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Jab jokes and legal weed: The new rules of indoor stand-up comedy

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The first thing you need to know about the return of indoor stand-up comedy in New York City: There’s an actual person standing in front of you. 

“I’ve had people that have literally tried to treat the live show like they’re watching Netflix: ‘Can you say that again?’ ” stand-up Matt Richards told The Post. “Did you just hit rewind on live comedy? Are you s – – tting me?”

It may look different than it did in the Before Times, but New York’s iconic stand-up comedy scene is officially back, thanks to rising vaccination rates and added safety measures. Indoor clubs were allowed to reopen on April 2 at one-third capacity, and crowds have been lining up and selling out shows. 

The scene comes with some new rules for both audience etiquette and what we’re all ready to laugh at in public after a year in sweatpants.

The exterior at the New York Comedy Club.
Indoor shows are back on at the New York Comedy Club.
Stefano Giovannini

Jab jabs are fair game

Comics often riff on similar topics, but the last year is like an Iron Chef competition: Everyone gets the same ingredients and has to make something tasty out of it. 

“It’s still too early in the reopening to call pandemic material hack,” said Richards, who has been doing indoor shows at the New York Comedy Club (and got the “Pfizer for my guys-ers!” vaccine). “I got to do some vaccinated living just to get some new material.” 

Matt Richards performs at the New York Comedy Club.
Matt Richards performs at the New York Comedy Club.
Stefano Giovannini

Comedian Kenice Mobley, who did her first live show last week at Littlefield, said she’ll still try to avoid some of the darker topics for now. 

“I found that if I mention death in a certain way, people are like, ‘Wait, is this a COVID thing?’ ” she said. “It’s too fresh in their head.” 

Comedian Todd Barry said doing pandemic jokes is definitely not a requirement. 

“When I started doing shows after 9/11, I found that audiences didn’t need to hear jokes about it,” he said. “They just wanted to laugh.”

Comedian Todd Barry performs at the New York Comedy Club.
Comedian Todd Barry said that doing pandemic-related material is not a requirement for getting back in the game.
Stefano Giovannini

And the comedy might get a little experimental too. 

“There’s no pressure, people kinda know you’re supposed to suck,” Greg Stone told The Post outside the Comedy Cellar. “It kind of gives you the freedom to say wild bullsh-t.” 

Please LOL

After a year of playing glitchy Zoom shows for muted audiences, the comedians are desperate to hear laughs, so don’t be shy about it. 

Masks are optional while seated but can muffle guffaws and hide smirks.

“With the really intimate crowds, sometimes people are like, ‘Am I allowed to laugh at that? Is it OK to laugh?’ ” Richards said. “I don’t care if i can’t see your mouth, if i can hear you’re laughing in real time, that’s good.”

Audience members laugh at the New York Comedy Club.
Whether the audience is masked — or not — comedians say they’re desperate to hear laughter.
Stefano Giovannini

Some venues have Plexiglas barriers between the audience tables or in front of the performers, which takes some getting used to, especially because the stage lights can make them reflective. 

“Every once in a while, I would feel something fall flat, and I almost felt like my reflection came into sharper focus in the silence,” said Emmy Blotnick, who’s been doing shows at the Comedy Cellar and its sister venues. (Her vaccine: Johnson & Johnson; “My blood is crunchy!” she told an audience Saturday.) 

Comics also aren’t sharing mikes right now, which can drag a show’s momentum. 

“Somehow plugging in a microphone has thwarted a lot of seasoned comics,” Blotnick said. 

The experience will take some adjusting to until full capacity returns. 

“Standup comedy kind of works best when people are crammed in and uncomfortable,” comedian Joe Machi tells The Post. “It keeps you on edge, and laughter is contagious.”

Expect drop-ins

Even the comedy superstars are a little rusty, so drop-ins at small clubs may be more common right now. Amy Schumer and Ray Romano recently did surprise appearances at the Comedy Cellar. Even disgraced comedian Louis C.K. did an unannounced set for a welcoming Village Underground crowd Saturday night and, possibly hoping to ride post-vaccination good vibes, told a shocking amount of jokes about the body part that got him in trouble. 

Don’t get wasted

It might be tempting to drink like you just survived the end of the world. 

“The hecklers, you can tell, haven’t been out in a while,” Richards said, mocking a potential audience member: “ ‘I been looking forward to this all my life, and I’m wrecked!’ ”

Plus, there’s another option: Weed is legal in New York state now, and you can smoke it anywhere you can smoke cigarettes. 

“I would hope that it produces a nice new level of giggles,” Blotnick said.

Emma Blotnick performs stand-up comedy.
Emma Blotnick said she’s hoping legal weed puts audiences in the mood to laugh.
Stefan Jeremiah

Good live comedy can be an even more healing drug for performers and audiences, and that’s just what New Yorkers need right now after living through the one-time epicenter of the crisis. 

“[We’re] pointing out how we’re all just a hair less normal than we used to be,” Mobley said. “Everyone is just weird now.”

And no matter what, comics say it’s better than the alternative. 

“I talk about Zoom like I was in the war,” comedian Sam Morril says. “I’m not going back to Zoom, I’m done with it.”

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