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For Stand-up Comedy, the Pandemic’s Effects Have Just Begun

Roy Wood Jr. and Maria Bamford. Photo-Illustration: Left: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photobank, Right: Andrew Chin/Getty Images

Comedians: They’re just like us. They can’t figure out how to get the grid view to work on Zoom, but they’ve force muted everyone because babies are crying in the background. They’re “optimistic pessimists” about when things will return to normal. They can’t get any work done at home because their kids are shoving a monster truck in their face. Maria Bamford says one nice thing about all of this is she doesn’t have to travel quite so much. Roy Wood Jr. misses all the travel. Bamford’s new special Weakness Is the Brand came out on Comedy Dynamics earlier this year, and now she’s working out her latest material from home, over Zoom. Wood is still working as a correspondent on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, albeit all of his correspondences are from home.

On this extra-special double-header episode of the new, improved, and now weekly Good One podcast, Bamford and Wood will distract you from your coronavirus anxieties with their own coronavirus anxieties. You can read some excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode right below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Good One

A Podcast About Jokes

Maria Bamford

On Self-Isolation

Well, I was doing great at first. It was an introvert’s paradise. And then, I have kind of fallen off some sort of wagon. I went to the drugstore yesterday and bought Easter candy. I just had a chocolate egg for breakfast, is what I’m trying to tell you. Topped it off with a Diet Coke, a scoop of peanut butter, and some raisins. So there’s some healthy stuff there. I’m not a fool.

The funny part for me is having OCD, lots of anxiety, fear, and then when you call your therapist, they’re like, “No, you’re right. It’s bad out there. There’s corpses stacked in churches.” And you’re like, wait a minute! Aren’t I supposed to breathe in through my nose and then feel the warmth of the air through my mouth? “Nope. Shut it down.”

On Doing Stand-up Over Zoom

I’ve been doing these Zoom shows, and I do miss hearing the laughs. There’s no substitute to hearing that live. And I’m sure when we go back to doing shows with people, it’ll be a rude awakening or very exciting to hear, Oh my gosh, that’s what people find funny or That’s what’s doing well. Because now, I’m definitely in a bit of a vacuum. But I think also as a comedian, I’m also in a bit of a vacuum, just in terms of you perform for people who only like your kind of stuff now, which is a great thing in that it lets you have a career as a comedian. But on some level, I’m sure it could be said that I am not sharp as a comic because I can’t perform for a whole bunch of different types of crowds.

I know other people were doing [stand-up on Zoom], but as soon as I thought of it, I did it, because I just thought I need to have a way to get myself to keep rehearsing, and not make stand-up into this special thing that I’ll haven’t done in months. Which at least in my head as anxiety goes, I go, I can’t do that anymore. It builds up into some freaked-out situation.

On Zoom Hecklers

It’s funny, because it’s a different kind of heckling in the chat room, where they’ll tell you punch lines to the joke, their own thoughts. Which is great! Some of them are great, and I really enjoy it. So that’s been kind of fun. But it also does feel like heckling.

I love that people are having a good time. Yesterday was the first time I shut down the chat room, because it seemed like other people were getting stressed about it. Because I’m doing the same show every day. So people who had seen the material before were kind of leading on punch lines. What are you gonna do?

I also can get really distracted by what people are doing. I also get so afraid — and this is just my brain — that somebody will put their thumb near the camera and I’ll be like, Is that a penis? Is that a penis in my camera? Which it could be. It could very well be a beautiful thumb-like penis in my camera. But I think I got to start [turning on grid view], because I think it would be fun to see people laugh.

Roy Wood Jr.

On Why Stand-up Will Survive the Coronavirus

Let me start by saying stand-up will survive. The concept of going out and seeing someone yap in public has been around since 180-whateverthefuck. You could go back to the Romans or some other part of history that I don’t know shit about, and they say, “The plague wiped out millions!” Yeah, and there were still fucking plays in theaters and shit after it. So people will figure out a way to entertain one another.

I think this COVID-19 crisis has exposed just how unsteady of a foundation comedy has existed upon. And I’m almost shocked at how quickly some of the clubs have already just, Ah yeah, we’re gonna let our workers go. We can’t afford to keep them, we can’t pay them. So I think that it’s gonna be a slow go to come back to that type of norm.

What I do wonder, though, is what type of boom would comedy see on the backside of this. Because there aren’t going to be fewer performers — there’s gonna be fewer structured places for them to go and make revenue. Which makes me feel like the clubs, more than likely, will become the independent venues. I mean, this is just a wild prediction off the top, but I think a lot of what the alt-comedy movement did in the early aughts, I call it alt 1.0 — Posehn, Oswalt, Silverman, give me Demetri Martin somewhere in that mix as well — I think that they were able to find their own audience, their own venues and things like that. And I think you’re just going to see a lot of that happening on a smaller basis.

A lot of the comics that are online went online because the club system wouldn’t accept them, or they thought it was full of shit because the clubs are run by egotistical club owners who like to keep their foot on everybody’s neck. And the kids were young and hungry, so they went online. Adaptation is a byproduct of struggle. So we’ll see how comics adapt. But if you’re just expecting to get online now in 2020 and do the same shit that people were doing back in ’08 or 2010, Rogan 1.0, Marc Maron when he was on episode three, it could work. It’s just going to take a hell of a lot longer, when at the end of the day it’s got to be authentic and it’s gotta be something different.

On Writing Stand-up Post-Coronavirus

September 12th was, “Can I laugh?” Whereas now it’s, “Should I leave the house?” Do you understand what a cough would do to a comedy show right now? It’d be the same as a gunshot. So how do you tell jokes in an environment like that? The one thing I have stopped doing during the quarantine is I’ve stopped working on my stand-up. I’ve turned creatively to working on scripts, and there’s a book proposal that I want to get done. There’s a film I want to write. I think I’ll have more than enough time to get those things taken care of. But I have not looked at my material, because I don’t know what we’re going to be on the other side of this.

It sounds fucking crazy to say that I may have to drop my Kobe Bryant funeral stuff, and how that changed the country, in lieu of this. Because … talk about something that I thought affected us nationally and brought us together. I thought it was Kobe’s death. Wrong! I’ll see your Kobe and raise you a pandemic. Also, from an originality standpoint, I don’t want to just be onstage and go, “Kobe, Kobe, corona, corona, corona,” because I know every comedian out the gate’s gonna be firing that stuff. It’s gonna be like stand-up comedy in ’95 when O.J. beat the verdict — when O.J. beat the murder rap, and then every comedian had an O.J. joke. So I almost want to take a step back and just see where the dust settles in society and just kind of exist and live a little before trying to open up the joke book again. And at that time, hopefully some of the material I was working on in Pittsburgh will still have some legs. And if not, you know, it is what it is.

On Working From Home With Kids

It’s not good. I’ll just say that bluntly. More so than the audience, the thing that I really, really I know for me, being annoyed and being alone are two things that more often than not can get my synapses firing. Because my son is constantly here — we don’t have a babysitter, we don’t send him out — the impulse to be a dad just supersedes the desire to be a comic, and I can’t resist it. He comes over with a fucking monster truck: “You want to see me do a jump?” I’m not going to say, “Get the fuck out of here, I’m working on a mass shooting joke.” I can’t. I have to go, “Yes, son. Show me the jump.”

You have to be careful, from a relationship standpoint, of just not becoming two people that are existing in a space. You don’t want to ever feel like you’re just roommates with your girl, just raising a kid. So I’m figuring out the workflow is I can work between midnight and 4 in the morning. I can get more done in three hours from 12 to 3 than trying to do it concurrently from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. I will get more done in those three hours, so I would rather work overnight, sleep three hours, wake up with him, do everything, then in his nap time, get the rest of the sleep that I’m owed from the night before. So that’s starting to become the pattern. And also I have to be respectful to my girl’s schedule, because she shouldn’t have to just sit with him all day too. She’s got her own business. She’s got stuff she’s trying to do. She’s trying to do yoga in the living room. I don’t want him crawling over her, showing her that fucking monster truck. Nobody wants to see you jump that monster truck.

For Stand-up Comedy, the Pandemic’s Effects Have Just Begun