Keeping the Laughs Going

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comedy
At Laughs Unlimited, the socially distant audience wears headphones. Photo by Nick Larson.

In a grim news year like 2020, wouldn’t it have been nice if comedy clubs were deemed “essential” and allowed to stay open? Imagine how therapeutic it might have been for those who’d been stuck for months in a claustrophobic COVID cocoon.

That didn’t happen, darn it. But thankfully, comedy club owners in the Sacramento region found other ways to offer the masses some much-needed comic relief.

Laughs Unlimited

Sure, they could have offered livestream shows. But the folks at Laughs Unlimited had a different goal. “We wanted to keep comedy alive and give people a place to go and have a good time,” says Jennifer Canfield, owner of the Old Sacramento club.

With outdoor dining permitted this summer, the Laughs team looked for ways to create comedy al fresco. Their ingenious solution? Silent comedy, patterned after silent disco.

After getting permission from the city of Sacramento to shut down a mini-block around the
club to create an outdoor showroom, it was on. “Inside Jokes, Outside Laughs” involves headphones—lots of headphones—distributed to patrons as well as the comedians themselves. With ticket buyers seated at tables in the makeshift outdoor nightclub, the show goes on, with the comics working from a platform in front of the club.

Opening night was July 23. It was an instant hit, selling out (or close to it) most nights, according to Canfield. As of this writing, the series continued on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with no end date.

comedy laughs
Photo by Nick Larson

To ensure safety, headphones are sanitized, employees wear masks, and safe distancing
is enforced. Capacity is limited to 70.

In addition to providing laugh therapy and a night on the town for cooped-up locals, taking it to the streets has had an unexpected benefit: It’s great advertisement.

“A lot of people have stopped by and said, ‘I never even knew this place was here!’” says Canfield.

It’s about time the word got out: Laughs Unlimited celebrated its 40th anniversary in August.

1207 Front St., Old Sacramento; laughsunlimited.com; (916) 446-8128

Sacramento Comedy Spot

It didn’t take long for the Sacramento Comedy Spot to kick into Plan B when COVID hit.

“We saw the writing on the wall,” says founder/general manager Brian Crall of the midtown comedy club/theater. “We shut down the second weekend in March, and within about a week we made a decision to do online classes and shows.”

It took a while to work out the kinks. But their calendar is now robust, with livestream shows six nights a week. Their comedy classes, such as Improv and Stand-Up 101, are also available online.

One key to the success of their livestream effort is the creation of new shows tailored for an online medium, says Crall. They’ve even created one specific to the times: “Quarantine Couples,” in which two pairs of comedians and their guests compete by answering questions to uncover who knows their partner the best.

comedy brian crall
Brian Crall

It is only through livestreaming and donations, says Crall, that the Comedy Spot—which is due to celebrate its 15th anniversary in November—has been able to survive. Their expanded online presence in recent months has also grown their fan base, Crall notes, with participants popping in from around the states and even around the world.

For the Comedy Spot’s roster of 70-plus performers who have been sidelined for most of 2020, such developments offer a ray of hope. “Those performers are the ones keeping the dream alive,” says Crall.

1050 20th St.; saccomedyspot.com; (916) 444-3137

Blacktop Comedy

When Blacktop Comedy became a COVID casualty, permanently closing the doors of its Rocklin club in April, it could have been the end of its nine-year run.

But Blacktop was never “just” a club. It’s also a comedy school—and owner Paul Burke is working hard to keep it going.

“Closing the club was obviously very sad, but what I still have left is my passion to teach improv,” he says. After learning the ropes with Zoom, Burke started offering virtual classes twice a week, and as of this writing was continuing in that vein, with improv on Tuesdays and a “hangout session” on Thursdays—a space where people can simply hang out and talk.

paul burke
Paul Burke

“We have a very supportive group here, and a sense of community,” says Burke. “It’s important to me to keep that going.”

While Blacktop’s online classes are currently limited to its established community of students and newsletter subscribers, Burke hopes to find ways to involve more people, and maybe even do some audience-interactive shows online, moving forward.

Stay tuned.

blacktopcomedy.com; (916) 672-1617

Other Comedy Clubs

Other local comedy clubs to offer livestream content during the COVID shutdown are Punch Line Sacramento (punchlinesac.com; (916) 925-8500) and STAB! Comedy Theater (stabcomedytheater.com; (916) 970-7822).

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