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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Living room scene: Spokane Comedy club finds a way to laugh with fans

Dan Cummins (Jerome Pollos)

No live audience for a comedy show. No problem – well, at least for some performers. Comedy-starved fans – 878 of them – paid $10 to witness an online comedy event Saturday assembled by the Spokane Comedy Club.

“I was completely surprised by how many people supported the show,” Spokane Comedy Club owner Adam Norwest said while calling from his Tacoma home. “It was nice since they want to support the club and see some comedy.”

Half of the proceeds of the online shows are earmarked toward club employees, and the remainder goes to the club’s charity of choice, No Kid Hungry. Comics cracking wise without an audience makes a difference.

There’s a reason comedian Chris Rock works out material at small clubs, such as the Stress Factory in New Jersey, and singer-songwriter Taylor Swift doesn’t preview her songs in an intimate venue such as Largo in Los Angeles.

It’s helpful to play unrecorded material to help shape songs, but many recording artists have abandoned that practice since the advent of YouTube. Musicians can get by without rendering their unrecorded songs.

However, comics must deliver jokes in front of an audience in advance to understand what works and to establish timing and beats. That’s why it’s an adjustment for comics who are performing online.

It wasn’t easy for Dan Cummins to execute during his online performance Saturday via the Spokane Comedy Club. Cummins and six other comedians rendered 12-minute sets.

At one point, Cummins expressed his disdain during his inaugural online performance. “I think it will be the last time I do this,” Cummins said while calling from his Coeur d’Alene home. “I did it because of how I feel about the Spokane Comedy Club. It’s a great venue, and everyone there is great. But it was weird doing standup without an audience.”

However, Cummins is amusing during podcasts. “But it’s different,” Cummins said. “I do podcasts all the time, but telling stories this way is so different. I need to practice before a crowd and work on my timing. Standup is so fragile.”

A one-liner comic wouldn’t have much of an issue crossing over to online performance. However, a humorist, who renders stories like Cummins, must make adjustments to cross over.

“It’s like if I’m on a plane and someone asks what I do, and I tell them I’m a comic and it’s like, ‘Tell me something funny,’” Cummins said. “My style of comedy won’t work in that manner. Comics need to do their material to get a feel for it and what works.”

That’s the way the business works, and it was conveyed in the hilarious black comedy classic “King of Comedy.” Martin Scorsese’s brilliant but underheralded film features the disturbing protagonist, stellar work by Robert De Niro, a delusional would-be standup comic. The fledgling humorist refuses to perform in clubs but works out his routines in his basement.

“I knew you would mention ‘King of Comedy,’ ” Cummins said while laughing. “The character De Niro plays is a psycho. That movie is amazing. It’s so insane, a comedian refusing to perform in front of a crowd. That’s what we have to do. But we obviously can’t do that now.”

Cummins navigated through the dozen minutes by delivering tried-and-true material. “I talked about a jury story from five years ago and a long-ago college prank.”

The Gonzaga alum, Class of 2000, who majored in psychology, performed with his 14-year-old percussionist son Kyler, who delivered rimshots whenever his dad hit the punchline. Each sported matching gold jackets and oversized sunglasses.

“We tried to have fun with it, but it was difficult,” Cummins said. “I’m not joking about the coronavirus since comedy is tragedy plus time. We’re mid-tragedy right now. We’re going to look back on this as the weirdest time to do standup. But this is the best time to legally kill your grandparents.”

Cummins, who has a new special, “Get Outta Here, Devil,’ which debuted Tuesday (Amazon, Apple TV), isn’t planning on performing at in-person shows until the coronavirus abates.

Kelsey Cook, who performed Saturday, enjoyed the event. “Yes, it’s weird, but it’s my third virtual show, and I’m having fun,” Cook said while calling from her Los Angeles home. “It actually feels good once you get used to it. I had so much adrenaline after I did my set.”

The Spokane native, who grew up in Cheney, was reluctant to do her first online show. “I was hesitant, but I realized that I’m not going to be able to perform for months, so I decided to do it, and I have no regrets,” she said. “It’s not the same as performing before an audience, but I want to perform and keep sharp. The most difficult part of it for me was that I had my computer (which records Cook) on the cat tree, and my cat jumped on the tree while I was performing and the cat tree shook.”

Cook will co-headline the online show event Friday with Pete Lee, who was on the bill Saturday. Each will deliver 40 minutes. “I’m looking forward to doing more of these type of shows,” Cook said.

Like Cook, Andy Woodhull, who will perform Saturday, has no problem delivering virtual shows. “I’m looking forward to it,” Woodhull said while calling from his Los Angeles home. “The show for the Spokane Comedy Club will be my sixth of these type of shows. It’s difficult to know how new things will go, but it’s great not to wear pants when I perform.”

Woodhull will toss in new material. “I’ll probably talk about the quarantine but in a lighthearted manner,” Woodhull said. “I’ll just do my normal set and talk about my life. There’s no traffic in Los Angeles, which is weird. You can drive to the beach in 25 minutes, but you can’t go on it.”

It sounds like an old Howard Jones hit. It’s an adjustment for Woodhull, but he’s taking it in stride. “What can you do except roll with this?” he said. “You try to look at the upside, or you’ll go crazy. I don’t have to travel. That’s a plus. You save a lot of money on flights and gas. And then there is my computer. I’m on it doing different things. It probably appreciates the break from all the porn. That’s the thing, you can still joke about so much, and so why not perform online? It beats waiting for when we can go back onstage at venues.”