New York comedy clubs demand Cuomo to allow reopens during COVID
Photo: courtesy of the office of Senator Michael Gianaris
Today, a group of New York City comedy club owners and State Senator Michael Gianaris are demanding that Governor Cuomo allow them to reopen under the same COVID-19 restrictions as the city’s restaurants. The #SaveNYComedy initiative argues that most small venues will be forced to shut down permanently if nothing is done and that there is no difference in terms of safety between allowing a limited capacity dinner and asking people to get together to watch a comedian perform.
“I can’t find a single person making these decisions who can explain to me why comedy clubs are more dangerous than restaurants or bowling alleys that are allowed to operate now,” Senator Gianaris, known to some as of the “Amazon Slayer” for blocking the company’s planned headquarters in Queens, Vulture said. “If restaurants are allowed to have outdoor capacity, why is it any different if you have the same setup but someone is telling jokes?” It does not mean anything.”
As part of the plan to reopen phase 4 of New York, restaurants can start offering indoor dining on September 30 at 25% capacity, with tables spread out, no bar service, waiters wearing protective gear, and patrons required to wear masks unless they are seated at their tables and eating. “In a restaurant, people sitting around the table talk to each other all the time, whereas in a comedy club, they usually don’t. They look at the interpreter, ”says Gianaris. “The rule should be applied evenly for similar venues, and there is no reason why we should punish comedy clubs.”
Queens-based Gianaris, who previously led the fight for New York to freeze rent payments during the pandemic, also points out that the governor could change this rule immediately. But last week Cuomo said in a radio interview, “How essential is a comedy club when you’re talking about a possible infection rate?” Don’t offend the folks at the comedy club – Lord knows we have to laugh – but these are the calibrations we do.
The New York Comedy Coalition, meanwhile, has a long proposal which details the clubs’ plans – including the Comedy Cellar, QED Astoria, Gotham and New York Comedy Club – for the reopening. Guidelines include rules for capacity at remote tables, no gathering among patrons, tickets for all shows to allow for contact tracing, and performers standing at least ten feet from the audience. Gianaris had arranged a meeting with club owners and Cuomo’s advisers to brief them on the proposal, and he says it was surprising they weren’t included in plans to reopen.
“I have high hopes,” he said. “We were working closely with senior governor officials on this, and there seemed to be a certain level of understanding. I don’t know why they backtracked, but I hope we will correct it quickly.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gianaris joined a press conference at the New York Comedy Club to discuss the issue alongside room owners and the comics. QED Astoria organizer and owner Kambri Crews said: “We may be around 50 people – perfectly legal. But if I were to start telling jokes, charge you $ 5, require you all to be masked, sit and safely space six feet apart, and collect your contact details for tracing, that is is illegal. It does not mean anything.
Other owners, including Marko Elgart of Eastville Comedy Club and Scott Lindner of New York, explained that their capacity would still be less than 40 people and that it would be almost impossible to repay the PPP loans granted to them. James Dolce, of the Governor’s Comedy Club of Long Island, mentioned that after more than 12 weeks of presenting shows with all the proper precautions and safety moderations, not a single case has left the room. “We have proven it,” he said. “It has been done, and it can be done in any comedy club.”
Finally, comedian Christian Finnegan explained how vital the comedy scene is to the city and tourists, and pointed out that like cockroaches, stand-ups cannot be stepped on. “If the idea was to ban stand-up comedy, the guidelines set out by Governor Cuomo have been totally unsuccessful,” he said. “There are comedy shows going on tonight in private homes, in backyards, in parking lots. The only thing Governor Cuomo’s guidelines do is prevent them from being safely executed by licensed sites that know what they’re doing.