with comedy legends Jerry Lewis (January 15) and Jackie Mason (February 21), as well as comedian Jim Breuer (March 4), blues great Robert Cray (February 3), and Gulfshore Opera’s production of the operatic masterpiece Madame Butterfly (April 2).

Capt. Brien says modestly, “We’re good at bringing in national shows and providing amazing food with it.” Besides Teatro, SWFL PAC also plans to bring in more celebrity chefs for tastings and events, plus offer culinary courses where the average person learns how make fresh pastas, desserts, etc. “We’re filling a niche there, where people didn’t realize we had such an extensive catering division. It’s all part of the test kitchen.”

As a community-minded business owner, Capt. Brien is dedicated to giving back, “We have a non-profit portion of the company that my parents founded for underprivileged youth in the performing arts,” he shares. The aptly named Southwest Florida Performing Arts & Cultural Learning Center came about with the goal of offering educational, recreational and culinary arts enrichment programs. Community-based theatre, children’s performances, celebrity chef showcases and adult continued educational culinary seminars are all in the works. Just this past summer, Brien says, “We did a technology camp that went really well, and gave away 15 scholarships to go to the camp.”

If you ever wondered about the ‘Captain’ moniker, yes Mr. Spina is indeed a certified boat captain who started his Florida business ventures at age 21 with a fleet of 10 charter fishing boats on Marco Island and by 2005 had opened his New England-style seafood restaurant. He sold off the boats when Off the Hook opened to concentrate on the club and restaurant before moving to Naples with ROW by Captain Brien & Crew and Off the Hook. With his newest venture in Bonita Springs, this Captain’s ship is not sailing anytime soon.

“I got into it on a whim, then kept buying boats, Brien recalls, “The original intent was not to be doing that for a long time. When I look back, my life’s dream was to be a chef and run and own restaurants. I do all the bookings and the marketing, but it’s a nonstop labor of love for sure.” •

Off the Hook Comedy Club is located in ROW Seafood at 2500 Vanderbilt Beach Rd. in Bonita Springs. The Southwest Florida Performing Arts Center is located at 11515 Bonita Beach Rd. in Bonita Springs. For information, call 389-6901.

November-December 2016