THIS WEEK IN COMEDY
Comedy clubs: we’ve always known they’d someday kill hundreds or thousands of people. Now their reign of destruction has finally begun. Yesterday The Comic’s Comic reported on a slew of clubs that have reopened with their respective states: The Addison Improv in Dallas, Wiseguys’ three locations in Salt Lake City, The Comedy Club of Kansas City, Rick Bronson's House of Comedy in Phoenix, Bricktown Comedy Club in Oklahoma City. I will add the Improv’s other Texas locations, San Antonio and Houston, to that list. Comedy’s back, baby! Thank you Republican governors!!
Some measures these clubs are taking to keep people safe: reduced capacity, temperature checks, social distancing between customers (but not between customers and staff), hand sanitizer stations, frequent disinfecting of high-contact surfaces, single-use menus, contactless pay, et cetera, et cetera. Are patrons required to wear masks? No, but they can if they want. Rick Bronson’s goes so far as to “ask” people who are feeling unwell or exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 to please stay home. The Improv similarly requests that people in high-risk groups refrain from coming out; it’s working on a webcast option for them to enjoy instead.
Incidentally, did you know that at least 44% of coronavirus infections come from people without any symptoms? Or that the biggest outbreaks, other than in nursing homes, have occurred in enclosed spaces with poor air circulation and lots of people, even properly distanced people, talking, yelling, or singing? Did you read about the community choir practice in Washington where nobody shook hands, everybody kept a safe distance from each other, and one asymptomatic carrier infected almost everyone else there?
Here’s what one comedian told The Comic’s Comic about his show at the Addison Improv:
It was excellent! I’m driving home right now. I didn’t trust flying so I drove to the gig. Wiseguys followed all the required procedures- took temperatures of all staff and customers, all staff wearing masks, cleaned everything between shows, spaced audience apart and they only sat about 33% of the room. I think it made everyone feel safe. Each comic had their own microphone.
I think we are beginning to normalize some of this pandemic stuff. Seeing masks in the audience wasn’t that weird to me. One thing that hasn’t changed is laughter- it’s still contagious. It felt great to connect with a live audience again. Although I was incredibly rusty. They enjoyed hearing comedy about the pandemic- as opposed to the political/scary aspect of covid. It was so good to be there. I hope other clubs can start opening up in a similar cautious way.
We are beginning to normalize some of this pandemic stuff! That’s great. I love for a super contagious ill-understood incurable deadly virus to be so normal that I’m not even scared of catching it at one of the places where I’m most likely to catch it. I think it’s perfectly sensible for a club to make their staff wear masks but not the people who came for the express purpose of forcefully exhaling every 30 seconds or so. Laughter is the best medicine. Everybody deserves a chance to forget about the scary political aspects of the pandemic their elected officials are letting them die in. And now to drive several hundred miles to another city where even more people will exhale forcefully in my direction.
There is only one meaningful precaution a comedy club can take to protect its staff and patrons from infection: staying closed. Until we have mass testing and contact tracing, everything else is a half measure. Maybe club owners are telling themselves Well there’s always going to be some level of risk, but that’s not true: there’s no level of risk if you don’t let people into the place where the risk is. Maybe comics are telling themselves Well I deserve to make a living too, but that’s not true either. They don’t deserve to make a living from live comedy more than their audiences deserve to stay alive.
It’s impossible to overstate how dangerous this is. These are road clubs opening back up and road comics performing at them. If things carry on, pretty soon there’ll be a merry band of Covid vectors criss-crossing the country, bringing the virus to a new poorly-ventilated room each weekend. The joy and community of live performance aren’t worth the risk, especially when clubs can draw on their deep wells of talent to produce shows online. Surely they can make at least as much money from a ticketed Zoom show as they could from a quarter-capacity room. With the right marketing, they could probably make more.
If comics want clubs to exist on the other side of this, they’ll have to police each other vigilantly: there’s no Comedy Boss telling everyone what to do, other than the bosses opening up spots for whoever’s willing to take them. So long as the spots are there, and there’s no shame associated with taking them, people will. Right now the norm is “let people take their own risks.” It needs to be “let’s sacrifice our lifestyle for a while so we don’t kill anyone.” Otherwise we’ll soon find out how contagious laughter really is.
THIS WEEK IN TV
I enjoyed Solar Opposites, the new Hulu animated series from Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland and writer/producer Mike McMahan. It’s… very similar to Rick and Morty, in that the main character is a narcissistic scientist (albeit an alien scientist), voiced by Roiland, who gets his (quasi-) family into a bunch of zany adventures. The humor and tone are near-identical, though it never quite achieves the emotional resonance Rick and Morty taps into at its best, and it perhaps leans a bit too hard on third act climaxes in which a high-concept sci-fi device spirals out of control and puts the entire city at risk. But if you’re into the first part of that sentence, then you probably won’t care too much about the other two. The show also has a really inventive subplot involving a society of miniaturized people kept in a sort of terrarium by two of the main characters. They get a standalone episode late in the season that’s probably the show’s best—its own Ricklantis Mixup, more or less.
THIS WEEK (/MONTH) IN THE INTERNET
–I loved this book review by Jenny Odell, which doubles as an essay about the weird lives of birds and birdwatchers:
My imagination is stretched every morning by the neighborhood crows that I befriended on my street in 2016, after learning in Ackerman’s previous book, The Genius of Birds, that they recognize human faces. I’ve had four years to observe the behavior of one crow family. I’ve seen them groom one another, forage in the neighbor’s roof gutter, peck curiously at mushrooms, wipe their beaks on the power line, yawn, scold a hawk or cat (with different sounds for each), do barrel rolls when it’s windy, and sometimes follow me down the block, landing on various branches near my head. Lately they seem to enjoy my hiding a peanut for them under a pile of driftwood and pine cones, and they once moved a small rock from one side of my balcony to the other. Why they did this is … a deep mystery. The more I observe them, the less of a grasp I feel I have on them. Instead, they look more and more like willful individuals.
-Through Twitter I have become acquainted Jimmy Thomson, a Canadian journalist covering ecological issues and indigenous communities for The Narwhal. Last week he published a long, fascinating exposé about workplace abuse on deep-sea fishing vessels:
In 1996, Fisheries and Oceans Canada took the unprecedented step of closing the fishery for five months in the wake of years of over-harvesting.
B.C.’s bottom trawl fishery involves dragging a net through the water column or along the seabed, harvesting a variety of fish that live near the bottom of the ocean, including Pacific cod, hake, rockfish and pollock. The fishery was only permitted to reopen once it was guaranteed an independent observer would be stationed as a watchdog on each and every boat.
Yet an imperfect system means observers — whose reports could ultimately result in a shut down of a boat or even the entire industry — are vulnerable to intimidation from ship skippers and crew members who at times exercise pressure on individuals to under-report their findings or look the other way.
Worldwide, at least half a dozen observers have gone missing under mysterious circumstances, and there are likely more, says Liz Mitchell, president of the Association for Professional Observers. At a 2013 conference in Chile, she says, she learned of three more disappearances that had occurred there.
“Everywhere they go, observers get harassed,” she says. “[Abusers] get away with it because most people don’t even know what an observer is.”
Scenes, especially ones as developed as Chicago’s, have hierarchies. Some people, generally older white men, have more influence, both cultural and institutional, than others. If someone who has been doing shows at iO for the last twenty years likes you, they often have the power to put you on a team, give your indie team a prime spot, or any other number of ways of giving you a leg up in the comedy world. For a young improviser trying to make a name for themselves, pissing someone off like this could derail any plans of making it big. Just as quickly as someone can boost you, they can ice you out. Scenes other than Chicago’s have similar relationships.
The rise of social media has also made it harder to express political opinions without consequences. Becoming FB friends or Twitter mutuals with a gatekeeper in the scene, means watching what you post on those platforms. Expressing an opinion that piques the ire of a gatekeeper could lose you a shot at a Harold Team, after all. The owners of the various improv theaters also exert a lot of influence who gets to play and who doesn’t. They go to shows and parties and don’t stick solely to the business-side of the operation. Performers feel pressure to conform to more middle-of-the-isle views, than anything that might attack the interests of the theater owners. Say, higher taxes on the wealthy, paying actors, or employee unions.
THIS WEEK IN FEELINGS
Pandemic sucks! I miss my friends! I regret not resolving certain interpersonal conflicts before getting stuck in Boise! I can’t believe they’re going with Biden! If he picks Harris I’m gonna scream! If he picks Klobuchar I’m gonna yell! If he picks Abrams I’m gonna holler! How have none of the bad people died yet! It’s so stupid that all of the stupidest things keep happening! Who cares if Jerry Seinfeld’s a good joke writer, all his thoughts are boring and irrelevant! Jimmy Fallon should go to jail for his topical raps, to say nothing of his other crimes! Yes self-production and distribution is the future of comedy, but it’s still very funny that nobody bought Sam Morril or Mark Normand’s new specials! I don’t care for the Rory Scovel series even though I quite like Rory Scovel! If massive structural change is only possible with mass populist anger, and the only media encouraging mass populist anger is right wing media, then, well, fuck! AhhhhHHhhhhHHHH!!
REST IN PEACE DEPT.
Ada Limón, “The End of Poetry”:
Enough of osseous and chickadee and sunflower
and snowshoes, maple and seeds, samara and shoot,
enough chiaroscuro, enough of thus and prophecy
and the stoic farmer and faith and our father and tis
of thee, enough of bosom and bud, skin and god
not forgetting and star bodies and frozen birds,
enough of the will to go on and not go on or how
a certain light does a certain thing, enough
of the kneeling and the rising and the looking
inward and the looking up, enough of the gun,
the drama, and the acquaintance’s suicide, the long-lost
letter on the dresser, enough of the longing and
the ego and the obliteration of ego, enough
of the mother and the child and the father and the child
and enough of the pointing to the world, weary
and desperate, enough of the brutal and the border,
enough of can you see me, can you hear me, enough
I am human, enough I am alone and I am desperate,
enough of the animal saving me, enough of the high
water, enough sorrow, enough of the air and its ease,
I am asking you to touch me.