How the COVID-19 Coronavirus Is Impacting Comedy

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How the COVID-19 Coronavirus Is Impacting Comedy

The COVID-19 coronavirus is forcing everyone to practice increasingly strict social distancing. The number of acceptable people in a social gathering is steadily dwindling like a shitty Russian nesting doll, forcing businesses to adapt on the fly. At first, it was major sporting leagues and festivals like the NBA and Coachella shutting down as the CDC advised that crowds of 250 or more were unsafe. Less than a week later, that number hardened into 50 for a recommended period of 8 weeks. By the next day, 10.

The entertainment, events and hospitality industries are situated directly in the pandemic’s line of fire, having no suitable work from home options with little to no paid sick leave or health insurance to help workers weather the storm. TV and film productions have been halted and late night shows are going dark, recording shows with no audiences. Comedians are having to mass cancel tours as clubs, theatres, bars, and more are temporarily shuttered—closures that may become permanent depending on the financial situations of each business. Not only are comedians losing income due to show cancellations, but many are also losing other sources of income through work as bartenders, servers, caterers, and rideshare or delivery drivers, making it even harder to pay the bills, but also harder to self-isolate and thus ease the spread of contagion.

Many of the country’s biggest cities/comedy hubs did not have the choice for long. State and city officials have mandated that all small theatres, restaurants, and bars be closed to the public indefinitely in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, all of Colorado, Maryland, and more. Many small cities have yet to impose such rules as smaller towns continue to proceed with business as usual and defy the 10 people max gathering recommendation—and that includes comedians.

While many comedians can recount a time they had a blast performing to a scrawny crowd of four or so audience members, these numbers are not conducive to any live performance. Is that stopping showrunners from going on a precautionary hiatus? Don’t bet on it.

The “stage time is stage time” and “hustle til you drop” mentality that is taught to comics from the first time they set their beer on an open mic stool is particularly dangerous conditioning in a time like this. Even without the world on fire, comics have a tendency to not listen to their bodies, both physically and mentally, and push themselves to do everything they can to remain a “real” comedian, which can easily lead to burnout and illness.

So comedians, hear our plea: stay the fuck home. Many health experts have urged everyone to act as if you have the virus and stay home and self-isolate so why on Earth would you ignore their advice in favor of a bored comedian who was on Fox’s Laughs once? Many, especially those under 30, will not show signs of COVID-19 but can still act as carriers and infect the most vulnerable. We know many comedians fall under this umbrella. We also know comics tend to be scrappy.

It’s one of the more admirable traits of a comedian, finding ways to keep a show going despite all obstacles: power outages, broken mics, flooded venues, banjo players, etc. They perform in the dark illuminated only by the audience’s cell phones, they go acapella, and they transform their garages and living rooms into event spaces. But now’s not the time to be MacGyver—now’s the time to be Lucas Till, star of the MacGyver reboot who nobody would get out of bed to watch.

Self-isolating and social distancing are how we stop the spread. However bad it is now, this will only get 10 times worse and then some if we continue getting together in large crowds. We don’t want to come out of this dark period to find the only comedians on our re-opened stages all have trust funds. Stay home, cancel everything.

What can you do to help?

If you run an indie show and your venue is still open: shut your show down. The line-up and staff alone it would take to run it would likely max you out on the recommended social gathering numbers. It’s just not possible so do the responsible thing and cancel your next show and be prepared to postpone coming back for a month or two at least. If the money-obsessed MLB can suspend operations then you can cancel your bar show that pays in PBR.

If you run a comedy business: shut down and pay your employees for the time lost. I understand most comedy venues are small businesses but employers should be doing all they can to help their employees through this difficult time as they will likely be hit the hardest by the quarantine. At the very least, file unemployment on your employee’s behalf.

If you are a fan: buy, don’t stream. Many of your favorite up-and-coming comedians are losing out on a lot of income by having to cancel their shows. It is going to be a rough couple of weeks so now’s the time to buy some merch. Buy their albums instead of streaming. Buy their books from indie bookstores who will also be going through harsh times or buy their t-shirts, stickers, koozies, etc. Subscribe to their Patreons, follow them on social media, do whatever you can to support artists while keeping yourself entertained.

You can also donate to one of the many efforts to compensate those in the entertainment and hospitality services that have lost work.

Help support the restaurant and bar scenes that host and employ many comedy shows and performers with donations to The Giving Kitchen, RWCF, USBG National Charity Foundation, and Rally for Restaurants, to name a few. See if your own personal favorite waterhole has a personal relief fund via GoFundMe and other crowdfunding platforms.

For affected artists, apply for financial aid via CERF+ and the COVID-10 Freelance Artist Resource. More and more people are organizing every day and resources like icareifyoulisten.com or creative-capital.org are steadily growing out their lists of relief aids.


Olivia Cathcart is Paste’s assistant comedy editor.

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