Radio·Personal Essay

When COVID-19 shut down comedy clubs, I started doing standup in the park

When comedy clubs and venues started shutting down in March due to COVID-19, comic Nour Hadidi had to come up with new and creative ways to keep her comedic skills sharp — so she took her camera, a tripod and a microphone to the park.

Toronto comic Nour Hadidi went from doing 3 shows a night to isolating at home

When COVID-19 shut down comedy clubs, I started doing standup in the park | This Happened to Me

10 months ago
7:34
When comedy clubs and venues started shutting down in March due to COVID-19, comic Nour Hadidi had to come up with new and creative ways to keep her comedic skills sharp — so she took her camera, a tripod and a microphone to the park. 7:34

A few years ago, Nour Hadidi was working at a bank by day and performing standup comedy by night.

Then in 2017, she quit her job to focus on comedy full-time, performing at venues across Toronto — comedy clubs, festivals, taverns, wing bars, garages, basements, backyards, anywhere that would have her.

When all these public spaces started shutting down in March due to COVID-19, her life drastically changed, and she had to come up with new and creative ways to keep her comedic skills sharp.

This is her story, as told to CBC Radio.

As a comedian, you're out every single night in front of groups of people and around a lot of other comedians. It's your job, but it's also your social life.

Comedians rest during the day, because we want our energy to go towards seeing our friends at shows, performing for audiences and giving them our energy on stage.

To go from that to being in my house, not being able to leave, not being able to talk to anyone or see anyone was really hard. It was a really big adjustment process. This life that you've built for yourself and all the things that help you cope and the structures that you've built are gone.

Life is already hard, you know?

Finding new creative outlets

But as comedians, we adjust and find other avenues to release that creativity.

We started doing Zoom shows, which were very weird initially, but then just like standup, you kind of figure out what makes a good Zoom show and what doesn't.

The organizers unmute some of the audience members or some of the comics, so you can hear the laughter. So it kind of makes it the closest it can be to a live show rather than you just talking into the abyss.

Another thing that I found helped me was that I kind of just started doing standup by myself. I would go to the park because I felt like I would just be inspired more by what was around me. 

So I packed a tripod. I had my iPhone. The mic doesn't work. It's not connected to anything, but I thought it's what I need to do comedy.

Otherwise, what  I'm giving a TED Talk at the park? Then someone would've called the cops.

That's not what we wanted. I mean, they could have called the cops either way, but I feel like with the mic, at least they would have thought that I was recording something.

It was a bit crazy to shoot, because all these people were looking at me, and I felt really self-conscious.

When you're doing standup, people are paying attention and listening to you. But with this, it was the opposite. I didn't want anyone to listen to me. I wanted people to not even pay attention to me because I felt crazy.

A life of comedy

Comedy is not an easy life. Before the pandemic, I would always wonder what I was doing with my life as a comic. But now that this has happened, I'm glad that I get to make people laugh.

The financial stability is something that's really hard. It's not easy for me, as someone who worked in finance and was getting those cheques every two weeks. To go from that to being on CERB is not a good feeling. 

But I think that I want to look back and say that at least I tried doing what I loved, and I tried doing the thing that brought me joy.

I don't know what the future holds for my industry. I don't know if we'll be able to do what we did before, doing three shows a night, polishing your sets. It's scary, but I know that I'm happy I'm in it. 

Newfound confidence

I'm a joke writer, and I can write jokes about anything, and I don't have to worry about what happens in the future because I will figure out a way to write jokes about that.

I think that learning this lesson made me feel better about my own talents and my own skills as a comic.

I'm so proud of all the other comics who are putting on Zoom shows. I'm sure it's not easy or some other comics look down on it, and they say, "Oh, I don't want to be a Zoom comic."

Nour performing standup before the pandemic. (Alyson Hardwick)

But we're all doing the best we can, and if people want to tune in from their living rooms so that you can make them laugh for 10 minutes and bring them joy and make them forget about what's going on, then why not?

It's the best feeling in the world.


This Happened to Me: The New Normal is a video series from CBC Radio featuring the stories of Canadians whose lives have been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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