Vermont Comedy Club back in the game with “Little State, Big Laughs!”
It has been eight months since a laugh was heard at the Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington. New York comic book Gina Brillon did one of her two scheduled shows on March 13 before the Burlington venue pulled its weekend lineup and ultimately months of scheduled shows.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most live performances, nearly every performing arts space in the Burlington area – Higher Ground, Nectar’s, The Monkey House, Flynn, and many more – has presented an on-site or off-site event where customers could come together to be entertained and enjoy a semblance of life like before.
The Vermont Comedy Club, however, did not. The club will reopen on Saturday, but not for paying customers. The venue, in conjunction with the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, will feature “Small state, big laughs!“The live broadcast from inside the walls of the hall is the most public performance that the state’s only dedicated comedy club has presented since the start of the pandemic.
Stand-up comedians will take to the stage at the 160-capacity club to perform to a live audience and an internal audience of around 20 crew members and other comics. Out-of-town comics that started their rising careers in Vermont – including Carmen Lagala, Casey James Salengo, Ahamed Weinberg, Tina Friml, Andrew Knox and Ellington Wells – will perform in pre-recorded sessions.
Vermont Comedy Club owners Natalie Miller and Nathan Hartswick took part in several skits that were filmed for live broadcast this month with local performers during a weekend retreat in the Northern Kingdom. eastern Vermont. The trip met a practical need to record the skits, but also an emotional need for the performers who were creating a comedy and laughing with each other.
“It was the most vivid we’ve felt in a while,” Miller said.
Livestreams with Nikki Glaser, Beth Stelling, Kyle Kinane
The Vermont Comedy Club has been closed since mid-March, but Miller and Hartswick have taken care of offsite live broadcasts. The club’s improv team, The Unmentionables, perform regularly on Fridays. A competitive improv show pitting Vermont against teams from other states takes place on Thursday. Miller and Hartswick hosted a four-month talk show that included tributes to essential workers and virtual comic book appearances Nikki Glaser, Beth Stelling and Kyle Kinane.
In-person performances, however, never became a serious consideration for the club, according to Miller. Most of the local venues that have put on shows this summer and early fall have done so outdoors. “It’s great that people are doing things,” Miller said. “People need live entertainment.”
She said outdoor shows would not work for the Vermont Comedy Club. “Comedy is really not good on the outside,” Miller said, because it is acceptable to audiences, bad for artists, and terrible for producers. “Laughter rises in the sky. You just need content sound.
The comedy also wouldn’t work with audiences wearing face masks, which Miller said viewers should wear. “Laughter, it’s a lot of droplets that are expelled into the air,” she says.
Connection with Conan O’Brien
Online comedy works well, Miller said. That’s why the Vermont Comedy Club was thrilled to partner with the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing for “Little State, Big Laughs!”
Nate Formalarie, the department’s communications director, said the idea for the live broadcast started with the “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” podcast. After contacting the Vermont Comedy Club, the department reached out to the host of the late night show about a segment of the podcast where listeners would have a chance to subscribe to the department’s mailing list. 250 first receiving a bottle of maple. syrup and a link to “Little State, Big Laughs!”
The comedy club was quick to sign, according to Formalarie. “They have been completely closed,” he said. “They were all about it. They really wanted to do something.
The tourism department wanted to reach potential visitors to Vermont, suggesting not to visit now during the pandemic, but to consider visiting later when there is no danger. Formalarie said the department is also keen to help a struggling local business during the pandemic.
The department invested $ 1 billion Vermont Coronavirus Relief Fund money as part of “Little State, Big Laughs!” Formalarie said the state spent around $ 100,000 on the project.
“It’s a working concert. It is not a voluntary activity. It’s a good use of those types of funds, to help people who can’t be on stage right now, ”Formalarie said.
“This is one of the purposes of using these dollars,” he said. “It’s a tourist destination. They get good names in this club. We want to keep this dynamism during these times. “
Cancellation of Maria Bamford, cry of Mike Birbiglia
One of those good names from the Vermont Comedy Club was supposed to be Maria Bamford, whom Miller had been trying to bring in for years. Bamford was scheduled to offer six sold-out performances from March 19 to 21, but the shows were canceled after the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was pretty scary at the start,” Miller said of the club shutting down. Some thought the shutdown would last three weeks, but Miller knew it would take longer. “I was hoping in the fall that (the pandemic) would be managed. This was unfortunately not the case.
She and Hartswick aren’t just business partners, they’re husband and wife. The couple who live in Burlington’s New North End have had to wait for unemployment, grants and loans to keep them and the business afloat.
“Emotionally, it’s been very difficult,” said Miller, as she struggles with depression and anxiety. The isolation required during the pandemic is not helping. “There is no certainty where this will end.”
There were also some rewarding moments. The early days were busy offering refunds to customers who purchased tickets for canceled shows. Some have obtained these refunds. “Many, many more took credit for the reopening,” Miller said. Comedy star Mike Birbiglia has highlighted the club in one of his podcasts.
Miller found time for other activities – gardening, reading, baking, learning French – for which she did not have time to work 70 hours a week at the club. “We didn’t have a healthy work-life balance at all. There was no life, only work, ”she says. Now, according to Miller, it’s the other way around.
She and Hartswick reflect on the future of the Vermont Comedy Club and what they might do if the pandemic prevents the venue from reopening for several months. They might even put on outdoor shows next summer. She pitched a few ideas – a group floating down a river on inner tubes while listening to a comedian, or a comic about a sailboat shouting jokes at people ashore. Done in a self-aware way, Miller said, these settings could be fun on their own.
Programming for all performing arts venues is a work in progress, according to Miller. “I’m curious to see what’s going on this winter,” she said. “We’re all finding out.”
If you look
WHAT: “Small state, big laughs!” presented by the Vermont Comedy Club and the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, November 21
OR: Vermont Tourism’s YouTube and Facebook pages
INFORMATION: Release. https://www.youtube.com/user/VermontTourism, https://www.facebook.com/events/694787364775958 or www.vermontvacation.com/littlestatebiglaughs.
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.