Entertainers find creative ways to provide comic relief during lockdown
There may not be much to laugh about with the coronavirus sweeping across the globe — but stand-up comedians say even in times of crisis, people need comic relief.
“I personally have always drawn my comedy from things that anger me and frustrate me and terrify me,” Maysoon Zayid tells ITK.
“This is a great time to write because it’s ‘The Twilight Zone,’” says the actress and comedian, who garnered a slew of fans following her 2014 TED Talk focused on her life as a comic with cerebral palsy.
“We’re currently being led by a game show host, and it’s a pandemic, and it’s a mess,” says Zayid. “If you can’t laugh at that, I think it really has the potential to break you.”
While Zayid typically spends more than 200 days a year touring and on the road, she’s recently been holed up in her New Jersey residence, adhering to a statewide stay-at-home order. The disability advocate and “Find Another Dream” author says the biggest challenge has been lacking a live audience, but she is honing her skills on social media.
With her gigs canceled through at least June, she also set up a Patreon page to try to generate some income. And Zayid is doing more virtual events, including participating in a ReelAbilities film festival — which promotes disability awareness — that was moved online due to the pandemic.
“I became a comic in 2000, and a year later, 9/11 happened,” Zayid says. “So the earliest part of my comedy career, I was trained to laugh at the most scary and sad time in our nation’s history. So I’m channeling a lot of that energy in this.”
“I think you do comedy during a pandemic the same way you do around anything,” says Lizz Winstead, co-creator of “The Daily Show.” “The victims of it — with the exception of Harvey Weinstein — are never the punchline.”
For Winstead, there are plenty of opportunities for laughs to be garnered from the “chaos we’re all living” and the “general humanity of how we are all just trying to be, also just looking at sort of how the privileged have responded by gobbling up all the diapers and stuff, and how the government has been botching this.”
“I think that there is always room for humor. I think that our own fears are sometimes part reality,” she says, adding that it’s about “separating out the realities from our overarching paranoia and what is and what isn’t.”
Like much of the country, comedians, who typically rely on stand-up gigs and other public events for money, are facing a scary time with the coronavirus. Winstead, who’s socially distancing herself in her Brooklyn pad and trying to “ride out the storm” financially, says she’s also concerned for the clubs and other venues and their workers that host comedians and are currently closed.
“I’m hoping that our government actually cares about folks, especially comics, who are part of that gig economy. What happens for comedians is they don’t get unemployment. They’re not part of a structural system in place,” says Winstead, the founder of the Feminist Buzzkills of Comedy Tour.
For Zayid, the coronavirus has meant adjusting to a different kind of audience to test out her material. She goes on daily 3-mile walks — on opposite sides of the street — with her 73-year-old mom, a medical center worker.
“When we walk, I scream jokes across the street the whole time. And she just tells me to be quiet because everybody’s sleeping. But you know if I have an audience, I’m trying jokes with them,” Zayid says with a chuckle.
“It’s so funny because my comedy is political and social satire,” Winstead, an abortion rights activist, says. “In a year where you have a presidential election and a sitting president was impeached, that a pandemic is probably going to be a bigger story than those two things is pretty wild.”
Despite the rising death toll and disrupted daily life due to the coronavirus, Zayid insists, “Laughter is healing.
“If I can’t look at the absurdity of what is happening around me and make it a joke, I’m in trouble.”
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