Roughly 50 people gathered outside Governor’s Comedy Club in Levittown last Thursday afternoon to demand Gov. Andrew Cuomo reconsider his decision to keep the venue closed amid the coronavirus pandemic. This was the second time comedians, comedy-lovers and local lawmakers rallied in support of the club’s reopening in recent weeks.
Governor’s Comedy Clubs — which includes The Brokerage in Bellmore — welcomed audiences back for laughs earlier this summer following temporary Covid-19 closures, but a new state mandate is 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.”
“We were doing shows indoors with six-foot distancing at 50 percent capacity, and we had not one documented case of any kind,” Governor’s owner James Dolce told the Herald Life last month. “Everything was done to the letter of the law, and then it just turned around.”
The rule reversal has caused “frustration” in the comedy community, said comedian Anthony Rodia. “How do you put a rule in place and then change it on the fly?” he posed. “We flattened the curve, the death rate is down . . . but if you’re not going to open this club and let us get back to doing what we do best then at least give us a reason why.”
Some of Rodia’s recent YouTube videos feature his stage characters adjusting to pandemic life, such as wearing a mask while driving alone in a car. He said these bits are not meant to downplay the virus, but rather how it’s being handled.
“There’s no sense behind it,” he said. “You can go to a restaurant to eat, and that restaurant can have live entertainment, but you can’t go to that restaurant if live entertainment is the reason you went there. It feels like the twilight zone.”
Dolce said he believes the blanket mandate undermines venue owners who have taken steps to stop the spread of the virus at their establishments, and that clubs 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.
Comic Vinny D’Agostino, a former Bellmore resident, said Dolce spent “ridiculous sums of money” to outfit the three clubs — the third being McGuires in Bohemia — to ensure the safety of guests and employees. Each venue is equipped with ultraviolet air filters and Plexiglas partitions around the stage, he said, and employees sterilize seating areas in between shows.
“We’re at the point now where we’re starting to see the arbitrary enforcement of all of these rules,” D’Agostino said of the mandate. “Governor’s [clubs] should be open — they’re important to the community, to the comics, and to the people that come out to forget about the craziness of what’s happening in this world.”
Comedian Anthony Cumia joked that while the Plexiglas boxes surrounding Governor’s stages may be ruining mimes’ careers, the guidance from the state is no laughing matter. “We’re getting such vague information on the virus, but one thing that’s not vague is that people’s lives and businesses are being destroyed because of this,” he said. “Comedy is something we’ve all done in the worst of times. Everyone can remember that first time they laughed after 9/11, and we need to be able to laugh now.”