How NYU’s Comedy Scene is Finding Ways to Laugh

NYU sketch groups “Free Beer” and “Hammerkatz” discuss their future plans and the role of humor in a time of global crisis.

Humor is one way to cope with this lockdown at home. NYU’s comedy groups Free Beer and Hammerkatz discuss changes to their content and methods of distribution since the pandemic. (Staff Illustration by Alexandra Chan)

They say laughter is the best medicine, and lately it seems like everyone has gotten the memo. People all over the world are turning to social media platforms to share all types of content, especially comedy, inspired by the coronavirus outbreak. Laughter isn’t a definitive cure for the bigger problem at hand, but daily doses of humor seem to play a vital role in the pandemic. Many people are managing to get their comedy fix from the comfort of the digital screen of their choice, but what does this mean for our NYU comedy groups? In an interview with WSN, Tisch sophomore Ian Reid and Gallatin first-year Nina Lane talked about the effect of the pandemic on their work and the solutions they plan to implement. 

Ian Reid is a member of the sketch group Free Beer, NYU’s only experimental comedy group, formally recognized by the university as “Antonio’s Army.” The reason behind the university’s preference to keep the outdated name remains a mystery. The group was founded a little over 10 years ago, and Reid joined in fall 2018. According to him, Free Beer holds three shows in Kimmel every semester, but their first and last show of the semester was on February 29. Less than two weeks after the show, everything had to be cancelled. Fortunately, the group has stayed in contact, and they are currently discussing plans to move forward. 

“No one has anything to do, so we might get a very good turnout,” Reid said. “That’s what we’re banking on.”

According to Reid, one of the biggest challenges for the group right now is having to reconfigure how they think about their performances and the lack of a routine. 

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“The fact that it’s one performance live gives something to it that I think might be hard if we put it online, but at the same time everything is having to adjust,” he said. 

As an experimental comedy group, they usually go for content on the hectic and zany side. However, as times change, so does their content. Reid also had thoughts regarding the type of humor they’d implement into their sketches. As of now, the group has decided to upload short videos to their YouTube channel throughout the semester. In order to do this, they plan to meet more frequently on everyone’s new favorite app, Zoom. 

“If humor is used politically it shouldn’t be used as a way to distract from actual problems, but instead as a way to draw attention to them and provide a way to look at things,” Reid said. “So this is a situation where I think of humor less as a way to distract, but as a way to provide a community that we’re all missing. I think that’s the practical application.” 

Ultimately, although plans are still being discussed, Reid is hesitant about content that revolves around COVID-19 because people are already looking at that everywhere else. He said that if there’s something new to be said about the situation, he would gladly write a sketch about it, but it’s unlikely that there will be an entire show focused on the virus. 

Like Reid, Lane is also concerned about the future of comedy. Lane is a member of Hammerkatz, one of NYU’s oldest comedy sketch groups. They also recognize the importance of comedy at a time like this, and they’re planning on continuing their weekly meetings and collaborating on future projects. The group meets once a week over Zoom, keeping almost the same schedule as before. They read through scripts and pitch ideas, and help each other edit the work. While they recognize the challenges associated with working remotely, it seems like they’ve also found some positivity in the situation. 

“I think if there’s one positive of all this, it’s that some folks are finally getting the chance to write their literal ‘Walden,’” Lane said. “It’s such a spooky time, but at least we have art to keep us sane while we’re locked up. Personally, I write better in solitude.” 

With regards to new forms of comedy, Lane thinks that it’ll be interesting to see what stays relevant as new forms of comedy surface in an effort to adapt to the situation.

“I think this might put things in a funky space, which is challenging, but also exciting,” she said. “Who knows what live performance will look like after this? I’m positive we’re all gonna forget how to make eye contact.” 

As the members of Hammerkatz work to create their own content, they’re acknowledging all of the jokes centered on COVID-19 that are circulating. Lane thinks that these posts reflect how afraid and confused people are because their future is so uncertain, and that this shows how seriously people are taking the situation.

“Most of them that I have seen are not spreading false information or even joking about fatalities,” Lane said. “They’re really just trying to make fun of the near-universal experience right now of sitting alone in your house with both too much and nothing to do.”

Reid and Lane seem to agree that comedy is bringing people together and helping to ease the public’s anxiety. The good news is that both Free Beer and Hammerkatz will be uploading more content, which will benefit group members and audiences alike. Comedy fans will keep getting their fix, and those that aren’t fans will get to try something new, since we’re all looking for entertainment these days. As for the groups, they might just gain some new fans, as Reid said.

The group members also shared some recommendations based on what makes them laugh nowadays. Reid recommends the TV show “Succession” and “Joe Pera Talks With You,” which he says is accessible on YouTube.

“He’s a very comforting man,” he said. “[It’s] comedy that isn’t forcing me to laugh, it’s just being true and funny.” 

Lane said she’s keeping busy by rewatching stand-up specials on Netflix, including James Acaster’s “Repertoire,” Chelsea Peretti’s “One of the Greats” and “Norsemen.

“What makes me laugh right now is the same stuff that always does,” she said. “I think it’s important to hold on to as much of that normalcy as possible and cling to things that bring you ordinary joy.”

The global crisis has closed everything done and kept people at home, but that’s where comedy and technology come to the rescue. So yes, we’re all stuck at home, but we have access to an almost unlimited amount of content to ground us in the situation and to distract us from it. Whether you’re uploading TikToks, sharing memes or watching funny sketches, we’re all social distancing together, so we might as well look for the humor in it.

Email Dani Herrera at [email protected]

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