The Comedy Closet's situation is “tumultuous.” According to owner Joe Coughlin, before the CDC shut down event venues, the local comedy club hosted open mic nights and brought big comedy names to town. In March, however, Coughlin’s business had to completely stop shows. If Comedy Closet reopened now, it would only be able to fit about 20 comedy fans safely.
Industries all over the country have struggled with COVID-19, and the entertainment industry is no exception.
Coughlin, like many venue owners, is finding creative ways to keep live shows running. In the future, he said, he might start hosting “parking lot shows” at the venue, where people can watch the comedian on a screen from the parking lot while others pay more to go inside and see the show live. However, Coughlin is concerned for the future of the club.
“There's so much up in the air,” Coughlin said.
Although Coughlin is doing everything in his power so the club can “reopen and bring comedy to Columbia,” he cannot promise they will reopen when it is safe again. He said he is currently in search of investors to help the venue keep bringing humor to Columbia for the long run.
Another venue struck by a wave of change this year is the Koger Center for the Arts, which hosted a variety of local and traveling events such as national Broadway tours, graduations and USC School of Music shows before COVID-19.
“We've not done anything since March the 14th,” the center’s director, Nate Terracio, said.
As a result of not being able to have large crowds, the space has largely become a classroom building, Terracio said. Rather than hosting ensembles of 50 to 60 people, they have had to find “not one space, but sometimes five spaces” for them to break into smaller groups to rehearse. The large size of the center has provided a “safe space” where students can spread out, work on online schoolwork or take music classes.
“Our main focus has been on getting ready for the students to return to campus ... and now that that’s happened, we can move on with this other part of what we do here, which is provide entertainment,” Terracio said.
The Koger Center plans on starting to record and broadcast its upcoming events, such as jazz and other musical performances.
Not only have CDC restrictions on gatherings affected the venues, but they have also taken a toll on the artists themselves. Psychedelic rap musician Blane Conant, or WritersBlock, often performed at local music venue Art Bar before COVID. Conant said performing is an “indescribable feeling” that allows him to connect with strangers. He doesn't know if performing will ever look the same, but he said he hopes the hiatus from concerts will make “everyone appreciate live shows more.”
This applies to comedians, too. Laughter, something the comedian feeds off of, is delayed over Zoom.
“You don’t feel command of the room,” Coughlin said. “Everyone’s itching to get back to being on stage with a live crowd. That’s where the comedian gets his energy.”
Terracio said live shows are important from an audience perspective because those moments are "how we grow as a society and grow as individuals."
"There's no substitute for that," Terracio said.