“I did a handful of shows on Zoom, Facebook Live, and Instagram, and it was just awful. Just, you know, throwing your jokes into the void."
“I feel like I've learned a lot about society through this. One of the first things I realized is that maybe the only thing Americans hate more than going to their jobs every day is staying at home with their families. Things weren’t shut down for two weeks before people were grabbing their guns and going to the governor's mansion and demanding everything be reopened so they could go back to Subway or whatever. And it wasn’t just people that needed money. I remember Elon Musk was like ‘the state of California is going to have to come arrest me because I'm going to open up my factories.’ For real. Musk was like ‘I would rather spend time in jail than spend another day with my crazy goth wife and my robot baby. Please take me away, this is insane.’ So that was the first thing that struck me. The other thing is just how much we hate old people. As soon as it became clear that this was mostly killing old people, it was like ‘sorry Grandpa, natural selections a real bitch and I gotta get me some jalapeno poppers and a haircut.’ It is just a terrifying time to be an old person. It’s really awful.
Yeah. I don't know if people are going to want to hear COVID humor when this is all over. It's going to be interesting. When this is all over, are we going to want to talk about it? Like with Trump, there are no good Trump jokes anymore. I feel like once Trump is gone, no one’s going to want to hear about him. And it may be the same way with COVID. We won't know until we start getting up in front of audiences again and trying Corona jokes. Who knows, you know, because also there's so much pain and trauma. I don't know, it's so fresh. I don't know, maybe we need some time.
It’s really hard to be a stand up comic right now because so many of the venues are closed to live performances. Stand up is a conversation between the performer and the audience, so you really need an audience. It’s not the kind of thing you can practice alone in your bedroom or in a studio. You don't know what you're doing, or if it's any good, until an audience tells you so. So for me personally, it's felt, in some ways, like a lost year.
I did a show in New York the night before they shut down everything. In the weeks leading up to the trip, my wife and I started hearing more and more about the coronavirus and we started to question whether we should take the trip. But at that time it was just really hard to know who to believe and what was really going on. Things were changing so quickly. Everything was still open, so we decided to take the trip and just make sure we washed our hands a lot and social-distanced. We didn’t bring masks. At the time, people didn't really know how it was spreading. It was when people were like washing their groceries and wiping down their mail.
I did a show our first day there. On the second day, we went to a museum, one of the big ones, like MoMA. While we were there, they announced over the loudspeakers that they would be closing early. That's when the governor decided to shut down all public buildings.
I was supposed to do another show, but it got canceled. We stayed the whole time. We didn't come home early. We kept our regular flight. It's hard to remember. It feels like five years ago, it really does. It feels so long ago. I don't remember anything that stood out. It was just starting to dawn on people, you know, this was serious.
So, yeah, I don't remember the flight being weird. It probably should have been. In retrospect, we should have been way more careful. We now know that at that time, New York City was a cesspool of COVID. And we had no idea when we were there that it was as widespread as it was. Nobody did. We ate, I remember we ate in a restaurant. Yeah, we went and had a drink at a bar, and we're like, ‘Oh, there's one that's still open let's get in there before they shut it down.’ And in retrospect, that was crazy. If we had had a blacklight and been able to see all the germs, we probably would have gone home, but we didn't know and no one knew. So, yeah, I just remember being sad that my show was canceled. But I thought things would go back to normal. Turns out, you know, it was much worse than we realized.
At the end of March, there was a big comedy festival I was supposed to do here in North Carolina. They ended up canceling that. And then it was just like dominoes, all these festivals I was planning to do, shows I was supposed to do, all started to fall, one after the other.
Fortunately, I have an internet marketing company, so our livelihood didn’t depend on it. That was a huge relief.
A lot of my friends who rely on comedy or who work in restaurants and bars like a lot of comedians do, they were feeling a lot of fear. I just felt a lot of disappointment because I had been really excited about this year and what was planned. Me, my kids and my girlfriend at the time - we actually just got married in November -- were planning on renting an RV for the summer and doing “The Child Support Tour,” where my kids were going to come along to support me on my tour through the South and Southeast. Then it became pretty clear that wasn't going to happen. That would have been my first tour, so it was a big disappointment.
Some outdoor shows started this spring. And some clubs reopened. So I had to make a decision, as we all did in the community. What were we comfortable with doing as comedians? What venues, what situations, where we, you know, are willing to perform? I ultimately decided that I was going to stop doing indoor shows completely. I just didn't feel safe. And I think comedy clubs in particular are ripe for the spread of coronavirus because laughter, singing, loud talking, any of that just sends the virus and you know you get that from both directions. Comedians are loud and they're spewing and audience members are loud and they’re spewing. And a lot of comedy clubs are very densely packed places, not great circulation, low ceilings.
So, you know, my opinion was that comedy clubs should not be open at all with the caveat that I realized that for some people this is their livelihood and the government has not provided enough for people to survive without working. So they've put people in a bind. Our government has failed us so massively on so many levels. But personally I didn't have to continue doing comedy to survive because I had a day job. So I decided I'm not going to perform inside, both for my personal safety and I also don't want to encourage people to gather.
I did a handful of shows on Zoom, Facebook Live, and Instagram, and it was just awful. It was, it was just the worst experience. Just, you know, throwing your jokes into the void. And there are better and worse ways of doing it. Some platforms are good, some are not. Some people have figured out how to do it so if you're on Zoom you can hear a little bit of feedback from people. But people aren't used to being on Zoom and listening to comedy, so if you turn everybody's mics on, all of a sudden you're hearing what everybody's doing in their bedrooms and living rooms across the country while you're telling jokes. People making margaritas in the background, dogs barking, and babies crying, and people doing what they do in beds. And when you are in comedy clubs and someone is getting out of line, as the performer on stage with the microphone, you have some control, you can respond. And you can direct that response. When you've just got 35 tiny boxes on your screen and no one's really sure where the sounds are coming from, you can't really address it. You know, and you just kind of hope that the host will know what button to push to turn off the sound. I'm glad that I did the few that I did, but I did learn pretty quickly like this was soul crushing. I don't want to do this. So I decided not to do online shows.
I had a great time resuming our monthly comedy show, The Sunday Show, here at Yonder when the weather got warmer and Yonder was able to serve outside. That first night back was great, with a terrific crowd. It was a lot of fun. And right now, I can get any comic in North Carolina to come perform because they're all so desperate for stage time. ‘Yeah, I'll drive three hours to some town I've never heard of for 20 bucks as long as there’s a chance for me to tell my jokes for 10 minutes.’
When the second night arrived, I got sick a couple days before. And since we weren't sure if it was COVID or not, my wife and I got tested. But the test was like a 72 hour turnaround, so I decided I wouldn't participate in my own show. It was right around that time that things started spiking again in North Carolina and I decided at that point that I no longer felt comfortable hosting a show, producing one just felt like too much of a risk for me and I didn't want the other people at risk, even though it's outside.
My grandmother died of COVID earlier this year. That's always on my mind. My brother and niece also got it. They both recovered.
It was a huge relief to not have COVID, but you just never know. You just kind of assume you have it. Actually, it was interesting when we went to get tested because the doctor said that if you're showing any of the symptoms of COVID, you probably have it because COVID is so much more contagious than your typical flu or cold. And since most people are staying home and washing their hands, the cases of the flu and colds have gone way down.
And so, after that experience, I just didn’t feel comfortable inviting people to gather even outside anymore. I've been invited to do some outdoor shows this month and I've turned them all down. It'll probably be February or March, depending on how things go before I feel comfortable. With everyone traveling during the holidays, it's spiking right now and it just feels really like a bad idea.
I don't know what it's going to be when this is over. No one knows. It’s going to be totally different for comedy. There are so many comedy clubs that aren't going to reopen, they went out of business. It's too late. I think it's going to be a while before people are really comfortable packing together in tiny rooms and, you know, listen to people tell jokes.” - Jeremy #NorthCarolina
Twitter: @JeremyAlder; Instagram: @jeremy.alder
Photo Credit (Main Photo): Adrian Gilliam