During pandemic, local comedy clubs become no laughing matter

ImprovCity has moved its comedy shows online, including the 11th Annual LumberJack Match. 

Body odor, two-drink minimums, jokes and laughter all bring fond memories of nights spent at comedy clubs. Since mid-March 2020, all live comedy venues have been shut down. With theaters closed, how are the clubs staying afloat? Where have comedians gone? What does the future hold for live entertainment?

Devin Dugan, the owner and artistic director of ImprovCity, an improv theater in Irvine, said financially, it’s been rough. While Dugan has been able to acquire a few small loans, right now they’re living off of donations.

“We will get through it, but it won’t be the same.” Dugan said.

ImprovCity has turned to Facebook to host virtual shows every week for free. “It’s hard to be a comedian without getting the immediate feedback from the audience,” Dugan said. “As far as the performers, it’s hard for them too.”

While virtual shows are not the preferred choice for him or his colleagues, he said they’re better than nothing. Dugan hopes ImprovCity’s doors will open in summer 2021.

While some comedians choose to patiently wait for comedy venues to open back up, others have adapted with the times and turned to social media, such as Elisabeth Wykert, an ImprovCity cast member. In June 2019, Wykert quit her full-time office job to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. She began booking gigs and advancing in her career – until the pandemic hit. Almost everything she had booked was cancelled. In February, she stumbled upon the app TikTok. “I don’t know, I just started wearing a leotard.” Wykert said.

On TikTok, Wykert posts funny comedic skits in her viral outfit, the leotard. Since Febraury, she has acquired over 175,000 followers and has built a loyal fanbase. She said creatively, social media has been a great way for her to express her artistry. However, the pandemic has had its challenges. Wykert did a drive-in show early on in the pandemic.

“It’s really hard as a comic.” Wykert said. “For me, I don’t want to do it again because I couldn’t hear anybody's laughter.”

Wykert is not alone with this sentiment. According to Devin Dugan, most comedians have chosen to wait until inside venues are open again. 

Dugan predicts summer 2021 may provide in-person laughter. As for now, the best place to find comedians are either virtual shows or social media.

Ways to donate and support ImprovCity can be found through their GoFundMe page, or their Venmo, @improvcity.

In the meantime, tune into their weekly Facebook live shows on ImprovCity’s page and check out Elisabeth Wykert on all her social media channels, @elisabethwykert on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.

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