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Comedy in Quarantine

ASEEM SHUKLA, HOST: With all the bars and clubs closing down, live standup comedy is off stage and streaming into people’s homes. Live streaming can reach wider audiences, but at the same time, present a whole new set of challenges for comedians. Reporter Brett Forrest with more.

BRETT FORREST, BYLINE: Usually on Friday night, comedian Tyler Fischer would be performing his standup at the Comedy Cellar or the Stand Comedy Club at Union Square. But tonight, he’s in his bedroom in Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn. With his queen size bed covered in toilet paper as backdrop, he starts up something new, a live stream.

((SOUND: Please welcome your host, Tyler Fischer! Hello! Hey Everybody, Hi, how are you? (0:07)

FORREST: Fischer comes into frame with his huge, bushy beard. The audience you hear isn’t real. It’s a recording he adds in.

((SOUND: Good to see you. Welcome to the Stand Comedy Club.)

FORREST: He grabs a prop mic that isn’t even plugged in. Behind him, his brown labradoodle, Freddy, hops onto the bed, grabbing Fischer’s attention.

((SOUND: My dog does impressions. Do you guys wanna see my dog? Do you guys like impressions? This is Owen Wilson if he was a dog. Bow Wowwwww)

FORREST: It’s tough for comedians to make a good living and Fischer finally started doing that just before the clubs shut down. He did 30 shows in February alone. He started the live stream to keep working and hopefully bring in some money. But he says it just isn’t the same.

TYLER FISCHER: It was pretty brutal actually not getting the reaction because the audience guides you. The laughs are based on, it's like a group mentality at a comedy show. So it really made me appreciate how powerful that the the comedy club is.

FORREST: But he was able to adapt and start gauging the audience interest based on something else.

FISCHER: I started looking for emojis I go Okay, I got the sideways laugh one. And I actually started looking for patterns in emojis and then I'm thinking about it at night going okay, got some applause emojis you know, it's, it's ridiculous.

FORREST: Along with the emojis, was the real-time number of viewers on the live stream. Audiences in a club just wait for the next joke if one doesn’t land, but people watching a live stream can just click out.

FISCHER: It was really hard for me to see the numbers dwindle. You start, you tell a joke and you say okay 100, 80, 70 and you go, I'm bombing. You know, you call it walking them if they leave the comedy club. I'm walking 30, 50, 100 people at a time. And it was hard to not take it personally.

FORREST: Other comedians can’t bring themselves to do a live stream. Skye Grayson was performing at clubs around New York just about every night before she left the city to quarantine at her parent’s place in Northwest Florida.

SKYE GRAYSON: I don't think live streaming is the same as being at a club and being in a room with a bunch of people. I think that the cadence is different. The rhythm is different.  And you don't know if you're doing good

FORREST: Grayson decided to just take a step back from comedy until all of this blows over.

GRAYSON: One thing I'm concerned about, is like, Oh my god, I'm gonna lose "the funny" but like, there was a life before comedy and it's just a muscle. It's going to be rusty and weird at first and everyone's going to be super strange.

FORREST: The comedy clubs themselves are also going online. Some are streaming old sets online while others are jumping into the live streams. Dani (DONNIE ZOL-DAN) Zoldan, co-owner of Stand Up New York on the Upper West Side, live streamed 50 comics back to back last week.

DANI ZOLDAN: Sometimes you just want to chill out Look at some funny memes or watch some stand up so I think comics are adding just a great service everybody

FORREST: Zoldan’s also taking this downtime to make improvements around the club and on the menu for when it does reopen. In the meantime, he thinks comedy is important in times of crisis and that it’s healthy to make jokes about the coronavirus.

ZOLDAN: One of my favorites I heard was here actually last Tuesday, Brian scott McFadden. He said that his agent doesn't want him to get coronavirus because he already has a contract with Ebola.

FORREST: Zoldan’s planning another live show, he just isn’t sure when. And the same goes for Tyler Fischer. You’ll be able to watch him live from his bedroom, sometime soon. Brett Forrest, Columbia Radio News.


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