Thank you so much for coming out to our show, we hope to see you next weekend and have a beautiful night!
Everyone cheered, and it was not just the cheers of adoring fans, but it was also the cheers of hardworking people who wanted an excuse to celebrate a great night together, watching live comedy and playing trivia. As we turned off the music and speakers, people began lining up with hugs, tips, and gifts. My husband and I are comedians who made a business out of taking trivia nights and turning them into a comedy game show. Not only did this lead to unique entertainment, but, more importantly, it built strong, everlasting friendships within our community.
“We are so glad you’re back, and can’t wait to see the baby!” is one of the last things I heard an audience member say in person. It was February 11, 2020, and the pandemic was truly about to begin. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of the death of live entertainment.
We packed up our sound system and other equipment, hopped in the car, and I Googled “coronavirus” in hopes of seeing what I think we were all still expecting, a big headline saying it was contained and everything was going to be fine. Obviously, this was not how things were going to go.
That was our final live show, and my husband, new baby, and I have been isolating and sheltering-in-place ever since. Becoming new parents is its own hectic experience. Your body is running on little sleep and your mind races with anxiety and uncertainty and exhausting levels of all-consuming love.
The pandemic added an extra dose of fear and confusion to our new parenting daze. From how to parent to how to survive, to where to find wipes- nothing was certain.
“I’m so sorry, but we are canceling all of our upcoming shows due to the uncertainty of the spread and danger of Covid-19,” was a script I memorized after finding out that five people were found to be infected in my small city of San Rafael, California. I would listen to my clients – both restaurant owners and audience members who’d booked us for private gigs, alike -sigh deeply, some acknowledging their own fears, some telling me they didn’t think Covid would be a big deal. All of them, however, were incredibly kind and understanding. It’s got to be challenging to express anger and frustration to a new mom who is learning to parent during a pandemic. I was feeling a unique array of emotions having those conversations while also lovingly shoving my infant’s face onto my nipple.
When everything began to fall apart, my partner and I didn’t think about our ability to survive financially. Initially, we just wanted to help others. We hosted fundraisers for organizations supporting gay and trans BIPOC, homeless locals who lost everything due to a family member being hospitalized during COVID, and local co-ops looking to help working-class families get healthy foods. I could pretend this is just our generous nature, which is sort of true, but there’s also a comfort in being in the position to help. If you are “helping”, then you are not in need of “help”…right? But, as time went on, we realized that things weren’t going to go back to normal in two weeks or a few months, and suddenly we felt like we were treading water in the middle of the ocean, with no raft in sight, as all of our business fizzled out and our bills began to pile up. We felt like we were living to see the death of live entertainment, and it was unexpected and horrible.
We joked about how we should do a fundraiser helping us pay for our baby’s doctor appointments, but that joke wasn’t very funny.
My husband still had his day job, and he was able to work from home for now. But his employers were beginning to pressure the staff into coming back to the office. With our tiny three month old looking at us with eyes that said, “Don’t mess this up, it’s all on you” (at least, that’s what it felt like his eyes said), we knew that going into an office for so little pay was just not worth the risk. On top of that, the cost of living was too high in the area where we lived. We wouldn’t be able to make it on one salary without our income from performing. Our entire lifestyle had relied on our business that now wasn’t going to see the light of a stage for at least a year.
So, we took our nest egg and emptied every tip jar we had hidden in random spots of our apartment and made the move across the country to Vermont, closer to family and old friends and hopefully into an area with new nightlife opportunities.
When you’re a performer not looking to get famous, you don’t go to the biggest cities, you look for tight-knit communities where you can squeeze in and become a part of their way of life. We don’t want to be admired or idolized, we want you to look forward to coming and playing trivia with us on Wednesdays at your local pub. We want to be your friends. But it’s awfully hard to professionally make friends during a pandemic and, while our old hometown crowd in the Bay Area missed us, our followers out there were trying to survive this thing too. They couldn’t support us with tips for our live streaming shows.
So, here we are, a new city, in a new state, in a new world. We haven’t been able to meet people or find our footing yet, and we are still hiding inside taking freelance writing gigs, and online comedy shows, and coaching jobs…
A lot of our struggle has been figuring out where we go from here. We are simultaneously licking our wounds and mourning the death of live entertainment while scrounging for any opportunity we can find. There is no time to grieve because the talents we proudly put to use for so long mean nothing right now, at least when it comes to supporting our family. Often, we bounce between watching our now-toddler run around being perfect and funny and beautiful and drenching ourselves in the deep love we have for him and feeling immense, freezing cold guilt and fear for his safety, his happiness, and his future.
It’s humbling and painful to go from thinking you have your career figured out to wondering how you’re going to keep your family clothed and fed, especially when you made it work in a career that is so often seen as a fantasy.
We used to be unintentionally smug as we introduced ourselves to people at parties or festivals. That’s cool that you’re a doctor! I’m a professional entertainer. I work in nightlife. I am a performer, an artist, I hold a microphone and feel like a very big deal for 2 hours every night.
I often find myself looking at my son and resenting myself for the confidence I had in everything while I was pregnant. We waited a long time to have a kid because we wanted to be able to be financially independent. Who would have thought that everything we worked for would be destroyed by something Michael Bay can’t even make a movie out of?
The hardest part is knowing our story isn’t new or unique among artists or entertainers.
Sure, it’s got a slightly different flavor in that we are professional pub entertainers, but countless other live entertainment businesses have fallen apart because of this pandemic, and I often think about how lonely it is amongst the company of fellow families who have lost their livelihoods to this new world. We are all sulking and feeling such shame in our sulking because we know everyone else is sulking too and nobody cares because everyone needs care.
Still, while we work odd jobs and try to find some footing, we also try to remember that entertainment will come back. We may have experienced the death of live entertainment, but it’s not gone forever.
We need to think like this. We need to think that, one day, we will help someone get a ride home because they accidentally drank too much after getting dumped and coming to our show to get distracted. I hold onto the hope that one day, I’ll go into the women’s bathroom to find a gaggle of tipsy women laughing and bonding over weird hairs they find growing out of the moles we pretend we don’t have when we leave the porcelain sanctuary. One day, I’ll have someone run up and hug me, then apologize for hugging me, but saying they just HAD to hug me because they’re having SO MUCH FUN and their job SUCKS and they’re so HAPPY TO BE HERE and they smell like beer and it’s the best smell ever seriously I just want to bottle the scent of sweat and beer and uninhibited joy don’t @ me.
Now, when we’re doing private shows on Zoom, we always end the show looking at each other and asking, “DID that go well? I can’t tell.” You can’t hear the audience laughing because they all respectfully put themselves on mute. No one smiles like they do in person. I mean, sure, they polite smile, but it’s not that open and inviting smile with almost too many teeth that comes with pure contact and presence. I miss those smiles, and the life they bring to our shows.
It’s hard doing a live entertainment Zoom show, but having a baby adds its own challenge.
Sometimes my parents (who moved here with us, because I guess we are all masochists) can watch him, but sometimes he’s running around screaming and pulling drawers open in the background as we try to finish a bit or ask a trivia question. We often get a look of sympathy from the people who book us, who are clearly feeling for our struggle to work with our one-year-old guest star who hasn’t quite figured out when to land the punch line but has nailed pulling my underwear out of the dresser and waving it in front of the camera.
Later on, we’ll always get a check or a Venmo payment with an added tip and a note saying, “You guys were great, we miss you!” and it feels good but it hurts too, like hearing from an old ex you had a stunningly amicable break up with.
We miss you too. We miss your laughter and having you want to make us laugh as though it’s the friendship world championship. We miss drunken embraces from strangers who felt connected to us at the end of the night, and everyone stopping the show to sing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. We miss regulars who found us online and became friends. We miss our clients giving us random kitsch from around their brewery in hopes that it shows how grateful they are for us, and we even miss our clients who argued with us about how much it costs to book us (sorry, the minimum is the minimum for a reason). We miss it all.
But, there is hope. This isn’t really the death of live entertainment.
The vaccine is the beginning of seeing some light. My husband is in his 40s, so he’ll be getting it first, and while it doesn’t mean we go back to normalcy, it does mean change. Transition. Progress. We have seen some kids suffer from COVID, so we are fearful for our son, but at least the vaccine lessens our risk and makes the idea of restaurants being able to fill to a new, possibly lower capacity and breweries needing a little extra fun on a weeknight a possibility again.
So, we wait it out. We look for other opportunities in the meantime because being parents means we can’t afford to be stubborn.
But deep down, I know my husband and I are both just hoping the end of this pandemic beats us to the next big life change so that we can set up our sound equipment, get out in front of the crowd, and make people forget their troubles over a cold drink and some good food. And we can selfishly forget our own troubles in the sounds of your unabashed joy. Covid is not the death of live entertainment, not if we can help it!
Guest Author Casey Grim
Casey Grim is the co-creator of comedy duo A Couple of N3rds. She’s performed at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, San Jose Improv, and NYC’s Gotham Comedy Club. When she’s not recording her A Couple of N3rds podcast or writing for her blog Arsenic and Breastmilk, you can find her painting, cooking, and momming. Follow her on Twitter @acoupleofn3rds and Instagram @arsenicandbreastmilk & @acoupleofn3rds