“We’ve been here 15 years as of April 2020. My buddy John Means, a comic named ‘Dr. Gonzo,’ this is his hometown. I worked with him in about 1990 in Ohio. I’m originally from Dayton, Ohio, so whenever I was doing a gig in the Midwest, I would stop in Mason City to break up the drive.”

“Eventually, John bought a couple buildings in town and made a steakhouse out of one. To stay closer to family, I chose to live in the Midwest, so I bought the building next to the steakhouse to open the comedy club.”

“We worked in a sort of partnership where we would pitch shows to the restaurant crowd. Besides doing shows at the Comedy Club, I could perform in about six or seven other theaters in the area. Once COVID hit, I lost three of those gigs immediately. The club has never really been a money maker, so off-site shows were really helping to supplement my income besides shows at the club.”

“We were closed about March through July, but then we were able to do a couple shows until about the second week of November. From mid-November to late January we were shut down again. We’ve recently moved to Tier 2, so we [had] some first shows the weekend of Jan. 22-23.”

“With regards to licensing, places similar to mine pay annual fees for liquor licenses or health department checks. But we’ve been shut down over six months of the year, so I wrote my state representative and senator hoping we get some credit back for the months we were closed. My rep [didn’t respond], but my senator did. However, they basically said ‘they’d look into it’ and I haven’t heard anything back.”

“Typically, it’s just myself and the bartender plus the comedians, so we didn’t qualify for the PPP loans, but I did apply for the Business Interruption Grant. It seems like all the money just went to the big clubs or Chicago area clubs. I didn’t hear of anyone around me getting any assistance.”

“Pre-COVID regulations we could seat about 100. If we are open now, we would be at 30% capacity which is about 25-30 people. Everyone gets paid less because we don’t have the capacity we used to. There’s a big difference between getting 80 people to pay full price versus 20 people to pay full price.”

“We all want to be safe. And many people think it’s an exaggeration with the shutdown. There’s a lot of frustration, and I can understand both sides. I see a lot of pushback. So, I would appreciate consistency.”

“More than just the money and the shutdowns, the inconsistency in regulations has a domino effect on how you do business with everybody, from vendors to the comedians.”

“There’s no certainty moving forward. We could go back to Tier 1, and then we could move back to 3. Most comedy clubs book about six months out, but these days no one knows what’s going to happen regarding cases and regulations. So, I only book a few weeks out now.”

“Comics can work states like Florida or Indiana. The last thing I want to do is promise somebody work and then that opportunity to work is taken away because I’m shut down again.”

“If you can’t go to church or to a comedy club, I don’t know why we can go to Home Depot or we protest in the streets.”

“People notice when mayors or governors will take off the mask or travel. Officials will make the rules and then they won’t follow them. If your actions don’t match your rhetoric, it causes frustration.”

Chris Speyrer
Owner, Mason City Limits Comedy Club
Mason City, Illinois

 

 

Photo by Richard Falzone