NYC show venues reopen; some say they can't survive at reduced capacity

Chelesa's Gotham Comedy Club pulled out all the stops for its return Friday evening, with Jerry Seinfield leading an all-star cast of comedians for a sold-out show.

The return of stand-up comedy is a glimmer of home for live entertainment venues and performers throughout New York City, who have been badly hit by the pandemic.

Before a gig in Atlantic City last weekend, comedian Chuck Nice last performed indoors on March 11, 2020.

"It's been awful," he said. "The baseline would be a bustling, vibrant New York City that you just see alive everywhere and then the last year would be Nagasaki."

"We had to furlough almost all of our staff," Blue Note Jazz Club owner Steven Bensusan said.

Bensusan recognized New York allowing venues to reopen at a third of their normal capacities, Friday, as progress toward filling his club once more. But he still did not plan to open his doors.

"We can't make it work financially at 33%," Bensusan said.

A full kitchen staff, a wait staff, managers, and production engineers all need to get paid. As do performers.

"In order to present the artists that we want to present," Bensusan said, "they have to get paid a certain amount."

Bensusan said the Blue Note can't cover that amount with two-thirds of its tables and chairs sitting empty.

"A room where 20% is missing, 10% is missing — as a comedian you're so neurotic that's all you see," Nice said.

And still Nice prepared himself Friday to perform at the Upper East Side's Comic Strip Live — indoors in New York for the first time since the pandemic began, after a full year spent telling jokes outside.

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"This is how crappy New York City apartments are," Nice said. "I did a show, it was 18 degrees and there were people at the show, on a rooftop on a Saturday night, watching marginally funny comedy."

Nice admitted to feeling some nerves Friday morning, calling comedy a practiced art form.

"When you're out of practice, you kind of look that way," Nice said.

Audiences too will be out of practice though, starved for human interaction, desperate for laughs, and maybe more forgiving of jokes that don't land.

"One word," said Nice of the difference between indoor and outdoor shows, "intimacy."

Nice said he missed the intimacy of an indoor gig, craving the energy, laughter, and attention of a roomful of people, which Bensusan also hopes to enjoy as soon as New York's maximum capacity limit allows him to justify the costs of reopening.

"I would love to see it get to 50% as soon as possible," Bensusan said.-