BWW Previews: MARK CORDES, THE SPOUSE WHISPERER, at Jaeb Theatre At Straz Center For The Performing Arts
In the mid-80s, when comedian Mark Cordes, then a realtor, was with his guy friends commiserating over his divorce in a local bar, it never occurred to him that one day, through the honest narrative of his second marriage, his comedy might heal some broken relationships.
He credits a friend with a dare that brought him behind the mic and into the spotlight.
"The lights went down, and it was an amateur comedy night, and a bunch of guys got up. Nineteen out of 20 were bad; the only one that was funny was my friend David Spade. When it was over, my other friend called the owner over and said, 'you ought to have my friend go up. He's funnier than all these guys.' I went in the next week, tried it just on a dare and got bit by the bug."
He performed in open mics, and in 1987, he decided to ditch his realtor career and travel doing comedy full-time.
"Here it is 2020, and I'm still doing it. I've had a blast. It's been a great run and getting better all the time."
Mark had always been fascinated by the ins and outs of relationships, and his comedy tended to cover both the male and female perspectives. He even met the woman he would marry in 1998 and eventually helped inspire the writing for his sets in a comedy club.
"While on stage in a comedy club in 1990 in Tuscon, Arizona, I looked down and made eye contact with a woman that's now my wife," he said. "About 10 years ago, I realized that all the jokes I really enjoyed writing about related to relationships. I realized I was on to something and created a show called The Spouse Whisperer. It's tongue in cheek. I'm not Dr. Phil. I'm just a guy who looks at relationships in a funny way, from both sides. I poke fun at men and women, so it's not a one-sided slam. I'm very pro-relationship. I'm a big believer if you've got one, make it a good as it gets, hang on, and enjoy the ride. If you're not in one, there's one out there for you. Go find it."
When asked how his wife felt being the motivation for his writing, he said that she loved it and was disappointed if something silly she did wasn't mentioned.
"She's the source of so much of my material. She's hysterically funny. She does goofy stuff, and she'll go 'oh ok, that's going to be in your show, isn't it?'"
Mark's sisters-in-law will be in the audience for his performance at the Straz Center.
"I have to make sure I'm at the top of my wife-material game; otherwise, I'll hear about it," Mark teased. "Our big belief is just to have fun. Life's too short to not be enjoying it and try to laugh whenever possible."
The title of his one-man show, The Spouse Whisperer, was a playful jab at the reality TV shows with whisperer in the title.
"If they can go around and tell how to make dogs and horses better than I'm going to be the spouse whisperer. Everybody gets the title."
Mark said that The Spouse Whisperer was all humor-driven with some scientific information thrown in, so it had some basis in fact. It's also interactive. From 18 to senior citizens, everyone can find something to relate to. The audience is given cards upon entering the show and asked to write questions and comments that he will respond to in the second half of the performance. He noted that no matter the corner of the country, the concerns about relationships were surprisingly universal.
"Why does my husband do this? Why does my wife do that?"
Although the audience often dictates the direction of the show by these cards and the topics were adult, the show did not rely on curse words or vulgarity to get a story across.
"It's a little bit naughty like all relationships should be, but no F-bombs. The best question of the night wins dinner and a movie," he said. ""Some of the things that people ask just blow my mind."
Mark has compiled over 14,000 questions for a book to be released called "The Best of The Spouse Whisperer."
Mark said he receives positive feedback regularly from the audience, but an 85-year-old widow's response to his show brought tears to his eyes. She asked if she could give him a hug and relayed that her husband has recently passed.
He described her conversation with him.
"I really needed to laugh, and I haven't laughed that hard in 50 years. I've been going through some health issues. I lost my husband of many, many years. Thanks for making me laugh, forget all my troubles, and make me fall in love all over again with what I miss about my husband."
Mark loves to greet his fans after the show. Couples have teased that he has a microphone in their house. He regularly gets couples who come to the show divorced but are still friends, and after seeing The Spouse Whisperer are motivated to give their relationship another try.
"They say 'now that we realize that it's not just him - it's the way men think about things- and it's not just her - all women kind of think that way, we're going to give it another shot.'"
Mark always preaches the importance of laughter in healing a relationship.
He said that couples often tell him because of the show they are leaving holding hands. They did not enter the show the same way.
"Everybody has heard the phrase laughter is the best medicine, and that's not by accident."
Mark hopes that after seeing The Spouse Whisperer, audience members want to connect on social media and follow him to see where he is next and when he's back in Tampa Bay.
"Come laugh your butts off, and bring your friends."
He paused to close the interview with a joke.
"You'll get a kick out of this. After twenty-nine years, we're in phase four of the relationship. Phase four - I'm not going to tell you the rest of the joke. You'll hear it at the show. Just remember phase four."
To learn the punchline, buy your tickets at https://strazcenter.org/Events/Straz/Shows/1920_Comedy/The-Spouse-Whisperer. The Spouse Whisperer is in Jaeb Theatre at The Straz Center from February 14-16, 2020. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased by calling 813.229.STAR (7827) or 800.955.1045 outside Tampa Bay, in person at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office or online.