WILDWOOD — Dom Irrera was scheduled to perform at the same time a hurricane was making its way through the Wildwoods a few years ago, so he wasn’t expecting anyone to show up for his comedy act.
But when he walked into the now-closed Casba Comedy Club, “the place was packed in the middle of a hurricane.”
“I asked, ‘How badly do you people need a laugh?’” Irrera recalled.
That determination to have fun, even in the midst of a hurricane, “showed me a lot about the town,” he said.
The Wildwoods and its 11-year-old convention center — where Irrera is scheduled to perform Aug. 17 — are coming off one of its best years ever, according to its operator, the Greater Wildwoods Tourism and Development Authority.
Last year, the center saw about 240,000 people come through its doors, while the island saw 9 million visitors. Those visitors spent $93 million in room rentals and generated millions in revenue for the state, local towns and authorities responsible for the island’s tourism health.
Calling 2012 “one of the best years in the Wildwoods,” the authority’s annual budget forecasted another strong summer as the number of events continues to grow.
John Siciliano, executive director of the authority, said the center hosted comedians Sinbad and Gallagher years ago, but Irrera is the first comedian to play in the building in some time.
“This will extend the tradition of him coming to the Wildwoods,” Siciliano said, noting that Irrera spent years performing at the Casba until it closed this past year.
Irrera, a Philadelphia native and longtime Wildwood fan, is set to perform inside the center’s Starlight Ballroom, which has a seating capacity of 800.
“Me at the convention center. I feel like I’m running for president,” Irrera said.
His performance Aug. 17 is one of the many events scheduled at the Wildwoods Convention Center for the second half of the summer. Other events include a tattoo convention Aug. 16 to 18 and a four-day run by the Harlem Globetrotters Aug. 7 to 10.
The tattoo convention, the Wildwood Tattoo Beach Bash, was previously held in conjunction with Roar to the Shore, the motorcycle rally scheduled for Sept. 5 to 8 this year, but opted to go on its own.
Other calendar highlights include a mixed martial arts competition Aug. 2 to 4 and a roller derby event Aug. 23 and 24.
The convention center also sponsors events through the island’s tourism development fees, using more than $810,000 this year to support events up and down Five Mile Beach.
Some of the events include traditional summer highlights such as the Wildwoods Baby parade July 31 and more recent additions such as the 106.3 WJSE & Philadelphia Soul Summer Slam Sports & Music Festival featuring live music on the beach Aug. 24. Scheduled to perform are the bands Fuel, Hoobastank, Alien Ant Farm and Ballyhoo!
The concert is free, but tickets are required to enter, and organizers said Wednesday that all of the 14,000 tickets issued, not including VIP passes that come with a fee, were given out within about 36 hours of becoming available.
Siciliano said the center has seen a steady stream of visitors for its events so far this year, though weather is still a concern for the overall health of the island’s economy.
“I think the season’s been a bit off with a wet June, but the Fourth of July was solid. The island was packed,” Siciliano said. “The normal strong part of our season is right now, but the weather will make the difference.”
Wildwoods Convention Center events
Battle at the Beach Grappling Tournament, 8 to 10:30 p.m. Aug. 2, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 3 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 4. Tickets to Aug. 2’s cage fights start at $30. Tickets Aug. 3 and 4 are $15 at the door, free for children 7 and younger.
Harlem Globetrotters, 7 p.m. Aug. 7-10. Tickets range from $19 to $59. The Globetrotters also are offering a skills clinic 10 a.m. to noon all four days for children ages 6 to 14. Spots in the clinic cost $59 each.
Wildwood Tattoo Beach Bash, Noon to 11 p.m. Aug. 16 and 17, noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 18. Tickets $20 per day, $45 for the entire weekend
Dom Irrera & Friends Comedy Beach Bash, 9 p.m. Aug. 17, tickets $28 for reserved seating, $38 for VIP seating with meet-and-greet
Colossal Coastal Roller Derby Expo, doors open 3:30 p.m. Aug. 23 and 24, tickets $12 in advance, $15 at the door, $10 with student or military ID and for group tickets, free for children 6 and younger
Sports Card, Toys, Comics & Collectibles Show, 3 to 9 p.m. Aug. 23, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 24, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 25. Free admission
Handcraft Unlimited Labor Day Craft Show, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 31, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 1. Admission $3, free for children 12 and younger
Roar to the Shore Motorcycle Rally, noon to 10 p.m. Sept. 5, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sept. 6 and 7, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 8
More info: wildwoodsnj.com
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