The scene opens backstage at a red-curtain theater in Miami. Cast and crew scurry about prepping for the big show. A bubbly starlet babbles to a nervous Pakistani academic. A Cuban exile laments about Havana to a swagged-out YOLO bro. A European art snob throws shade at a closeted Southern preacher while an elderly Jewish man wanders into the wrong dressing room and blames it on the occupant; a mystical fortune teller busy feathering her hair, boa, and whimsy. A sweaty production assistant bursts into the room to wrangle these diverse divas--
That's what I see when I picture the mind of Freddy Stebbins.
Stebbins is Miami's most creative stand-up comedian. He splashes onto shows like a comedic cannonball. You may have seen him perform and not even known it. He is a character comic, a rare specialization that means what you'd guess. Sometimes he weaves the characters into his set, but often he performs in full costume - clothing, hair, makeup, props - in an era where most stand-up comics can't be bothered for a monthly hoodie wash.
Stebbins has been one of Miami's most influential comics for over a decade, hosting weekly open mics and headlining shows. His lightning wit and imagination were honed at The Groundlings improv school. Stebbins' characters are so lucid, they do crowdwork better than most comics. Now, he finally packaged his act into the one-man show it was meant to become. Saturday, May 3rd, he brings us Miami... Don't Feed the Natives!
"The word native is misused in Florida," Stebbins said as we ate salmon toasts in a Wynwood cafe. "Almost no one in Miami over the age of 50 can say they were born here. Real natives are the people that have lived and grown-up here and are part of the unique oddity of strange and interesting people."
"Growing up in Miami, I realized that what I thought was normal was not normal everywhere else," he said. "When I was a kid, we didn't get snow days. When I was 11, we were off for three days because of riots. I grew up in this weird diaspora called 'Miami in the 1980s' that was hispanic, but also black, but also very white, and there's racism and tension and comedy. Violence on TV and hot weather and hurricanes. You start to think that's normal - until you go somewhere else, and it's boring!"
Stebbins surprises himself with a laugh and gets animated.
"Go somewhere else, and everyone looks the same, speaks english, is very friendly. We would call those people Americans. Oh my god. I was in Atlanta. There were so many Americans!"
His passion for Miami runs deep.
"My great-great-grandparents were two of the first people that arrived in South Dade, 1906 in Homestead when it was free land." He gives historical tours of Little Havana, Downtown, Coconut Grove, and South Beach's art deco district (starting 15 minutes late on purpose). He is a sociology professor at FIU where his courses are instantly filled like sold-out concert tickets. His voice overs play for sweaty tourists all over Orlando theme parks, and he used to announce jai-alai.
How does he find the time?
"I don't know," he laughed. "I just make it happen. I put something else off. That's very Miami."
His new show features fourteen characters, including filmed segments like Freddy interviewing the characters and drag queens at Miami's gay pride parade.
"As an openly gay person, I try to promote comedy in the gay community, which is lacking," he said. "Gay people have great senses of humor. I just think the industry itself hasn't reached out to gay people. There also isn't much of a scene in South Beach or Wilton Manors, where most gay people live." Just another type of Miami for the show.
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Live music will accompany the show by a pillar in the local scene, Fabi Patino. His world beat rhythms will accentuate Stebbins' worldly beats and comedic rhythms. And in case you forgot what city this was, there's an afterparty free to the audience down the street at Miami Beach's Surfcomber Hotel.
So let's represent, Miami, because Freddy Stebbins represents you.