From Old Florida stories, to poking fun at a famous Florida law firm, lawyer Tom Chase is all about making a personal connection.
Executive: Tom Chase, solo practitioner, Thomas C. Chase PA, Fort Myers.
Diversion: Humorist, folklorist, poet, impressionist.
Short stories, long laughs: Swapping stories around the fire at his hunting camp near Eustis led Chase to realize his retellings of Florida cracker lore and the voices and dialects he used for them could captivate listeners — and send them into fits of laughter.
Reaching back: Many of his yarns tell of life in a simpler, less-hurried Florida. “I'm an old-time storyteller,” says the 62-year-old Plant City native, who started his career 36 years ago as a personal-injury lawyer in Fort Myers. “It's not about one-liners,” he adds. “It's about connecting people through our histories and commonalities.”
Andy started it all: The first time he heard the late Andy Griffith recite the account of a bewildered farm boy who encountered his first football game out in a cow pasture, Chase knew he had a sidesplitting hayseed tale he could recite to a T. “I was so entranced by it,” he says.
“Forrest Gump” clinched it: The 1994 movie in which Tom Hanks portrayed the good-natured and somewhat slow-witted Forrest Gump brought the next step in Chase's humor evolution. “Those look like comfortable shoes,” he says, shifting into Gump's voice as he recites the start of the movie in which Hanks' character speaks to a woman sitting next to him on a park bench. “The minute he opened his mouth in that opening scene, I knew I could do that,” Chase says of impersonating Gump. People he tried it on went to pieces with laughter. So he's made up a bunch of Gump pieces for his routine.
Work the room: A few years ago, a friend urged Chase to share his homespun stories at an Art and Poetry network event at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in downtown Fort Myers. Chase says he figured the audience would be older folks who wouldn't much care for his “country-ass stories.” Wrong on both assumptions, he says. “They were young people. They loved the stories and kept inviting me back.”
Assisting the living: Chase eventually began entertaining residents of an assisted-living center where his elderly parents lived before their deaths. He recalls an older gentleman with Alzheimer's who had not spoken in weeks. After finishing one of his routines at the center, Chase walked up to the man to say hello. “That story there with the campfire ... it reminded me of when we were kids in the Poconos,” the old man says, leaving the center's staff floored.
Dorgan and Dorgan, for the people: Chase showed up one day at the former Jim Belushi Comedy Club in Fort Myers seeking his first club gig. He got nowhere with the skeptical 20-something manager until he went into his recitation of a radio ad for Dorgan & Dorgan (a knock off of a well-known Florida law firm). The manager was sold, and Chase took the stage twice the following Saturday night. “There were people slamming their hands on the table,” he says. “I've since come up with a lot of Dorgan & Dorgan stories.”
Live in the moment: Unless you have a map to his camp, you'll not likely find Chase on his days off. “My blood pressure goes down 100 points when I enter the gates of my hunting camp because there everything makes sense,” he says.
Cracked up in class: Chase did his first routine in fifth grade, leaving his teacher with tears of laughter that caused her mascara to run. He soon concluded, “It is cool to make a pretty woman laugh that hard.” He went on to star in his senior play in high school and become an after-dinner entertainment fixture at his University of Florida fraternity house.
Coming soon: Chase would like to get more paid gigs but enjoys doing free fundraisers. He's headlining the Southwest Florida Historical Society's Feb. 20 “Cracker Dinner” fundraiser. If you go, you just might hear how baby gators came to congregate outside the Okeechobee jail.