New York, NY – With the closure of more and more comedy clubs and improv theatres due to COVID-19, many experts are wondering whether the industry can survive without brick and mortar spaces where sexual predators flourish.
Comedy clubs have long been bastions of free speech and have been trying to make sense of how to approach the future. “Before COVID, I thought the only thing that would bring down our institution would be someone trying to censor us, or the fact that our zero-tolerance policy does not exist,” says Carl Englehart, owner of Joker’s Laugh Basement.
“There’s things you don’t get when you see stand-up online or in a public park. There’s authenticity, the slightly off smell, the groups of white men bunched together doing bits, the ever-changing bathroom graffiti which tells you which d-list celeb is a rapist.” Says Engleheart. “Are you really performing comedy if you don’t HAVE to ask friends to walk you home because of an awkward interaction? Now it’s just comics giving shirtless unsolicited notes over facetime. That’s not the comedy scene I fostered.”
It’s not just the owners who are having a difficult time with online shows, it’s also comedy teachers. “It’s very hard to do what I do over Zoom,” says Norman Fedora, AD of Improv By Committee (IBC) Theatre, self-published author of “Yes Man’d’: The Woke Man’s Guide to Improv” and frequent name in the communities’ Do Not Be Alone With list. “We need the stage so that we can bring in more prospective students, about half of whom will eventually leave the community because of my inappropriate behaviour.” Adding: “I’m a gatekeeper in the improv scene and that means nothing if I can’t block someone from a real door when they’re trying to get away.”
“Open mics, improv shows, you name it, are going to be very different without the physical location,” says Cal Melon, owner of the comedy club chain Tee-Hee’s. “There’s something very sad about a greener comic not having the chance to get up in front of an audience, perform, then have an older, more established comedian jerk off in front of them in the green room.”