An open letter to comedians during the coronavirus quarantine

Jessica Mozes, producer at record label Blonde Medicine, former Talent Relations and Development Manager at Audible (fka Rooftop Comedy), former New Wave Entertainment assistant/junior manager, and frequent live show/festival producer had some suggestions to share for comics getting antsy with the reduction of stage time.

She agreed to let me share this letter wide.

Dear Comedians,

It’s crazy times, and the congregating of people (aka audiences) is gonna be tough for at least a few weeks. I wanted to share a list of productive things comics can do in lieu of trying to maintain their on-stage performance cadence in this time of social-distancing.

1. Update your fucking website and bio
2. Be a student of the entertainment industry and your craft. Read a book about the history of comedy, a memoir of someone you admire in the business, or a technical book about something like digital distribution. Watch some of the most iconic stand-up specials and comedic films you may have missed, and branch out to a handful of comics whose recent specials you’ve skipped because they’re not your style.
3. Organize your jokes in the cloud so you aren’t at risk if god forbid you lose a notebook.
4. Read through your entire social media history and delete any tweets/posts that don’t hold up.
5. Write/revise scripts
6. If you’ve already got a polished pilot, outline your full first season, and arcs for at least two more.
7. Practice writing topical jokes if you’ve ever considered going for a monologue job, or desk segments if you want to work in late night.
8. Book a headshot session in a few months, and go through some outfit choices now
9. Think about what impedes your progress in the best of times. Poor organization? Bad time management? Distracted workspace? Take the time now to work on some of those issues that have been plaguing you.
10. Learn a new relevant skill like Photoshop for making yourself posters or simply resizing stuff for social.

And for maintaining your community of comic friends without congregating in the back of a dark showroom, here’s some more ideas…
11. Conduct a video feedback session of your script draft or do a digital table read
12. Establish a virtual book club and discuss one of those history of comedy reads, or all watch the same special and talk about it.
13. All sign up for an online class and keep each other honest about the lessons
14. Literally just pick up the phone and chat about how you’re feeling.

I understand that everybody’s first instinct is to find a way to do what they normally do under these new circumstances, but I want to posit that perhaps you’d be better off doing something else for a little bit. More pointedly, producing stand-up shows with no audiences to be put out virtually is perhaps not the best answer here.

For those who run shows, I would encourage you to be thoughtful about your live streaming/video/audio approach – is it putting your show in the best position to keep/gain fans? Are you going to make any money from this effort? Is the quality high enough to tempt viewers away from the practically bottomless well of slick specials on Netflix? How will you be sure the content is not exploited in a way you/the performers don’t approve of?

And if you’re being approached as a performer to record yourself doing comedy to no one, be sure to consider what the life of that “digital showcase” is after this is all over. Likely, you’ll be producing recorded content you didn’t enjoy performing, you won’t get any feedback on whether the jokes were well-received, and without fellow audience reaction to take cues from, viewers probably won’t enjoy watching it.

And remember, taking a break – from performing, from social media, from the news, from regular pants – is 100% ok.

Stay healthy and hopeful,


EDITOR’S NOTE: And if you have the financial means, as a comedy fan, you could support comedians by purchasing their albums.

Some of the Blonde Medicine releases recently have included comedy albums from Geoff Tate, Jim Tews, Torio Van Grol, Andie Main, Bethany Van Delft, Daniel Van Kirk, Rob Haze, Caitlin Gill, and Josh Gondelman.

Van Grol’s album includes a bit about hand-washing, even.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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