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Comedians Find Humor In The Past Year As Comedy Clubs Open Back Up

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

COVID is serious business. Comedy is a business that's supposed to get laughs from what's going on. Now that comedy clubs are opening and comedians are going on tour, how will the pandemic make its way into sets, and will we laugh?

Josh Gondelman has been thinking about this. He is a comedian and writer for "Desus & Mero" on Showtime and a regular panelist on some Saturday public radio quiz show whose name I conveniently forget.

JOSH GONDELMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: Mr. Gondelman, thanks so much for being with us.

GONDELMAN: Thank you for having me. My pleasure to be here.

SIMON: You wrote on Twitter that comics are kind of feeling out how audiences - what they want to hear about COVID. What have you found out?

GONDELMAN: So I post on Twitter because I was kind of making my return to stand-up a few weeks ago after about a year mostly doing stuff on Zoom or not at all. And a bunch of comedian friends kind of replied. And the consensus seemed to be, you know, audiences are not hungry to hear about the trauma of the past year, you know? And I think people are excited to hear the present moment where things are starting to feel a little better. But I don't think people are hungry to be like, OK, but what happened before that?

SIMON: Now, that's interesting to me. And maybe it's just a matter of time because - forgive me - I mean, there is a lot of potential for comedy in being locked down for 15 months, isn't there?

GONDELMAN: One hundred percent. Bo Burnham in his new special that I believe is on Netflix called "Inside" - it really dives into that. And I think that that's really great. Not that there's no potential to make, like, really meaningful and really funny art out of kind of the harrowing experience that people shared, but I do think, like, when people are out on the town, they're not necessarily, like, excited to be reminded of, like, hey, remember when we couldn't do this? You know what I mean? Or maybe you're right, that people don't have the distance yet for you to be able to observe on it from, like, looking back, wow, this was difficult for these reasons, and now we're in this position.

SIMON: I'm sorry if this sounds academic, but, you know, I mean, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made jokes to soldiers in the middle of World War II.

GONDELMAN: Totally. But I think - my friend Shalewa Sharpe, who's a really great comedian, said that, like, she thinks that on shows that are online and livestreamed, people have a little bit more of an appetite for that because it is like, ugh, we're here in this bad situation; let's acknowledge it, versus I think just the slight difference in, like, people going to live shows. It's the difference between going to talk to people who are at war and telling them jokes about how scary the situation is versus people who, at least mentally, are no longer at war and being like, isn't war bad? And everyone's like, yeah, it's bad. I don't want to hear about it (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah. Do you have any pre-pandemic bits or riffs that just won't work now?

GONDELMAN: Oh, gosh. I feel so disconnected from that time. And I've talked to some other friends who also kind of feel like those are jokes that I wrote two years ago or more, and I just haven't been telling them routinely. I just feel like tapping into it myself is the tricky part rather than getting audiences on board - you know, that kind of comedy lie of, like, the other day, I was going to the store, when the other day was, like, three years ago now.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yeah.

GONDELMAN: And in between, I spent 15 months mostly not going anywhere.

SIMON: Yeah. Josh Gondelman, a comedian and a regular panelist on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, thanks so much for being with us.

GONDELMAN: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE JAMES' "GUITAR RAG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.