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Covid-19 mandate no laughing matter for comedy clubs

Brokerage owner wants to reopen for laughs

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Governor’s Comedy Clubs — including the Brokerage in Bellmore — welcomed customers and comics back for laughs earlier this summer following temporary Covid-19 closures, but a new state mandate is now pulling the curtain on certain live entertainment venues that reopened in Phases 3 and 4.

“Restaurants and other on- premises food and beverage establishments that have a license through the [State Liquor Authority] are only allowed to offer on-premise music if their license certificate specifically allows for such activity,” New York state’s website reads. “Exotic dancing, comedy shows, karaoke, etc., are not permissible currently regardless of phase.”

On Aug. 23, comedians rallied outside Governor’s Comedy Club in Levittown to protest the mandate, and requested that Gov. Andrew Cuomo reconsider his decision, calling it “arbitrary.”

“How can it be that sitting and eating at a restaurant is safe but listening to a comic behind Plexiglas at the same time is not?” said comedian and former Bellmore resident Vinny D’Agostino. “From the start of this entire pandemic, we have been told to follow the science. What started out as ‘flatten the curve’ has turned into . . . the arbitrary enforcement of social-distancing rules, which clearly make no sense.”

Last month, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran toured Governor’s to assess its readiness to reopen. In an Aug. 19 letter to Cuomo, she wrote that management had implemented “significant changes and rigorous protocols” to comply with Covid-19 guidelines.

“By implementing many of the same safety measures as dining establishments, including outdoor set-ups, capacity restrictions, constant sanitizing, social distancing and mask requirements, I am confident comedy clubs can operate in-person, live shows safely,” Curran wrote. “Reopening comedy clubs will help support our local economy — not only by getting our talented comedians back on the stage but by bringing back hundreds of service and hospitality jobs — hit hardest by the pandemic.”

Owner James Dolce, who has headed Governor’s for the past 15 years, invested nearly $100,000 to outfit its three clubs — the third being McGuires in Bohemia — to ensure the safety of guests and employees. Each venue is equipped with HEPA air filters, ultraviolet light sanitizers and Plexiglas partitioning around stage and bar areas. Stickers posted throughout the club encourage patrons to stay six feet apart, food orders are accompanied with sealed, plastic cutlery, and monitors have been hired to remind patrons to follow the rules (see box).

After a three-month closure, the Brokerage reopened on July 10. “We were doing shows indoors with six-foot distancing at 50 percent capacity, and we had not one documented case of any kind,” Dolce said. “Everything was done to the letter of the law, and then it just turned around.”

Dolce said he believes the blanket mandate undermines business owners who have taken steps to stop the spread of the virus at their establishments, and that venues like his should be viewed on a “case-by-case” basis. “I can’t see an argument where we shouldn’t be open,” he said.

Hempstead Town Councilman Dennis Dunne, who represents the 6th District, said he supported the reopening of local comedy clubs. “These clubs have people that depend on them, between the staff and the comedians,” he said. “It’s wrong to single them out and push them aside.”

Governor’s was planning a second rally at its Levittown location, at 90 Division Ave., on Thursday, Sept. 3, at 12:30 p.m. Long Island native Anthony Rodia and other comics were scheduled to make remarks, urging Cuomo to “let New York laugh again.”

“I always loved the idea that people loved to laugh, but never realized how much of a necessity it was,” Dolce said. “I don’t feel it’s a want, but a need, and that’s the feedback we’re getting from all our customers. They need to laugh. This is their escape, and it’s being kept from them for reasons that are not really clear.”

Requests for comments from the governor’s office and the State Liquor Authority were not returned by press time.