New Brunswick

Testing, testing: Laughs scheduled to return at Saint John comedy club

It might not be the cure for COVID-19, but the Punch Lines Comedy Club in Saint John is hoping people will get a healthy dose of laughter on Friday and Saturday night.

Punch Lines Comedy Club owner Julie Tower says the club will have to operate at a limited capacity

Comedian James Mullinger will headline the show on Friday and Saturday. (Sean McGrath)

It might not be the cure for COVID-19, but the Punch Lines Comedy Club in Saint John is hoping people will get a healthy dose of laughter on Friday and Saturday night. 

The comedy club is hosting its first show since February, before the pandemic forced the club to close. 

"I think people really need a laugh nowadays," said Julie Tower, co-owner of the club.

The show stars comedian James Mullinger, and features Jason Guptill, Chris Hovey, and Shawn Hogan. 

The club was going to open in August with Montreal comedian Derek Seguin headlining, but since the Atlantic bubble remained closed, Seguin couldn't come and the show was postponed.

The club has been set up to hold 120 people at the most, which is 40 fewer than the maximum capacity.

"Our club was pretty spaced out to begin with," said Tower. "We've had to remove a few tables to make it a little bit more spacious for everybody and put some Plexiglas in some areas."

Tower said staff will have to wear masks, but people coming to see the show can do so if they wish. 

Tough months

Tower said there are about 10 full-time headliners in Atlantic Canada who rely on making the bill to pay the bills. 

Comedians have still found other ways to perform. Some comedians did gigs over Zoom or in backyards. James Mullinger performed at a drive-in theatre.

The show will be the club's first since February, before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Punch Lines Comedy Club/Facebook)

But comedian Shane Ogden, also a co-owner of Punch Lines, found the idea of moving his standup out of the club challenging. He said the pandemic was also tough on his mental health.

"For me personally, it's been hard because I've had to give up something I love," said Ogden. "At first I was Lysol-wiping my Corn Pops and now it's a little more relaxed."

He said it's important for the club to open back up, because once the snow starts, those outdoor gigs aren't going to be possible. 

Chris Hovey will be opening for Mullinger on the weekend. His standup also has had to take a back seat over the past couple of months. 

Punch Lines Comedy Club has been set up so people can maintain physical distance. (Punch Lines Comedy Club/Facebook)

He stayed away from the backyard gigs and Zoom shows. Before COVID-19, Hovey would do about two or three open mics a month and one regular show.

"I went from being on stage once or twice a week to nothing. I think this summer I've done a total of three, maybe four, shows since June," he said.

Hovey has been able to do some open mic performances in the past couple weeks to get ready for Friday night. 

"It was almost like starting over," said Hovey. "I got up in front of an audience of about 30 people and I was shaking, I was forgetting things, it was very very different. It was a hard reset, that's for sure."

Scheduling shows

Julie Tower is going to rely on comedians in Atlantic Canada to fill the bill going forward, since the Atlantic bubble is still closed. 

Tower said many of the comedians they book are from as far away as Vancouver, and across the United States, and it isn't realistic to bring them to the club. 

"It's difficult on the comedians too because this is their income. For them, they're trying to do stuff where they're located, but it makes it really hard when they're traveling comics," said Tower.

People coming in to watch the show won't be required to wear a mask. (Punch Lines Comedy Club/Facebook)

She hopes eventually entertainers such as comedians will be able to travel into Atlantic Canada and not have to quarantine to help put on shows at the club. 

With the limited capacity, Tower said the club is definitely going to make less money. She said some comics have agreed to take less for the show.

"Everyone loses a little bit," said Tower. "There's always going to be that for a while until we can get back up to full capacity and the way it's looking we don't even know when that's going to happen."

Tower said both shows are nearly sold out.

About the Author

Philip Drost is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick.