Comedy Clubs Reopening In Parts Of The United States Amid A Pandemic: Too Soon?

Time for a quick game of Would You Rather…

Would You Rather…tell jokes from the relative safety and comfort of your living room on Zoom to an unknown number of pages of 25 boxes containing faces you may or may not know are laughing with you, and feel like you’re talking into a void…OR…travel to a comedy club, get onstage and grab a microphone, and tell jokes to a crowd of a few dozen in a room that seats a few hundred, and hope the mic has been disinfected, and that nobody in the audience or the staff gets sick from a deadly coronavirus pandemic that already has killed more than 85,000 Americans in two months?

Ready or not, it’s already happening in comedy clubs in the Central and Mountain time zones, where governors in Texas, Utah and Missouri have given the go-ahead for businesses to reopen.

The Addison Improv north of Dallas may have been the first to officially reopen, scheduling a “Hot 8” showcase (eight local comedians performing eight-minute sets) on May 2, 2020, a day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott eased quarantine restrictions in the Lone Star State. The Addison Improv, like other clubs reopening this month, have defined themselves as restaurants to comply with the regulations. Club owner Tom Castillo told FOX 4 Dallas that “we had close to 100 people come out” that night, and that he took precautions such as taking temperatures of both his employees and customers before allowing them to enter, spacing tables farther apart, and even supplying masks. The club posted a statement on its website, as well.

Dusty Slay is this weekend’s headliner in Addison. He posted before last night’s show: “They are only open at 25%, masks are available! We’re having a good time!”

Other Improv locations in Texas, including Houston and San Antonio, plan to reopen for the first time this weekend. Arlington, on the other hand, has nothing on the schedule until June 19. And the folks at Cap City Comedy Club in Austin told me this week they’re following the lead of Austin city officials, who have mandated stay-at-home orders at least through the end of May.

Bengt Washburn, meanwhile, headlined last weekend’s shows May 8-9 at Wiseguys in Salt Lake City.

Washburn messaged me this week about his shows in Salt Lake City:

It was excellent! I’m driving home right now. I didn’t trust flying so I drove to the gig. Wiseguys followed all the required procedures- took temperatures of all staff and customers, all staff wearing masks, cleaned everything between shows, spaced audience apart and they only sat about 33% of the room. I think it made everyone feel safe. Each comic had their own microphone.

I think we are beginning to normalize some of this pandemic stuff. Seeing masks in the audience wasn’t that weird to me. One thing that hasn’t changed is laughter- it’s still contagious. It felt great to connect with a live audience again. Although I was incredibly rusty. They enjoyed hearing comedy about the pandemic- as opposed to the political/scary aspect of covid. It was so good to be there. I hope other clubs can start opening up in a similar cautious way.

Wiseguys has Jeff Dye lined up for shows tonight and Saturday in Salt Lake City, with Russ Nagel headlining the Ogden club.

The Comedy Club of Kansas City plans to reopen tonight, as well, with Mike Baldwin headlining the weekend. Before buying tickets, the club’s website notes the following changes to comply with Missouri’s Phase 1 reopening guidelines:

  • Please Reserve your table ahead of time to create a no-contact environment when you check in at the box office.
  • We are selling tables instead of tickets. Each table can accommodate parties of 2 or 4 people.
  • Single Use Paper Menus.
  • Lobby Bar is closed. Drinks from servers only.
  • Ticket holders for 7pm show: Doors at 6pm and please leave The Comedy Club building no later than 9pm.
  • To avoid outside gatherings and a gathering in the lobby, we ask ticket holders for the 9:30 show to please not arrive earlier than 9pm.
  • The kitchen is open and we do encourage everybody to enjoy dinner with us!

Club owner Dustin Kaufman showed The Kansas City Star around the showroom to talk about how he’s modified the layout, and why he has chosen to reopen.

“I’m treating the re-opening like I’m opening for the first time for the second time,” Kaufman said. “I’m really taking what I learned, opening it the first time and trying to put that into re-opening. I’m not going to book out several weeks until I get through the first week.”


Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy in Phoenix is hosting shows this weekend headlined by Michael Longfellow. That club’s COVID-19 guidelines?

Q: How many attendees will be at the events?
A: We are limiting ourselves to 25% capacity in order to accommodate social distancing guidelines.

Q: How many people can I sit with?
A: We ask that you only come to a show with members of your household – with a maximum party size of 6.

Q: Am I required to wear a mask?
A: We are not requiring our customers to wear masks, however, please feel free to do so if you desire.

Q: Can I buy tickets at the box office?
A: Our box office is open and available to sell tickets, however, it is not accepting CASH payments at this time. We encourage all guests to purchase tickets online in advance, as seating is limited.

Q: What sanitation measures are in place?
A: House of Comedy is following all necessary sanitation procedures and sanitizing surfaces before opening to each show. Sanitizer stations are available, as well as frequent and regular hand washing.

Additional notes:

  • We ask anyone who exhibits symptoms or anyone feeling unwell, to stay home.
  • No outside food or beverage permitted.
  • Please be respectful of all House of Comedy staff as we enforce these measures. They are in place to keep everyone safe so we can all enjoy a good laugh

Bricktown Comedy Club in Oklahoma City has Brad Williams headlining this weekend. That club is reducing capacity to 35 percent, and checking temperatures at the door.

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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