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No Laughing Matter: Comedy Club Owners Annoyed They're Still Not Allowed To Reopen, Lawmakers Push 2 New Bills

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Comedy club owners held a rally Tuesday, asking why they're still closed.

They're putting forward two new proposals to get people laughing again, CBS2's Natalie Duddridge reported.

"The truth of the matter is there's nothing funny about this. These are people's lives," said Scott Linder, the co-owner of the New York Comedy Club.

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"We started in this location 13 years ago. We made it the first comedy club it was and we went through raising our children here," said Marko Elgart, co-owner of Eastville.

"This is our life and many others'. It's not a joke at all," Tia Elgart added.

It's also no laughing matter for Lidner, whose business has been shut down since March due to the coronavirus pandemic and is struggling to survive.

"Comedy clubs are being put in the same category as large arenas. There's a massive difference between Madison Square Garden and a comedy club at 25% capacity ... For us, that would be a crowd of 16 people," Lidner said.


Lidner said watching other indoor venues open with restrictions, but not his and ones like it, feels like a slap in the face.

"Restaurants are opening at 25% capacity, haunted houses are open, escape rooms are open ... everybody's open and we're being left behind," Lidner said.

"Last week, the governor made some comments. He said something about it's dangerous to have large arenas operating, which I certainly understand. We shouldn't be having big concerts in Madison Square Garden. But this ... is not a large arena," state Sen. Michael Gianaris said.

To try and catch up, some elected officials are introducing two new bills pushing for live comedy venues to reopen with the same restrictions as other indoor venues.

"One proposal is allow us to operate like a restaurant would at 25% capacity. Because, in reality, what's the difference if you have a room full of people eating and you put one person on stage?" New York Comedy Club co-owner Emilio Savone said.

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The other proposal is to follow the lead of bowling alleys by serving no liquor of food, but just offer ticketed events for live comedy at 50% capacity, with masks required.

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke on the issue Tuesday morning, saying it's a valid point and he'll take a look.

"Honestly, it hasn't been one of the areas we've focused on a lot, but it's an important part of life in the city. It's something we're proud of," de Blasio said.

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Residents Duddridge spoke to said they would be for it.

"They are not important. They're vital!" one person said of the clubs.

"A lot of creative professionals need an avenue to make some money. This is one of those things that are fundamental to what New York is and what it stands for," resident William Brown added.

Some comedians have said to earn a living they've been forced to operate underground, holding small shows in backyards and private homes. They said it would be safer for everyone if they could tell their jokes again in licensed venues.

"Stand-up comedy, specifically, we're kind of the cockroaches of the arts, which is deserved in many ways. But the thing about cockroaches is they're indestructible," comedian Christian Finnegan said.

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