Within the discussion of fallen and shuttered-to-Covid Philly restaurants, bars, clubs, performance art and concert venues, one hot spot often gets left off the list: comedy clubs. Philly doesn’t have many of them – Helium, Punch Line, Good Good Comedy Theatre, several additional non-saloon rooms that house specific sketch troupes and host stand-ups – but, when we needed a laugh, which is always, they were there with the jokes and the drinks.
While Punch Line kept the jokes going with its recently anointed outdoor Patio Series in Fishtown, the Rittenhouse area’s Helium relied on virtual live and streaming events for its jokes to continue flowing – until now, September 17. A smallish room that could hardly make a dime at Mayor Kenney/Governor Wolf’s 25 people per live venue dictate, Helium has circumvented that rule and heads to the 25 % mark as it does a booming table service food business (I am a sucker for their chicken tenders). Knowing that 100 masked laughers can now safely distance themselves in the wide confines of the 2031 Sansom Street club, Helium pops the top on its just-booked, live stand-up series with State College, PA-born comedian Joe Machi (Sept 17-19), followed by Big Jay Oakerson (Sept 23) and D.L. Hughley (Sept 25-27)
dosage MAGAZINE and I ripped through a quick, last-minute (his first show is tonight) interview with Machi.
A.D. Amorosi: You’re the guinea pig when it comes to comedy clubs reopening in the area – to what, 100 people? What are you expecting such a spare crowd to feel like? Can you handle the light laughs? I witnessed Jim Gaffigan at a drive-in show, and it was spooky. And what are you doing to steel yourself to such sparsity?
Joe Machi: At this point everyone is used to everything being different. I’m not thinking about how there are less people. I’m thinking that there are some people. This isn’t a good time to focus on the negative. I’m very grateful to be able to do this at the best of times.
A.D. Amorosi: I like the positivity. I am not asking you to tell me the jokes, but, have your created or tailored whole new sets to the pandemic?
Joe Machi: I have a ton of new material. Normally I would test it on weeknights in New York City in short sets but stand-up comedy is still illegal here. So it’s going to be comedy without a net for a while. The hardest part is learning if people actually want to hear jokes about the last six months.
A.D. Amorosi: Have you been shut in and quarantined and distanced, or are you free face, nose and mouthing it and why?
Joe Machi: I’m under the same rules as anyone else in the NYC metro. It seems like opinions and science vary on the effectiveness of masks but I don’t think it’s a huge deal to wear one.
A.D. Amorosi: What was so funny about State College to begin with?
Joe Machi: That they built a giant college in a cornfield and charge way too much money for it.
A.D. Amorosi: What comics or comic situations were influential to you coming up?
Joe Machi: Norm MacDonald is my favorite comedian. He always seemed so different from everyone else. In subject matter and irreverence. Most comedians or any artist for that matter are far more influenced by everyone. I wish I were the Bob Dylan of comedy. I always liked how he performed solo and completely changed his style at his peak success.
A.D. Amorosi: Who do you like and, or hang with locally in the comic scene and what makes those people such an attractive proposition?
Joe Machi: Usually Sam Morril and Phil Hanley are my two closest comedy friends. They’re always at The Comedy Cellar in New York. It’s nice to have a couple of friends who understand the circumstances you’re in.
A.D. Amorosi: Do you have a name or brand for your humor and how did you come to that?
Joe Machi: It seems like I’d be labeling myself by doing that. I know some comics are into the branding thing but it’s not for me.
A.D. Amorosi: What is the most important thing we should know about you coming into all this?
Joe Machi: You’re going to get a lot of new jokes this time around. That’s a good thing.