Comedy club Punch Line Philly has been putting on outdoor comedy shows in its Patio Series since August.
Now, even as the state is asking Pennsylvanians to practice extra vigilance amid a “fall resurgence” of COVID-19, the Fishtown venue is taking the action indoors.
Starting next month, the club that is booked by dominant concert promoter Live Nation will present a series of limited-capacity indoor comedy shows, kicking off with the “Philly All-Pro Comedy Showcase” on Nov. 4.
That show will be the first performance held inside Punch Line Philly since the start of the pandemic shutdown in March. Helium Comedy Club in Center City has been hosting limited-capacity shows since Sept. 17.
Punch Line’s Nov. 4 showcase begins a series that will continue with Chicago comedian Godfrey Nov. 5-7, “The Corey Holcomb 5150 Show” Nov. 12-15, and Chris Distefano, Nov. 19-21. The outdoor Patio Series also continues, with “Hilarious Colombian (and Dominican) Americans” on Oct. 21, and Reggie Conquest on Oct. 28.
Crowds at the seated, socially-distanced shows — where mask-wearing will be mandatory except when people are eating or drinking — will be limited to 150 audience members, or 35% of the venue’s capacity.
That’s higher than the 10% capacity that’s allowed for indoor theaters and performance spaces that Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced last week.
But because Punch Line Philly is a restaurant, it is permitted to operate indoors at up to 50% capacity under city regulations that went into effect Oct. 2. The club is keeping its maximum capacity below that level, while following regulations to keep tables spaced at least six feet apart with no more than four people at a table, no alcohol served without a meal, and servers wearing both masks and face shields. Tickets are available at punchlinephilly.com.
“We deeply care about the safety of our guests, artists, and employees and will continue to meticulously follow state and local health guidelines day to day and moment to moment,” Punch Line Philly said in a statement.
The comedy series will be the first indoor shows that Live Nation has booked in the Philadelphia area since the onset of the pandemic. In August and September, the concert promoter presented the Live-In Drive-In series of concerts and comedy acts in the Citizens Bank Park parking lot in South Philadelphia.
Live Nation did not respond to questions whether it had future plans to present music acts in front of live audiences. Last week when Philadelphia announced its new crowd-restriction rules, the company said it has no “specific details to share at this moment.”
As the live entertainment industry attempts to get back on its feet, comedy shows are seen as presenting fewer logistical challenges than full-scale concert tours. Only individuals, rather than full-size bands and crews have to travel to the gig, and then set up and perform.
Still, prolonged indoor gatherings carry a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission than outdoor gatherings, says Kathleen Bachynski, professor of public health at Muhlenberg College.
“We’ve seen that indoor dining in bars is one of the high-risk indoor spaces, and that’s obviously because you can’t be wearing a mask when you’re eating and drinking.
“And even if people are wearing masks part of the time, if there’s a significant amount of time when they’re not, that increases the risk of transmission even if there’s reduced capacity and other precautionary measures in place like social distancing.”
And Bachynski says, laughing can pose some risk. “I don’t think it’s quite as bad as screaming or shouting. Certainly, the lowest risk is you’re wearing a mask and you’re either quiet or talking very softly. Laughing is worse than quietly talking, but not quite as bad as singing or shouting.”