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One thing I’ve been keeping my eyes on is the rash of new comedy clubs that opened during the pandemic. There’s more than a few:
-Back in June, the Market Lounge, a restaurant in Valparaiso, Indiana, emerged from lockdown as the Market Lounge and Comedy Club. A local news writeup reported that the 70-seat venue would host trivia nights, open mic nights, and comedy shows every Friday. It did not mention any safety protocols; nor does the club’s website. Images tagged at the club as recently as two weeks ago show unmasked comics and audience members.
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-In August, Kellar’s Modern Magic & Comedy Club opened in Erie, Pennsylvania, in a space that used to be home to the Jr’s Last Laugh Comedy Club. Again: nothing from local news or the club’s website about Covid-19. In a photo tagged at the club in August, you can see unmasked audience members sitting very close to the stage.
-In September, 3E’s Comedy Club opened in Colorado Springs. The owner is a former comedy promoter, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette, who believed this was the right time to hang his own shingle. “We need to open,” he told the paper. “The city needs to laugh.” Photos tagged at the club show unmasked audiences, customers seated tightly together and close to the stage, and unmasked comics posing with unmasked fans.
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-In October, a software engineer and former Bill Gates publicist opened the Alameda Comedy Club in Alameda, California, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that he “wouldn’t let the coronavirus pandemic keep him from realizing his dream of opening a comedy club.” He and his wife, a restaurant manager, apparently settled on a location for the club a year earlier and “invested hundreds of thousands of dollars” into it before the pandemic stalled their plans. The club and restaurant hosted (mask-optional) outdoor shows until the region shut down in December.
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-A club called The Comedy Fort is preparing for its grand opening next month in Fort Collins, Colorado, with Shane Torres as headliner. The owner told the Coloradoan that he’s selling tickets for tables of four—with prices ranging from $60 to $100—and since capacity is limited to 50 people he’s expecting to sell 12 or 13 tickets. Even when you factor in food and drink sales, it’s clear this isn’t exactly a profit-making venture. The owner also promised the Coloradoan that there will be “strict mask enforcement,” which is of course impossible when people are eating and drinking.
-The Sandman Comedy Club is preparing to open this month in Richmond, Virginia. The owners, Carrie and Michael Sands, are retired finance professionals who decided to open a comedy club and restaurant in their spare time: “I wanted to have my own business,” Michael told Richmond Biz Sense in July. “I looked at the usual franchises and all that stuff, and none of that interested me… I wanted to be my own boss and have it be fun.” They leased out a property that had been empty for a year and paid cash to renovate it. Soon they’ll produce shows, open mics, and karaoke four nights a week, with their 300-person showroom capped at 150. The club’s website does not mention Covid-19.
-This one’s my favorite, which is why I’m breaking chronological order to put it at the end. In September, an ex-cop named Jim Perry opened JP's Comedy Club in Gilbert, Arizona. Here's what you need to know about Perry: his career as a cop ended when he "volunteered to be tased during a training exercise" and injured his shoulder so bad he had to leave the force and pivot to comedy. He also performs standup himself, opening for headliners at the club. Both the club’s website and that local news writeup say masking and distancing are mandatory; per usual, photographic evidence suggests they’re not.
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If you’ll permit a bit of extrapolation, it seems clear to me that one reason this is happening—nonessential businesses opening during a pandemic specifically to host potential super-spreader events—is that a handful of budding business owners put a bunch of money down before the pandemic, and now they’re putting everyone else at risk to recoup their investments. Another likely reason is that, like Perry the ex-cop, some of them are just sociopaths:
“I believe in doing the opposite of what the masses are doing,” he said. “In ’08 when the housing market was crashing, my wife and I bought a bunch of houses as an investment and when things went back to normal we flipped those houses.
“I had the same mindset when COVID happened with businesses shutting down. I got a good lease and good rent.
“When I see things as bad I look at it as an opportunity. I think it will end and things will get better. This is like a dream for me, a passion project. It’s fun and may turn into something and may pay the rent.”
I neglected to touch on an important aspect of the Dave Chappelle news last week, which is that he and his fellow touring comics are wealthy people with access to quality care and the ability to isolate themselves without sacrificing income. This is generally not a privilege enjoyed by the bartenders and servers and cooks and hosts and busboys making it possible for comedians to work right now. I suspect many of the businesspeople opening comedy clubs right now consider themselves job creators doing an important public service, and there may be some truth to this. But they are also holding working people hostage to the whims of comedians who don’t care a whit about Covid-19. If the industry never reckons with this act of profound greed, I’m not sure what about it is worth keeping.