When I crave belly laughs each night to blow away the blahs, I book a cruise on a Carnival ship. And that’s why my husband, David, and I recently boarded the company’s newest vessel, the Carnival Horizon. We can savor sunsets at sea, down plentiful food, and applaud razzle dazzle song and dance routines on other cruise lines, but Carnival delivers two to four comedy shows daily, one that’s family-friendly and one for adults. A single comedian takes to the stage to present all-new material — no repeats. As a result, comedy is a major differentiator for the “fun ships.”
Comic Al Ernst opened his family stand-up set with a quip about his weight. He’s slimmed down to 278 pounds.
“When I was a wrestler, I weighed 405 pounds,” he said. “I wore Spanx to look slimmer. The worst part was taking them off. I exploded like pulling a ripcord on a parachute.”
Both the grade-schoolers and the adults giggled. Ernst then riffed about baseball with his son.
“A 5-year-old and a 51-year-old don’t play ball. They play fetch,” said Ernst, who was named Carnival Cruise Line’s Entertainer of the Year in 2017. About being his son’s Little League T-ball coach Ernst added, “When someone hits the ball, the kids rush en masse to catch it. So now I have eight infielders and no one on first base.”
Ernst’s “everyman” delivery plus his quick pitch of fastball anecdotes built the storyline. By the time he told us about the child who put the glove on his head, we were primed: “I ask Timmy why? He says, ‘In case the ball comes my way, I won’t get hurt.'” My husband, coach of our son’s soccer team, and I shared a knowing glance as we and the Limelight Lounge, locus of the Punchliner Comedy Club, erupted in guffaws.
Carnival presents more than 20,000 at-sea comedy shows per year, a statistic that makes the line, according to executives, the largest operator of comedy clubs in the world. And being a “cruise comic” is no longer a pejorative term that indicates a performer is beginning or ending a career. Now, shipboard comedians come with excellent resumes that include stints in Las Vegas and on Comedy Central, HBO and other major outlets. The sophistication shows in the techniques and the topics.
Carnival gives its performers a wide berth for material. R-rated language, monologues on sex and other “mature” issues might be part of an adults-only show, something we appreciated and so did the passengers who packed Punchliners, including the many millennials. We quickly learned to line up at least 30 minutes prior to the opening to grab a seat or even a standing spot.
Billy D. Washington, an African-American comic, tackled racial issues one night. “I just found out that my great-great-grandfather was a runaway slave because my great-great-grandmother was a (not very nice woman),” joked Washington. He followed by playing a tune on his keyboard and singing, “If I were white and got in a fight, I wouldn’t be the first one to go to jail.” The audience laughed, but with sad recognition of the situation.
On another night, Kim Harrison, a large woman, focused on body issues. Caressing her curves, she said, “When a man looks at my body, he thinks ‘Damn, that woman must be a good cook.'”
After telling us that when she moved into her trailer park her neighbor gave her a tube top, she waved the 3-inch orange loop of material in front of her well-rounded body, saying, “I use it as a scrunchie to keep my hair out of my face when I clean.”
Percy Crews 2 bundled exasperation and exaggeration into his physical performances that often contrasted parenting now with when he grew up. Pacing the stage with mock outrage he talked about how now you need an infant seat to take your child home from the hospital. Then later on a baby seat, a toddler seat and a booster seat.
“When I was a kid, my parents put me in the back of the car. Every time my father made a turn, I slid all across the back seat and busted my head a few times before I learned how to balance,” he said.
David and I chuckled, remembering our “rougher” childhoods compared with those of our children.
While most cities offer several comedy venues, none consistently offers top names, comes without an entrance fee and is as easy to get to as walking from a cabin to a showroom. It’s good to laugh, and we can’t wait to sail again for more mega-doses of funny.
WHEN YOU GO
In 2019, Carnival Horizon will sail six- and eight-day Caribbean voyages from Miami, Florida: www.carnival.com.