Now Or Never·Point of View

I know this is a pandemic but I'm gonna need you to laugh

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, performing standup comedy alone in a park helped me feel like my old self again.

Performing standup comedy alone in a park made me feel like my old self again

While comedy venues are closed, why not perform stand-up comedy in the park? (From a safe physical distance, of course.) (nourhadidi.com)
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Contributed by Nour Hadidi

Self-isolation, quarantine and social distancing. Words that have infiltrated my days, nights, conversations and nestled themselves into the corners of my brain. And my number one concern is: how do I make them funny?

Writing jokes is my way of processing life. Hey Nour, going through heartache? Write a joke about it. Embarrass yourself in a job interview? Write a joke about it. Live through a global pandemic with no end in sight? Stress-eat some baking chocolate chips right out of the bag, and write a joke about it!

I've been a standup comedian for eight years, an anniversary I didn't get to celebrate because of social distancing. This is the longest I haven't been on stage since I started.

Losing gigs and trying to stay sharp

Three years ago I quit my day job in finance to be a full-time comedian and write for television. I've had my ups and downs but have been fortunate to make people laugh for a living. Before "corona" (the new BC), I was out almost every night of the week working on my act, something most working comedians do to stay sharp and funny. But now, after distancing (the new AD), I don't have that luxury. And looking back, oh what a luxury it was. What I wouldn't give to perform to seven people in the back room of a bar on a Monday at midnight.

'I miss telling jokes into a microphone. I miss making strangers laugh. There is nothing like it,' writes Nour Hadidi. (Alyson Hardwick)

Like everything else in my life, stand-up comedy has been put on hold. In the past two months I've lost more gigs than Louis CK, but luckily CERB has come to the rescue. Thank you Mr. Trudeau! Can I call you Justin? Good, because I already do. Please stop caressing your hair. It's too distracting.

I miss standup so much. I miss the adrenaline you get from the first laugh of your set. I miss my friends. I miss the rush of a new joke working for the first time. I miss telling jokes into a microphone. I miss making strangers laugh. There is nothing like it. And while I can't perform in front of anyone, I decided to do the next best thing: perform in front of no one.

A few weeks ago, I was bored at home. I grabbed a mic I had lying around, did a set in my living room about being quarantined, and posted it for the world to see. And the world liked it and asked for more (those are the world's words, not mine).

Performing in the park

I decided my next set would be at the park. This was back when parks in Toronto were still open to the public. 

God I love the park. Where else can pigeons, humans, trees and jugglers come together to create a magical ecosystem that was now my new stage? I put on my favourite sneakers, grabbed a tripod, and told some jokes while socially distancing myself from everyone there.

As I performed to my iPhone — wielding a microphone that wasn't plugged into anything — I felt like my old self again. Making fun of people throwing a Frisbee, joking about the coronavirus, and being silly made me feel like me and for a moment I forgot all the questions I have no answers for.

What does this mean for comedy? Will the clubs that I perform at still exist in a year? Will my industry survive this? Are my friends going to be OK? Am I even going to be funny when comedy starts again? When will that be? Will my act that I worked on for eight years still be relevant? Will people want to hear jokes about ANYTHING that happened before this? I don't know and I'm scared.

Some days I don't have it in me to be funny. All I can do is get out of bed, drag myself to the couch, still cocooned in my bed covers, and listen to Taylor Swift and Paramore for hours on end. Sorry COVID, you're not the only one who's 19 around here.

I used to make people laugh about things that pertained to my life, but now I'm making them laugh about the things that are happening to all of us. There's a connectedness that I have never experienced before in my joke writing. Everyone can relate to what I'm saying. I can't wait to get in front of an audience again, but until then I'll be writing jokes and making videos in my chocolate-stained sweatpants in the hopes that you will laugh. And I hope that you laugh. I need it way more than you do.