COVID-19 by Chad the Entertainer

“Ten million comedians out of work and you’re trying to tell jokes,” was the standard line my high school friend Erik Grande fired off anytime someone unsuccessfully attempted to say something funny. It wasn’t enough to let the wannabe comic hear silence, his one-line retort let them know they bombed. Well, thanks to the Coronavirus, there really are ten million comedians out of work, and that’s not funny, either. Because sadly, it comes at a time when people need to laugh.

Ask a person about their first kiss or first beer and they’ll more than likely recite vivid details surrounding the event. Just like how I can tell you where I was when I heard the news the first twin tower being hit by the airplane; I can tell you where I was when I told my first Coronavirus joke I told on stage. It was my opening line at the Gilbert Minnesota VFW show on February 29th. “I asked the bartender for a Corona and he coughed on me.” That got a big laugh from the crowd. I remember the joke so distinctly because it’s the only Coronavirus joke I’ve ever told on stage. After all, that was the last time I performed. Although it seems like an eternity, it was only two-and-a-half months ago.

The government eventually injected the term social distancing into our everyday lexicon. When I first heard people were being encouraged to remain at least six feet apart and avoid all physical contact, I sarcastically suggested the whole thing was a scheme by housewives sick of their husband’s frisky advances. This line predominantly evoked laughter from men and head nods from women.

Both of these early Coronavirus related jokes aren’t all that funny 75 days into a pandemic. Both were eventually churned through the social media meme factories which strangled any semblance of humor out of them. How many times have we seen a variation of someone saying they’re vehicle is getting three weeks to the gallon? That made me laugh at first, now I just scroll on by. The internet has made comedy very hard to make fresh commentary because people post and re-post things… what else do we have to do when we’re quarantined? There are only so many times a person can quaranstream the Tiger King?

Due to overexposure, COVID-19 topics have become what the comedy world labels as hack which means the joke’s premise is too obvious or it has been “borrowed” from comedians in the past. Some internet jokes have been passed around more than the immortalized 99 bottles of beer on the wall. It was humorous the first time I saw a Facebook post with someone wearing a mask asking how their bank teller was going to react when he showed up wearing a mask. The eightieth time I saw this, it lost a little of its novelty.

My half pug, half-French bulldog, Antonio even dove into the Facebook posting frenzy. Yes, that’s right, my bulldog has his own social media page. Don’t laugh, he’s got more followers than the Minnesota Viking’s Kirk Cousins, and slightly less than convicted felon Joe Exotic. One post featured Antonio standing next to a Corona beer can we found in the park with the caption “What’s all the fuss about?” Another post featured him wearing a mask stating he was following Dr. Fauci’s recommendations unlike Bryson, his Malamute brethren. There was even a photo of him serving a timeout at the dog park for violating the social distance policy with the unwanted humping of a puppy. Nobody wants to be violated by Danny Devito’s spirit animal.

Joking helps people cope with tragic events they’re unable to make sense of. Using humor to deal with the enormity of certain events is nothing new. It’s happened throughout history. “Ring-a-round the Rosie”, which is a song about death, psychologically helped people deal with the uncertainties surrounding the plagues of the Middle Ages. When the Spanish flu ripped through the world a century ago children made up this song:

I had a little bird

Its name was Enza

I opened up the window

And influenza.

During more recent times there have been numerous jokes dealing with disturbing subjects including the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Jeffrey Dahmer’s food choices, and even 9/11. I guess one good thing about Coronavirus jokes is they finally put an end to the memes featuring the angry Madonna look-a-like and the white cat.

My stand up comedy career started in 2010. I’ve gotten to the point where I can work just about any weekend I want from November to April. Summers are fairly slow because, as we all know, nobody wants to sit inside when the weather’s nice in Minnesota and outdoor comedy venues aren’t always ideal with the multitude of distractions.

This second job not only supplements my income but it allows me to do something I enjoy… making people laugh. My bookings were strong this year but by the end of February news of COVID-19 creeping toward the Midwest became viral… (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

I began hearing rumblings from nervous promoters about venues contemplating shutting down shows. Then on March 16th shows started dropping faster than the price of a barrel of oil. I lost eight shows that day. To paraphrase the words of Howard Cosell, “Down goes comedy. Down goes comedy.” At least I still had storytelling

… right?

In 1998 I learned there was an entire realm of storytelling out there for adult audiences. Before this, I imagined storytelling consisting of performers competing against mimes, petting zoos, and clowns specializing in balloon animals for spots at kindergartener’s birthday parties. After visiting the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee, I knew differently and I was hooked. In addition to being a comedian, I wanted to be a storyteller.

Thanks to helpful grants from Minnesota’s East Central Regional Arts Council I was able to secure mentorships with Minnesota’s world-renowned author and storyteller Kevin Kling and master performer and author Rose Arrowsmith-Decoux. Kevin helped me develop my one-person show, “Speaking Filley-Sophically.” and he even brought me as his guest at the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee, further developing my storytelling passion. I watched performers from all over the world, numerous Southern yarn spinners, several American humorists, and storytellers from just about any American ethnic group imaginable. I did notice there weren’t any Scandinavian-American storytellers at the festival. With my Norwegian heritage and my passion for storytelling, I began to think this might be a niche I could fill.

The second grant allowed me to strengthen my stage techniques under the tutelage of Rose, and to research at different County Historical Society archives to look for stories featuring Scandinavian Immigrants. This project opened several doors for me including a slot at a Midsummer Scandinavian Festival in June. Unfortunately, all storytelling events were also struck down by COVID-19.

It was depressing to see live, in-person performances being canceled. If there’s ever been a time when humor was needed, this is it. If laughter truly is the best medicine then most Doctors (and bartenders) would prescribe a dose of laughs with a chuckle chaser. Some comedians have filled the entertainment void with virtual open mics and shows, podcasts, and one comedy friend is hosting a nightly round of karaoke, but is this an equivalent substitute to in-person events? As an eleven-year-old, I learned substitutions don’t always work out when I added baking soda instead of baking powder to my homemade pizza crust recipe. That substitute left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Initially, I wondered if anyone was watching these shows, then it struck me that viewership wasn’t the point. Instead, these homebound shows are cathartic for the performers. It allows healing for these people who’ve lost their audience. And who’s to say, some performers might even find a new audience in the process.

People constantly tell me how lucky I am because “You’re probably getting all kinds of material during this.” Yes, there’s definitely lots of comedy fodder out there, but truthfully, it’s hard to feel funny during a pandemic. There’s been a lot to laugh about right now, but some of those same things could just as easily make one cry.

To deal with the pandemic I’ve chosen to compare it to the crib mobile model. When people are in the midst of a crisis it feels like their whole world is slamming around aimlessly much like you would if you were hanging onto a single piece of the child’s mobile. Now if you step back and look at all the pieces of the mobile you can see how things are interconnected and how all the pieces function together. People need to step back and analyze everything that’s going on during rough times. It’s much easier to handle things if we understand the big picture rather than concentrating on our own topsy-turvy piece of the world.

Taking my advice I decided to stop looking for the funny (or lack of it) in my life and concentrate on the overall situation. I decided to utilize the gift of time I’ve been given and decided to spend more of it writing… no matter the content, funny or not. I’d much rather come out of the shutdown having accomplished something productive instead of being disappointed in myself for binge-watching or internet surfing all that time away. This is why it doesn’t matter if the internet comedy shows aren’t making the performers famous. What matters is they are using the time to better their craft. 

 

I was a fortunate recipient of the East Central Regional Arts Council (ECRAC) COVID-19 Emergency Response Grant Program for Artists.  The funding for this grant program comes directly from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution and was distributed by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Legacy Fund.  #ecrac  #ArtsLegacy  

The grant includes my producing four separate essays about COVID-19 from my perspective in different avenues of my life: 50-year-old, teacher, entertainer, and husband/father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19

By Chad the 50-year-old

I was a fortunate recipient of the East Central Regional Arts Council (ECRAC) COVID-19 Emergency Response Grant Program for Artists.  The funding for this grant program comes directly from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution and was distributed by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Legacy Fund.  #ecrac  #ArtsLegacy  

The grant includes my producing four separate essays about COVID-19 from my perspective in different avenues of my life: 50-year-old, teacher, entertainer, and husband/father.


Just about every horror movie starts with a television or radio station playing in the background foreshadowing an upcoming disaster. These prophetic reveals can range anywhere from zombie attacks in Zimbabwe, to missing children in Maine, to scientists warning of an upcoming pandemic which started in China. These ominous warnings are always ignored by the movie’s cast for a variety of reasons… “It’s too far away from here,” or “That could never happen here,” or “That’s just the media hyping things up one more time,” or “I doubt that’s even real.”

Well, as surreal as the last few weeks have been, ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t a movie. In mid-February, I was flipping stations on my satellite radio while heading to a comedy gig in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, when the correspondent began talking about the genesis of the Coronavirus. A doctor being interviewed by the journalist explained the virus either escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China; or it spread to a human who’d eaten a bat he’d purchased at the live animal market in Wuhan. Either way, they were talking about how deadly this virus was, its high rate of transmission from person to person, and how it could easily spread to other parts of the world.

The social studies teacher in me listened with interest but I wasn’t worried because “It’s too far away from here,” and “that could never happen in the United States,” and “It’s probably just the media hyping it up,” and “truthfully, I wonder if it’s even a real.” So I figured I could discuss what I’d learned during current events on Monday in class and went on with my life. But the news reports kept coming in the following days.

A week or so later I watched a television news report on COVID-19 (which I discovered stands for Corona Virus Disease starting in 2019) and that was the first time I saw a magnified image of the virus. The microorganism is a light-blue, circular entity with red spikes that coincidentally reminded me of some sort of mutant Crunch Berry. It’s hard to fathom this breakfast cereal lookalike is a runaway germ from a lab in China when it looks more like some crazy Cap’n Crunch concoction crafted by Quaker Oats. I’d even believe it was an ill-fated attempt gone haywire by the Cap’n’s generic, wannabe competitor Berry Colossoal Crunch. The news story warned things were getting bad in Europe and the virus might eventually make its way to the United States.

Although alarming on the surface, I had discovered one promising tidbit of knowledge… The Coronvirus rarely affects the young. This gave me a sense of relief knowing someone young like myself would be okay if the virus crossed either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Once the program ended, I turned the television off, slowly got out of bed hoping to avoid tweaking my sore back, and limped to the bathroom (solely because my feet were aching from a long walk my wife and I had taken earlier in the day).

“Okay, maybe I am getting a little older, but I’m still young…right? I’m only 52.”

I looked at myself in the mirror as I brushed my teeth and couldn’t help but notice my hair and beard have taken on a little more gray since last analysis. (At my age, self-examination is a little less frequent then when I was in my twenties). My investigative scan discovered the circles under my eyes were a little darker than usual but I’m just tired. It’s late after all.

I glanced at my cell phone which read 8:06.

“I’m not old… I’m just tired.”

I was worn-out but not enough to go to sleep. No, instead I spent the next hour and a half reading internet articles about COVID-19, discovering it’s much more likely to harm people in the 90s, 80s, and 70s. (See, I’m not old!) My research uncovered that a large majority of people contracting the virus are either asymptomatic or simply develop a varying range of flu-like symptoms but, most importantly, they eventually recover. This comforted me and besides COVID-19 wasn’t even in the United States at this point. And more importantly, “It’s still too far away from here,” and “that could never happen in the United States,” and “It’s probably just the media hyping it up,” and “truthfully, I wonder if it’s even a real.” These sentences gave me some degree of comfort until I remembered I’d had a headache a couple of days ago and my throat had a slight tickle, and I did cough earlier in that afternoon… it was right after my wife sprayed her hair spray, but it was still a cough. Was I infected with Coronavirus? Are these just signs of the normal allergies I battle every spring? Was I feeling the ill effects of exposure to her Agent Orange scented, Ozone busting tonic? Was it all in my mind?

The media definitely began giving COVID-19 more and more coverage which is typical with the newly fashionable scare topic. Remember Y2K, the ebola virus, and the ever threatened switch to the metric system… none of them panned out to the degree the media forecast. Just when I thought I’d heard everything imaginable about the virus, major sporting events began canceling. The NCAA scrapped its men’s and women’s college basketball tournament and the NBA suspended its season indefinitely. Within a couple of days, all major sporting leagues and concerts were shut down. It was at this point I realized the Coronavirus was the real deal. When billionaires are shutting down their cash cows, you know it’s a genuine problem.

Not long after this, I saw a news story featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci instructing viewers on the art of handwashing. I thought it was precious seeing a hybrid of my grandfather and Yoda talking about scrubbing our mitts, but he made his point. Subsequently, I began washing my hands several times a day. So much so, that my hands became more chapped than Arthur Fonzarelli’s lips at a kissing booth.

Soon the Coronavirus pandemic began infecting social media, so much so it became nearly impossible to read about anything other than COVID-19… except for posts about people’s cats. People bragging about their brown tabby having a stripe pattern resembling the Shroud of Turin or how Chairman Meow has a larger working vocabulary than Ozzy Osbourne will never go away, no matter how bad things get.

In early March several states along both coastlines began shutting down as infection rates rose. Once it became clear Minnesota might follow suit, I traveled to Wal-Mart to stock up on dog food… It was Friday. As I strolled toward the pet section I noticed aisles of fully stocked shelves contradicting media reports of people getting into fistfights over toilet paper. Really, butt wipe is what we’re worried about with a pandemic on the way? Come to think of it toilet paper is never mentioned in post-apocalyptic television shows and movies. These shows always concentrate on gathering food, medicine, and weapons but that’s fictional. Evidently, it comes down to he who stashes the most bathroom tissue rules the world. Getting back to reality, nothing like this could ever happen here because we’re “Minnesota Nice” which means we’re just simply too civilized to hoard rolls of Angel Soft. Plus, “It’s still too far away from here,” and “that could never happen in my state,” and “It’s probably just the media hyping it up,” and “truthfully, I wonder if it’s even a real.”

Then Governor Walz announced all schools would be closing for distance learning and it appeared like Minnesota might issue a stay-at-home order. Two days later, I went back to Wal-Mart to get another bag of dog food along with a few other necessities. Seeing numerous empty shelves that had been fully stocked 48 hours earlier surprised me. And toilet paper… well, that was as scarce as common sense at this point.

With many food aisles emptied, I decided to buy a gallon of milk. After grabbing the white jug, I headed toward the pet section and a woman saw me and screamed, “Oh my God, he’s got milk!” She then turned toward the dairy section and sprinted off almost tipping her cart over on its side. Her Gumball Rally stunt reminded me of the opening episode of Fear of the Walking Dead when mass panic had set in. People in the midst of uncertainty begin to hoard items. I hate to admit it but I later scrolled through several Facebook posts desperately asking for charitable Charmin handouts as their family stash began getting dangerously low bringing to mind George Costanza’s “Can you spare a square?” conversation. This dilemma even brought forward many questions of why Americans use toilet paper when 75 percent of the world cleans using other methods. Sales of bidets even shot up…sorry, bad pun.

Then came the Governor’s stay-at-home order and the shutdown of gyms, theaters, restaurants, bars, and just about everyplace else people want to go. This has affected families in ways I never thought it would. Never in my fifty-two years did I ever think I’d see families taking evening walks together, playing catch in the yard, and spending quality time together. This isn’t the case for everyone. A friend of mine saw a man buying several cases of beer at the liquor store. He told the clerk, “If I have to spend 24/7 with my family, then I’m going to need this.”

I recently saw a Facebook post by a man worried his favorite restaurant might close down after all of this is over. Many echoed his concern and others even commented on how stupid the shut down was. Although I hope the named eatery can weather this unprecedented storm, I also hope my elderly neighbors down the street survive this global pandemic. It’s unfortunate that even the pandemic has become politicized. One side claims it’s our duty to obey the shut down to prevent the spreading of the disease and the potential killing of the vulnerable. Others say the Coronavirus carnage is inevitable and we should face it head-on, develop herd immunity, and try to salvage our already vulnerable economy despite the potential human loss. The basis for both arguments is taking care of people. One school of thought strives to take care of society’s less healthy: the elderly and those with underlying health or immunity complications; while the other side wants to take care of pandemic survivors by ensuring a semblance of the pre-pandemic economy when it’s finally over.

The differing ideologies play out in many avenues: whether to social distance, whether to stay at home, or whether or not to wear masks in public. Some claim being forced to wear masks to enter a store is squelching one’s constitutional rights and psychologically it reeks vulnerability. Mask proponents believe adherence to these safeguards shows societal unity in times like this.

The hardest part for everyone to accept is the loss of choice. Americans like to make their own choices and losing this ability is hard on everyone… including this fifty-two-year-old.

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