Don’t get him wrong — Austin comedian Danny Goodwin would love to write some new material right now.
But he thinks that a pandemic is not a great time for the sort of observation-based, point-of-view, experiential humor upon which the vast majority of stand-up comedy is based.
"One thing that’s a problem is that, collectively, we’re all having a very similar experience," Goodwin said. Stand-up thrives on making the personal universal and right now, everyone’s personal is already pretty universal.
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The other thing is, well, we’re all going to be here, on our couches, taking our state-allowed walks for a while, as Austin tries to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, with a shelter-in-place order.
"It’s funny talking to (other comics) about there so much time for writing," Goodwin said. "Whatever you write right now is gonna be irrelevant tomorrow, in a week, in a month. I mean, I hope it’s summer when we get back on stage, but anything you write now isn’t going to be fresh in June or July."
Like everything else, the Austin comedy scene is stuck at home, taking a step back and trying to figure out what’s next.
Cap City Comedy Club, the Velveeta Room, Coldtowne Theater and all those places are closed. The Moontower Comedy Festival has moved from impossible-to-execute April dates to Sept. 16-19. Stages are empty, jokes are untold, heckles are not shouted (but they should never be shouted; it’s just rude).
Austin comic Amber Bixby, for example, recently released her first comedy album, "Teen Mom," recorded at Cap City.
"The small room," she said, "I wanted it to sound full."
She has a 15-year-old daughter, so touring is not really feasible anyway, but she still mourns the lack of stage time (which you can do while acknowledging it would be dangerous to do shows now).
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"I am working on a screenplay right now," Bixby said, "as obnoxious as that is to say. It’s a little darker, and if I can sit still long enough, I’d like to write as much of that as I can."
A veteran of webseries, she nonetheless acknowledges that writing stand-up for social media can be awkward.
"You send in yourself telling a joke (to Cap City) and they put it on social media," Bixby said. "What you don’t see is the comic revising it and retelling this 30 second thing 50 times. Not to mention the fact that a joke without a live laugh is like taking a laugh track out of any old sitcom. There’s just this weird pause."
Bixby said she feels very lucky that Cap City is her home club: "They are incredibly supportive."
Cap City is usually a venue for Moontower, a highlight of the year in Austin comedy. In recent years, it’s brought big-name headliners like Patton Oswalt and Tiffany Haddish to the Paramount and Stateside theatres, as well as popular performers like Nicole Byer and Bowen Yang to the clubs. It’s also a chance for locals to open for bigger names and get their material in front of peers and serious comedy nerds.
"We wanted something after the summer when students were back," Moontower producer Lietza Brass said Tuesday about rescheduling this year’s event for the fall. "We need something within our fiscal year."
It helps if the brand is strong.
"After the ninth year," booker and Cap City co-owner Colleen McGarr said, "you have a reputation, and (Moontower) is something that is on an artist’s calendar. I would say we’ve rebooked 70-80% of the comics we had in April."
Stand-up with a lack of an audience can be a weird fit; even something as polished as "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" is surreal without live laughs. Brass thinks this is a perfect time for comics to think about the nature of what they do.
"Part of the fun, if there is fun right now, is that there are a lot of different ideas of how comedians present themselves," Brass said. "For example, Jim Gaffigan has been livestreaming eating dinner with his family. (Austin comedian) Chris Cubas, who is great at social media, has been pickling. Not a guy I would think of as into pickling blueberries."
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Meanwhile, Coldtowne, a local home for improv and stand-up, is asking: How do you run a theater when live, in-person theater cannot exist?.
"We’ve had to shut down live shows and in-person classes and corporate trainings for now and postpone Austin Sketch Fest, which was to take place Memorial Day weekend, until the fall," Coldtowne co-owners Michael Jastroch, Rachel Madorsky and Dave Buckman, along with conservatory director Haley Chamblee, said in a long, collectively written email. "In the event that it’s safe to do so, we’ll open back up earlier. But like actually safe, not ‘jumpstart the economy’ safe."
At twitch.tv/coldtownetv, Coldtowne is hosting recurring, streaming variety programs 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, a mix of improv, stand-up and filmed sketches, as well as podcasts — a mental health and comedy podcast called "Yeah, But Are You Happy?" at 8 p.m. Wednesday and a sketch comedy podcast called "Victrola" at 8 p.m. Monday.
"Our online shows on Twitch right now look a lot like (1980s variety show) ‘Night Flight,’" the owners said. "It’s a quickly paced mix of clips of archived live shows, live (podcast) recordings, stand-up (from people’s living rooms), online game shows and any bit that our roster of 150+ comedians and writers can come up with."
Coldtowne’s owners also said the club is paying employees for as long as possible -- "realistically means the next couple of months. We can’t keep this up forever if we want a shot at coming back when this passes. Many of the folks who work for Coldtowne are professional creatives, and while Coldtowne isn’t the only source of their income, almost all of their other work has dried up."
The theater is accepting donations online through a PayPal account and selling gift cards online for future Coldtowne shows and classes at coldtownetheater.com.
The comics, like all of us, are at home, contemplating the weird present and perhaps a weirder future. Goodwin thinks things will tend toward the surreal and fictional.
"There’s this podcast that I love and have been on," he said. "It’s called ‘The Lanalax Corporation’ and has two comics, Aaron Brooks in L.A. and Pat Dean here. They are just making up insane stories, completely surreal. And I can see the form going that way a little bit, in that what is right in front of us right now very limited.
"But this is still a very low-maintenance art form," he continued. "You need a stage, a mic and a will to do it. Not a lot of overhead. The funny people will remain funny, even in an unfunny time."