NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Until there’s a vaccine, Vinnie Brand knows that laughter is the best medicine.

The owner of the Stress Factory said his comedy club has been providing comic relief for those eager for a safe, socially-distant escape from the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’re looking for a night of food, fun and frivolity, and since the club reopened, they get it all under one circus-sized tent on Church Street.

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Whether they’re enjoying the half-baked banter of Jim Breuer (Oct. 27) or one of the many other comics scheduled to make their way to New Brunswick, everyone seems to forget they’re under a giant, white tent in what used to be the club’s waiting area once the drinks and the jokes start flowing.

“People are looking for a safe night out and I think they’re looking for camaraderie, laughter, all those things,” Brand said. “We’ve been now eight months flattening the curve. People are pent up, they’re lonely, depressed. They're coming in, and they're feeling like New Brunswick in general, and us hopefully as part of that, are a really big morale boost. I see people every week come to me and say, ‘Thank you so much for what you and your wife are doing.’”

There was a time not too long ago that Vinnie and Vicki Brand’s financial status was no laughing matter.

Gov. Phil Murphy ordered clubs such as the Stress Factory, as well as restaurants, bars, fitness centers, salons and other businesses, to shut their doors in March in response to the spread of COVID-19. 

Chris Rock, Drew Carey and many other great stand-up comics had graced the Stress Factory’s stage since it opened in 1994, but now there was no telling when they would be able to reopen.

The Brands took a gamble and invested what Vinnie called “a ton of money” into purchasing the tent and setting up professional lighting and sound.

It’s been paying off now that limited outdoor seating is allowed. The comics and the crowds have returned. The club is vibrant as ever - there's even a special showing of "Rocky Horror Picture Show planned for Wednesday, Oct. 28.

But as scary as it was to go months without any income, that was just half the story.

“You go through a real void; it wasn't money that bothered us as much as not being able to do what we do,” he said. “When you're hungry and you can't pay your bills, it’s easy for money to take the forefront of your mind and make you think, ‘How are we going to do this?’ But the truth is that we've always been emotionally attached to being able to do what we do here. And it has been overwhelmingly rewarding.”

Brand said the future of the Stress Factory could depend on the next 20 weeks. If he gets 10 decent weeks and 10 great weeks of business, everything should be fine.

That would be great considering he thinks he’s stumbled upon a revolution of sorts in stand-up comedy under the tent.

“The sense I get is, not only is this refreshing, this is better,” Brand said. “It’s just a better environment. So, for us in particular, we've managed to put together a really nice environment for people, and we're going to keep it open. We have a number of those heaters out there. I think it's been pretty remarkable. And I do think people are reacting to a want and a need to get out and have fun.”

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