New York, NY—For over the past year, comedians have had to take to Zoom or other streaming services to make audiences laugh online. But for some of New York’s funniest stand-up comedians, they finally had the opportunity to perform in front of an in-person audience thanks to the Greats of Craft’s very first open mic night.
Mike Zakarian, who hosted Trivia night at Greats of Craft both pre-COVID-19 and then on Zoom during the pandemic, was back to host the two-hour event on the sidewalk along E 55th Street. Every table and chair were occupied, and the customers sipped their craft-brewed beers in between the storytelling and joking.
Zakarian, who worked in education for 10 years before making the decision to transition full-time into the comedy business, said that, for comedians, there’s no compensating for a live audience.
“To be out in front of people again has been pretty exciting. The audience was very receptive and I think New York as a whole, but especially this community, was just very excited to be out and to be doing something again,” said Zakarian.
“Seeing the audience react and feeding off that energy is something that we’ve missed over the last year and a half, for sure.”
Adrian Frimpong has been doing stand-up comedy for 10 years, but Saturday’s in-person performance was his first since the start of the pandemic, so initially he had some butterflies.
“I've not had butterflies, personally, in a long time, but today I felt them, like seeing an audience, I felt this nervousness, which for a lot of comedians, that’s a good sign,” said Frimpong.
“That means I care, that I want to do a good job, and so I use that energy, that adrenaline to bring forth an energetic set, high-energy set, a funny set and people responded well to that.”
For Bridgett Rizkalla, it was truly fun to be telling jokes to an in-person audience as she hasn’t performed comedy in over a year.
“I mean it was broad daylight on the Upper East Side, which is not your typical comedy venue and it was still very fun, so I enjoyed it,” said Rizkalla.
She talked a little about who are her comedic inspirations, starting with her own family, which is from Egypt.
“I really love comedy in all facets of it. Inspiration is everywhere, for example, like my family. They’re foreign, and the way they connect to the world and this country versus where they are from—that to me is comedic inspiration. Middle Eastern people love to laugh; it’s a very comedy driven culture,” Rizkalla said.
Aside from her own family, her comedic champions are eclectic: Lucille Ball, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Henny Youngman, as well as Chelsea Peretti, John Mulaney and Wanda Sykes.
And Lana Schwartz, who started doing stand-up a couple of years after her mother passed away from cancer, channeled some of the emotions she experienced as a result of her mother’s passing.
“Today’s performance—it felt like kind of a way to express some of what I was feeling and some sadness, frustration and anger in a kind of more cathartic way and find the humor in it,” said Schwartz.
The Greats of Craft is located at the corner of E 54th Street and 1st Avenue. In November, we interviewed GoC's owner, Joe Schinco, who talked with us about the challenges of operating the shop during the pandemic, among other things.