Comedy, one of the most connective forms of entertainment, relies on the relationships built between performer and audience, between club and performer, between club and audience, and among audience members.
Unfortunately for comedy professionals, the traditional comedy club experience — low ceilings, cramped tables packed into a small space, lots of drinking and laughing with mouths wide open — is far from a pandemic-safe environment.
So, in the past 15 months, comedy has had to adapt. Some comedians took to parking lots, substituting laughs for honking horns and flashing headlights. Others took to rooftops and yards, while some have been sticking to streaming this whole time. After all, in today’s connected economy, there are more ways than ever to forge connections and create experiences.
One New York City comedy club has been especially creative. The Upper West Side’s Stand Up NY has held shows in parks, subways, churches — wherever possible, amid New York’s changing COVID-19 restrictions and audiences’ changing comfort levels.
“We had about 50 people show up [to our first outdoor show], and it was awesome,” Stand Up NY Owner Dani Zoldan told PYMNTS in an interview as part of the Connected Economy series. “Comics were just really appreciative to be outside and performing again, and obviously New Yorkers love being out, and we just wanted a scale that as fast as possible… My goal was 50 shows a week, and we did that. We produced over 500 outdoor comedy shows during the summer and fall.”
Once the weather started getting colder, the club pivoted to the few indoor spaces in New York without capacity restriction — namely, churches and subways.
Zoldan reflected, “It was a very random, fun New York experience.”
Connecting The Consumer To The Business
For the church show, Stand Up NY tapped into the language and symbolism of one of the most connective parts of many consumers’ daily lives — religion. In addition to staging the show in a house of worship, the show was called “Temple of Laughter,” and a pastor spoke to the audience before the comics took the stage.
“It was beautiful,” recalled Zoldan. “When a few comics dropped some F-bombs, you know, I looked at the pastor, and I was a little scared, but he loved it.”
To deepen the relationship between the audience and the event, Zoldan created an extended lore for the occasion. He explained, “We wanted to write a Bible… When [people] go to a comedy show, they go to laugh, but I don’t think people really think about just the mental health benefits of being at a comedy show, so that’s what Temple of Laughter wanted to preach.”
While these activations were able to generate attention and create valuable experiences for Stand Up NY’s audience, the restrictions remained a challenge. After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed bars and restaurants to reopen, Zoldan said he grew frustrated with the continued restrictions on the club. Stand Up NY filed a lawsuit, and the state lifted restrictions. Now, the club has been open for weekend shows since April 2.
The company also became engaged with its audience’s turn toward community-mindedness with its 11th Plague initiative during this past Passover and Easter, connecting consumers to resources to give to organizations to fight hunger and advertising the initiative with funny clips from the club’s comics. Zoldan explained that the club “wanted to put some money into something that that would spread goodness” and that he plans “to continue running those types of campaigns.”
Connecting The Business To Technology
Communication is important for businesses at the best of times. Over these past 15 months, however, amid rapid change and uncertainty, it has been more important than ever. To keep consumers up to date with the club’s shows and events, Zoldan took note of which messages consumers were actually receptive to. The club signed up for messaging platform Community to make its communications more effective, noting the platform’s higher open rate than emails.
“I believe how we reach out to [consumers] is really important,” Zoldan said. “…We want to try to connect with everyone on an emotional level. We don’t want to send out, like, a mass email to our 40,000 person list … that doesn’t connect to anyone.”
To build this connection, the club looks to personalize its messages and to be “super responsive” to social media outreach, Zoldan said. Infusing the site’s online presence with this personal feeling is especially important given how emotion-centric the business is.
“It goes a long way, especially in a business like this, where people come, and they socialize and they laugh,” said Zoldan. “…It’s all about relationships. You build a relationship with the customer, and it’s not only about them paying you… They forget about their problems when they’re here.”
Connecting The Business To The Future
Right now, although Stand Up NY’s space has reopened, demand remains well below pre-pandemic levels. Although 55 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, many residents remain wary of returning to crowded, indoor environments.
“Now we’re only open three days a week — Thursday, Friday, Saturday — because the demand is not there yet,” said Zoldan. “Tourists aren’t in town, obviously. A lot of New Yorkers don’t feel comfortable yet going indoors to a comedy show. So, it’s a little challenging … but over time, I believe the situation will fix itself.”
However, an upside of this difficult year for comedy clubs is that they have actually begun to connect with each other in a way that would not have happened without the pandemic.
“Before COVID, everyone was sort of doing their own thing and focusing on their business,” recalled Zoldan. “…I find lately, especially during COVID, the younger owners are working more together. We’re texting each other, [and] we’re helping each other out.”
In a space more connected than ever, and with consumers seeking out connections with each other, Zoldan predicted that the future will be bright for comedy clubs.
“I believe live entertainment will always be necessary,” he said. “And I think it’s really important for people to gather together as a group, and whether it’s at a restaurant or a bar or wine, or watching a comedy show or music, I think that’ll be even more popular than before the pandemic.”