It’s a surprise to nobody that COVID-19 has drastically changed the face of many of the world’s industries. As it pertains to our neck of the woods, the shutdown has hit the entertainment industry particularly bad. Clubs and venues were some of the first to shut down and according to NY’s comedy club owners, there’s not even a plan for when or how they can open back up.
Today, outside of the 4th St location of the NY Comedy Club, owners from across the city of New York held a rally to ask for assistance and it was mostly intended for one person, Governor Andrew Cuomo. The thrust of their argument being that comedy clubs across the city are in dire need to be allowed to re-open or assistance as they are forced to remain closed. Because right now they are in a limbo where there is not even direction or a roadmap. The organization detailed a 5-page document and presented it to the Governor’s office on September 5th as requested but has since not received any guidance or timeline on what they can do to open up. In addition to NYCC and Q.E.D., clubs like Gotham Comedy Club, the Comedy Cellar, Carolines, The Stand, Eastville and more all rallied behind the message. NYCC owner Emilio Savone remarked that though NY comedy clubs can be pretty territorial, “they all came together in about an hour to support this cause” because it’s that important to them and the communities they serve. They are asking for their clubs to be considered part of the indoor dining re-opening currently scheduled to happen on September 30th at 25% capacity.
When Gov. Cuomo mentioned last week that he’d love nothing more than clubs to be open again he alluded to large venues but the message these clubs were attempting to convey was they are not running clubs for thousands of people, they are small venues that seat hundreds and with restricted capacity laws you are then talking about tens of guests for shows, a far cry from thousand person super-spreader type events one might see at a large theater.
Rally organizer and Q.E.D. Astoria club owner Kambri Crews laid out the news that there are about 2,400 small and independent arts venues in NYC that employ thousands of gig workers, independent workers and funnel business into their communities. They’re asking that the governors office treat these venues the same as restaurants and allow indoor dining at limited capacity. Crews and Savone wanted to be very clear that they are not anti-maskers or shouting that the shutdown was in someway a violation of constitutional rights, in fact they supported the quarantine. But now its been over 6 months of no rent relief or even plans in sight so they are are asking how it can bee deemed safe to indoor dine, go to a gym, visit an escape room, go bowling, or host a trivia night. With clubs ticketing shows, they can easily control the number of guests into their spaces and contract tracing is easy because a transaction is happening with the person purchasing the ticket. Crews stated, “We’re maybe about 50 people — perfectly legal. But if I were to start telling jokes, charge you $5, require you all to be masked, seat you and space you safely six feet apart, and collect your contact info for tracing, that is illegal. It makes zero sense.”
Without rent freezes, help from the state, and PPP loans coming to an end, club owners that supported Gov Cuomo’s decisions for shutdown now need him to support them.
Other speakers at the rally included comedian Christian Finnegan who stated that comedy and comedians are resilient and even without clubs, “comedy is still happening everywhere” alluding to how scrappy the industry got by holding shows on rooftops, in parks, and in parking lots, Finnegan added “the only thing Governor Cuomo’s guidelines do is prevent them from being done safely by licensed venues who know what they’re doing.”
James Dolce, of Governor’s Comedy Club on Long Island, mentioned that after more than 12 weeks of hosting shows with all the proper precautions and safety moderations, not a single case came out of the venue. “We proved it,” he said. “It was done, and it can be done in all the comedy clubs.”
The group also has political firepower with Senator Michael Gianaris whose been helping the group get their message heard. “This is not a political issue – why are comedy clubs being treated differently than the rest of the city? unlike restaurants and other venues?” the Senator stated in his speech adding, “We should be partnering with our small businesses to get them back on track not putting obstacles in front of them.” Something that is happening in other parts of the nation. Savone stated that the governing bodies in other states like Connecticut, where he also runs a club were being extremely helpful with his business there and putting him in the position where he’s given comedic talent from NYC work in the next state over.
Collectively, the group is calling on our elected officials and stakeholders to implement the following
- Allow outdoor performances to happen immediately. Venues remain closed in NYC banned from producing ticketed outdoor live performances which contradicts the fact that public gatherings with fewer than 50 attendees are allowed to continue without contact tracing or oversight.
- Allow clubs to be included with restaurants at 25% occupancy for indoor service. Indoor dining at 25% capacity begins September 30th and independent performing arts spaces are not included in this plan. Once customers are seated, comedy clubs & many arts venues operate like any other food service establishment.
- Allow venues to be included with indoor bowling at 50% occupancy without food & beverage service immediately. Indoor bowling in NYC is allowed to occur at 50% indoor occupancy on the contingency that no food or beverage is consumed indoors. Independent arts venues should be allowed to operate in this exact same manner with safely spaced seating in theaters without food or beverage service.
- Tell us what the metrics are. The Governor has rightly talked about science and statistics but is not sharing what the numbers are for when ticketed arts & entertainment will resume. The requests above are based on comparable rules of operations for safe reopening already in place, based in common sense. All we ask is that the comedy clubs are swiftly allowed the same newly regulated reopening parameters as other NYC industries, and that we are informed as to the logic of these decisions either way.
If you’d like to help here’s how you can support follow the group’s Facebook Page for all the latest updates. Use the #SaveNYComedy and #SaveOurStages in your social messaging and be sure to text SIGN EUIFST to 50409 which will help get their letter to elected officials.