Do stay for tea and coffee: At some mainstream comedy clubs I was the only one in a mask
Paul Kerensa goes live
It’s been a funny old year, by which I mean not funny at all, and not old but weirdly new. Thankfully, cautiously, gradually, live events have begun tiptoeing back. Personally, I’ve been doing my bit to try and add some ‘funny’ to the year, at comedy shows in churches again.
For a decade and a half, I’ve been touring stand up around churches (and non-churches). Then last year, my usual three shows a week became three shows a year – and two of those were in car parks.
But even when restrictions eased, live events were always going to be slow to return. After July’s ‘Freedom Day’, various friends gave well-meaning but rather optimistic words of encouragement: ‘The gigs must be all back to normal now, eh?’ Not quite. Just because it was allowed, it wasn’t necessarily either wanted or advisable. Venues were wary, plus there was the seasonal quietness you get in July and August. People prefer to be outside, especially when inside has been so perilous for so long.
But pleasantly, my autumn 2021 has been nearly as busy as autumn 2019. Three shows a week, back inside. The car park is no longer a performance space, but rammed with punters’ vehicles. The rooms have been packed – or packed enough, with a bit of distancing. The jokes (at least those I could remember after 18 months off) got laughs – audible, unmuted laughs.
Some were muffled by masks of course. Most venues ask for the audience to mask up when moving around, and remove them when seated. That said, at some mainstream comedy clubs I was the only one in a mask, whereas at church events some kept their masks on throughout. Yes, who knew? People in churches are more sensible than people in a comedy club who have had a few pints. It’s like one big fascinating psychological experiment, proving all the things we knew anyway.
I’d much rather audiences felt safe, and gladly that’s the feedback I’ve received. After my most recent church show, I was told the service the following morning had benefitted from a far less anxious atmosphere. The show had helped relax churchgoers. It was lovely to think that it hadn’t been just about the laughs on the night, but also about easing a few nerves after the event. I’m not blowing my own trumpet – I think that gathering for any reason can help reassure and calm us.
As events gradually return, from quizzes to jazz nights, from talks to walks, I pray that each would help erode our anxieties, chip away at our concerns. But I also hope we’ll not completely relax. ‘Coughs and sneezes spread diseases’ and all that. Calm our nerves? Yes. Free us up to slobber over our hands before going for a firm handshake? Well, that was never okay.
Occasionally I’m asked if I still get nervous doing stand up. I reply that a few nerves are a good thing. It shows you care. When I’ve done gigs with no nerves at all, I’ve gone on and waffled and not committed enough to the show. Being a tiny bit on edge gives focus, I find, to go that extra mile, put on a good show, and meet the audience where they are.
Similarly it’s no bad thing to have a few nerves about coming back to live events. It shows you care.
If we’re happy that we’re protecting ourselves and each other, I hope we can enjoy our live events again. It’s good to laugh and smile together, even when that’s hidden by a piece of fabric.
Paul Kerensa is a writer, comedian and broadcaster. paulkerensa.com
This article was published in the November 2021 edition of Reform