Laughter that Lasts: How Hamilton Comedians Handled the Pandemic
Laughter is the best medicine - if this phrase wasn’t a cliche before the pandemic, it’s definitely now more worn out than your Dad’s Steely Dan records.
While we were all faced with individual difficulties during the pandemic, comedy performers were met with their own tall order of challenges. Opportunities to perform were few and far between, so comedians across the globe found innovative ways to adjust, including the entertainers in Hamilton, Ontario.
Here are some of the strategies of how Hamilton’s comedians and entertainers have adjusted during COVID-19.
Let’s Get Digital
Okay, so we all know just saying the phrase “Zoom comedy” sends a shudder up our spines, right? When it comes to Hub of the Hammer Event Planning, one of Hamilton’s foremost event-planning companies, the online presentation of entertainment such as trivia, team building nights, and yes, even comedy proved to be not only successful, but helped ensure the sustainability of the company.
HUB OF THE HAMMER [PHOTO PROVIDED BY JUSTIN SHAW]
Leaning on multimedia elements, Hub of the Hammer’s online entertainment experience is far from passive: it engages audiences using strong visuals through customized graphics, and sourced sound from music, TV, and film.
Online events were a major game-changer.
The online presentation does not offer the same feeling of being live and in person - that’s because that's not the goal of the experience. Much like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole, Hub of the Hammer understands that trying to “recreate” an in-person experience through an online platform is a fool’s errand. Rather, Hub of the Hammer aims to create a unique entertainment experience that is only available online.
While live events were (and will be again) the initial focus for Hub of the Hammer, online events were a major game-changer for the overall complexion of the company and were integral in ensuring its' future.
Ain’t No Party Like a Backyard Party
While some people wait around for opportunities to come knocking, there are others who knock first. Comedian Eric Johnston is heads and tails the latter of the two. “I knew comedy clubs weren’t opening,” says Johnston. “So I thought, ‘Where are people gathering?’ I noticed that people were having house parties and backyard gatherings so I thought okay… I’ll bring the show to them."
Returning for Summer 2021 is the Eric Johnston Campfire Comedy Tour - a comedy performance delivered straight to your backyard. Committed to making the experience feel like an authentic comedy club, the tour features proper lighting and sound, as well as opening performances from Hamilton comedians Michael Moses and Jason Allen.
ERIC JOHNSTON CAMPFIRE COMEDY TOUR [PHOTO PROVIDED BY JUSTIN SHAW]
Creating a comedy experience that is not only entertaining but also comfortable and accessible to audiences is no easy task, but to Johnston, that’s all part of the trade. “I’m a ‘by any means necessary’ type guy. I’ll always do whatever it takes to make it work and keep me working.”
Write Here Write Now
While some comedians found creative ways to engage their audience, others took the “down time” to develop new material. For comedian Jimmy England, the goal was to write and develop material while honing his creative process as a writer. “I’ve regularly participated in workshops with assigned themes that forced me to develop extended riffs on a subject,” says England. “Now I’m exploring topics in more depth and the more I do it, the more original material I’m finding – and the better the writing is getting.”
While England may be establishing a collection of material that he can’t wait to share with audiences, he’s also developing a strong discipline and commitment to his craft. “I write every day – holidays included. Sometimes it's a straight-out joke for performance, sometimes it’s script writing for my podcast or general editing, sometimes it’s taking existing jokes for a specific Zoom show and tailoring them for the occasion and sometimes it’s an hour staring at a blank screen. The important thing is developing the habit.”
JIMMY ENGLAND [PHOTO PROVIDED BY JUSTIN SHAW]
Lack of performance opportunities isn’t the sole motivator for England’s increased focus on writing. “I’m 71 years old. I don’t dwell on my age but I can’t help being aware the window for me is closing. I don’t have the luxury of working 20 years towards a Netflix special - the most important show for me is the next one I'm on, be it a club, a bar or a Zoom show. I’m 71 now but every time I’m on stage and a joke hits and the audience laughs, I’m 21 again. Let’s see a game of golf do that.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, and for these, as well as many other Hamilton comedians, nothing will stand in their way of being able to deliver meaningful entertainment to audiences that, after this past year, are definitely deserving of a laugh.