Meet Joe Cruz. He's a 31-year-old software engineer and aspiring comedy writer. You probably don't know him, but his funny and shrewd observations are quite popular in Lakeland. We couldn't get enough of him last month when he was entertaining us as The Lakelandist.

People all over town were trying to guess the identity of the anonymous Lakelandist after his satire hit the web, Facebook and Twitter around seven weeks ago.

But Joe's anonymity was never intentional; more likely it was a product of his modesty.

“It wasn’t planned to be anonymous. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would care who I was,” he said when we met last week — appropriately at Swan Brewing since he appropriated the city's signature cygnet for the Lakelandist logo.

And fans will be glad to know that while The Lakelandist declared its own demise Oct. 30, it turns out rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated.

The Lakelandist struck again the following week, and Joe says he'll continue posting occasionally when he spots a worthy target.

He admits he was taken aback when The Lakelandist took off quickly as people shared his posts on social media. He had thought his satire would be seen by a circle of friends; instead his posts were getting several thousand views in the first week.

He speculates that The Lakelandist jetted in popularity because Lakeland is ready to laugh at itself. “There's an overwhelming pressure to love Lakeland all the time,” he said. “But a lot of people realized that the foibles of Lakeland are funny.”

To a certain degree, Joe brings the kind of outsider's perspective that often ignites good comedy or satire.

He grew up in Davenport and attended a private Catholic elementary school in Orlando. His first exposure to Lakelanders came when he switched to the International Baccalaureate School at Bartow High School at age 14.

He realized right away that people he met from Lakeland had an inflated sense of the size and influence of their city. Somebody even tried to tell him once that Lakeland was the third largest city in Florida after Tampa and Orlando. (It's not?)

Joe made several friends from Lakeland at IB and got to know the city because he would often stay over with them since it was a long drive from school to his parents' home near the Polk-Osceola line.

[/media-credit] Joe Cruz

He got to know Lakeland even better when he lived here from 2010 until 2015.

That's right: The Lakelandist isn't even a Lakelander these days. He lives in Winter Haven.

Joe is currently a software analyst at Publix Super Markets and works on projects such as mobile apps. He's also been a web developer for the CNP marketing/branding agency in Winter Haven, the head of applications development for Osceola County, a tech analyst for Verizon and a programmer at the court administrator's office in Bartow.

At Florida State University, he exercised both hemispheres of his brain, majoring in classics as an undergrad and in information technology in grad school.

Now that he's had a taste of success with satire, he wants to focus even more on his comedy writing.

He particularly admires Jack Handey, who is best known for his “Deep Thoughts” segments on “Saturday Night Live.” Like Handey, Joe likes to examine the ordinary and mine the absurd in it, and he'd like to work on humorous essays in the vein of Dave Barry.

He's done some comedy writing with Chris Rhoden, one of the jocular skippers of WLKF's “Mayhem in the AM.” (Chris is the one with the Conan O'Brien hair.)

In fact, Chris is one of the few people who figured out that Joe was The Lakelandist.

The first tipoff, Chris said, was the tone of the writing. “He’s got the sense of irreverence and slightly dark humor, which is definitely up my alley,” Chris said. Chris said he was brought up on the comedy of Mel Brooks, while Joe said his parents (“My dad is the funniest guy I know”) exposed him to the likes of Bob Hope and Groucho Marx.

Chris contributed a few lines to Lakelandist posts, and he and Joe have talked about the possibility of writing podcasts and sketch comedy together.

People who know Chris can imagine him doing comedy in front of an audience, but that's not a place Joe wants to be. As a guy who's basically shy, he doesn't see himself doing standup.

But shyness hasn't kept him from cutting up on microphone with friends. Over the summer, he produced nine episodes of a podcast, “Please, Let Me Comedy at You,” in which he tests jokes for good-natured friends.

Joe plans to start podcasting again, but anticipates future podcasts will be shorter (20 minutes instead of roughly 40) and more conversational. He's happy that members of the band Pemberley are letting him use one of their songs for his show; they were a favorite of his when he played synthesizer in punk bands during high school.

And he was majorly stoked that Aaron Marsh of Copeland took note of The Lakelandist from the very beginning since Aaron was a musical hero.

Marsh responded to The Lakelandist's very first post by asking on Twitter: who are you???

Less than two weeks later, The Lakelandist issued a rare serious post promoting Copeland's then-pending concert with the Imperial Symphony Orchestra. Marsh's response: “I'm a little bummed that you didn't roast us.” He got his wish two days later:

In fact, many people asked The Lakelandist to mention them; in a way, being roasted by The Lakelandist was the kind of hip Lakeland thing that The Lakelandist liked to satirize.

I have a feeling that this article might bring Joe even more requests. The night we talked at Swan Brewing, he let me reveal his secret to one of the musicians about to play there. A few minutes later, a bandmate came over to suggest ways the Lakelandist could spoof the band. And later that night, somebody else who caught wind of my guest's identity was disappointed he didn't get to plant a few ideas in Joe's ear.

With so many people wanting to be in on the joke, it's clear most readers recognized The Lakelandist's writing as satire. There were a few exceptions, like the apparently believable article that people were already setting up chairs for the Lakeland Christmas parade in October; and he's sorry the Poor Porker had to explain to a few folks that they're not really owned by TGI Fridays.

Still, Joe is grateful that his audience recognized that there was never ill intent in his humor.

“One of the things I wanted to come across is that I also love Lakeland a lot.”

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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