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Delray Getaway

Searching for freedom and the ability to work, elite comic Jimmy Shubert found both in South Florida, becoming a fixture on the Delray Beach comedy scene.

by Chuck king
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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Jimmy Shubert doesn’t exactly identify with Snake Plissken, Kurt Russell’s character in 1996’s Escape from LA.

Rather than considering his recent migration an escape, Shubert tweaks the language.

“I call it, ‘The emancipation from Los Angeles,’” said Shubert with a wry grin,

Similar to a recent decision by fellow comic and mega-podcaster Joe Rogan, Shubert departed Los Angeles – at least for the time being – leaving behind the exorbitant state tax rates, a growing homeless rate and an excruciating cost of living.

“I call it CommieFornia because it is,” said Shubert. “There’s two sets of rules, There’s rules for the governor, who at this point can go out and do whatever he wants. And there’s rules for everyone else. I don’t live like that.”

Living for six months under the strict current COVID-induced California lockdown – one that saw Gov. Gavin Newsom imposing edicts and disobeying his own rules to the extent that he’s now the subject of a recall petition – proved the final straw for Shubert.

A prolific writer and performer with nearly three dozen acting credits on his resume, Shubert craved a new scene. Riding the wave of his top-selling fourth album, 2020 release Zero Tolerance, he headed east.

As much as Shubert thirsted for freedom, though, he didn’t abandon Los Angeles altogether, retaining his current California residence.

“We’re in Florida now and Florida is open. But people in California, the Comedy Store is closed, The [Los Angeles] Improv is closed. And I feel bad for my friends who run comedy clubs,” Shubert said. “I wanted to come where the state is open. I wanted to work. I wanted to be able to do my job.”

Since November, Shubert’s spent much of his time in or around Delray Beach, a town about a half hour south of where one of his brothers lives. He’s also constantly working.

Over the past couple months he’s headlined Florida’s largest comedy club, the Palm Beach Improv, and drawn sizeable crowds at smaller bars and venues within a seashell’s throw of Delray. He played a couple shows across the state at the Fort Myers Laugh In and a couple shows near his native Philadelphia over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I’m being careful,” Shubert said. “I’ll wear a mask where it’s needed. I’ll social distance where it’s needed. I’m not being careless.”

Through his connection with Sadman Comedy Productions, Shubert’s also headlined several private parties, including a New Year’s Eve gig at what can best be described as a residential palace on the Intracoastal waterway.

“A year ago I couldn’t have imagined having a guy of Shubert’s caliber being here, and available, and accessible,” promoter/comic David Sadman of Sadman Comedy Productions said. “It’s one of the positive byproducts of this COVID pandemic. L.A. has purged all its best talent and Florida and Austin have profited from it. It’s been amazing to have a guy like that available. And to be able to work with him and to become friends with him and to learn from him has been tremendous.”

Any existing doubts regarding the relocation temporary quickly subsided.

“I’m just happy to be working again after six months of sitting in my home in Los Angeles,” Shubert said. “It was depressing. I was more worried about my mental heath than I was about COVID. I was more worried about going financially bankrupt than I was about COVID.”

Before exiting L.A. Shubert landed a role in “Puppy Love” staring Hopper Jack Penn (Sean Penn’s son) and featuring Michael Madsen, Cowboy Don Cerone, Wayne Newton and Paz de la Huerta. December afforded Shubert the opportunity to introduce the film prior to its screening at the prestigious Fort Lauderdale Film Festival.

There’s talk of upcoming shows in Orlando, and potentially more shows on Florida’s west coast. A new podcast is in the works. The more work he does, the more booking calls he receives.

Adapting to his new surroundings, Shubert’s learned the same lesson many outside showbiz absorbed as they trudged through the pandemic: Thanks to advances in technology, he can live anywhere and still work.

“You don’t have to live in Hollywood anymore,” Shubert said. “As long as you tend to your social media, as long as you keep putting out content, the people who follow you will continue to follow you and more people will follow you.”

Meanwhile, Shubert’s delighting in being a Delrayite.

He’s happy to throw a few bucks to the youth football players hustling at an intersection to raise money for their team. He’s munching empanadas at sidewalk cafes, working off those calories during thrice weekly hot yoga classes. Daily decisions include whether to play a round of golf or visit the beach. In recent days he discovered Tim Finnegan’s, satisfying an internal – even ancestral – urge to adopt an Irish Pub.

Shubert is embracing an newly-discovered freedom in Delray and the town, especially the burgeoning comedy scene, is returning the bear hug.

“In Los Angeles it’s really tough to work on new material because there’s all the other comedians around watching and also because you never know who’s in the audience,” Shubert said. “Down here you can jump on an open mic and be totally unnoticed and go up and work on stuff and people didn’t know who you were – so you could really work on stuff. I like that element.”

And the local comics can’t say enough positives about the effort Shubert’s invested into boosting their careers.

“He wants to help guys with their careers,” rising South Florida comic Nadeem Awad said. “As far as me, he gave me a lot of insight about the business, about being a feature [comic], moving into the headline spot. I’ve actually become great friends with him so I notice that he wants to pop into the mics. He actually listens to comics. He sits there and listens to newer guys, wants to help people with tags, wants to help me with the writing. Overall, very supportive.”

At the moment Shubert won’t commit to an eternal exodus from L.A. The pandemic will eventually subside. California and its clubs will most likely re-open. Hollywood’s cameras will once again roll.

All he’ll concede now is that he’s “strongly considering” a permanent emancipation.

“If I do that, Florida does appeal to me,” Shubert said, smiling.

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