A new survey has found 90% of independent concert and comedy venues are at risk of permanently closing due to financial harm from the pandemic, but it also means many are trying to change things up to survive.
Tommy T’s Comedy Club in Pleasanton has been quiet for much of the pandemic, but after six months without income, owner Gayle Thomas had had enough.
“Having to refund all those ticket sales that had been previously purchased before the pandemic started, that was kinda brutal,” she said.
So she rented chairs, hired back employees, and started hosting shows in the parking lot.
They’ve signed celebrity comics like Chris Kattan, Damon Wayans and Sinbad, and they’re allowed to have up to 100 people outside.
But since it’s not blocked off, and in order to make money, each guest gets a pair of sanitized headphones. A transmitter directs the mic right to their ears. This keeps the noise down while also not allowing anyone to just walk up.
“They don’t tell jokes for free, so I have to pay them,” Thomas said. “What’s funny is, when you don’t hear any noise at all and we’re sitting over there and you just hear laughter, which is great. I love it.”
The show also gives local comedians like Kabir Singh a chance to make money – and do what they love.
“It’s proper. It feels like you’re really back at a comedy club and really it’s probably the best thing going on right now in California for sure,” Singh said.
Friday night’s show happened on a weekend where there is a nationwide push to save independent theaters. It’s called Save Our Stages, since many are facing permanent closure. The online event will show big name musicians performing from around the country to raise money to keep venues alive.
For places like Tommy T’s, they’ll stay outside to give some much needed laughs until they get the go-ahead to get back indoors.