“An Isolated Incident” takes place weekly on Facebook Live and is one of several virtual comedy open mics. Credit: Amal Saeed | Photo Editor

It can be hard to find humor amid a pandemic.

Comedians are learning to adapt to Gov. Mike DeWine’s March 22 closure of nonessential businesses, which has limited the operations of bars and clubs that formerly hosted most of the open mics in the city. Now, performances are moving to the virtual space.

Trudy King, owner of Moody Trudy’s Food Truck and a local comedian, started “An Isolated Incident,” one of several new virtual open mics.

“My dad’s favorite phrase was, ‘If there aren’t opportunities, make one,’” King said.

The open mic started March 20 and is held every Friday on Facebook Live and is free and open to the public. King said she puts together a setlist from the sign-ups that open an hour before the show on the Facebook page, and the comedians perform in five-minute slots starting at 8 p.m. Audience members can tune in live or watch a replay of the stream until King removes them.

“I delete the videos the next day. I don’t want them to be up too long, so that if people want to do the same jokes next week, and they want to do them better or worse, it’s more realistic,” King said.

Despite now being behind a computer screen, Mary Matthews, a local stand-up comedian who started virtual open mic “From the Couch Cushions,” said she can still feel the pressure of performing in front of a crowd.

“It’s really hard to know if people are following you or not unless you hear them laugh,” Matthews said. Her first Facebook Live event premiered March 25.

Though virtual restraints pose challenges for performers, King sees it as another opportunity for humor.

“The technological errors are actually kind of comical,” King said. “The fact that people are in their houses, holed up in their bathrooms while their kids are screaming in the background is comedy. It’s another genre of comedy.”

Virtual open mics are not the only place to experience local comedy from home. Stand-up comedians Samantha Sizemore, Bridjet Mendy and Amber Falter hosted “A Hamantha and Brisket Virtual Comedy Hour” on video conferencing platform Zoom, and the “Columbus Goes Live” cyber festival was livestreamed from performing artists’ accounts on Instagram Sunday.

King said events like these are trying to counter comedians’ loss of income with online tipping.

“Not a lot of people that I know live off of comedy solely. They’re bartenders or they work at Starbucks or whatever, right? So it’s not really that they’ve lost money through comedy, per se. It’s that they’ve lost their main job where they get money from so they’re struggling,” Matthews said.

Qamil Wright, an R&B singer and founder of entertainment company Soul Dope Entertainment, worked with local host and emcee Jai Carey to put together the “Columbus Artists United Virtual-thon” March 21 to fundraise for local talent after canceling her upcoming shows.

The setlist included music, poetry and comedy performances and was streamed via Facebook Live from the Vanderelli Room in Franklinton, an art gallery and performance space. Wright said it was an unusual experience maintaining social distancing standards at the venue, sterilizing equipment between sets and having artists stay in their cars until they were due on stage.

“The funniest part was that when people came in, they were standing apart in the room. You can’t see that on camera, but you have two people in one corner talking and somebody’s, like, 7 feet away from them. I’ll never forget that,” Wright said.

Donations were accepted over CashApp and PayPal and were split among the artists and venue. Wright said the event totaled about $170 from more than 1,300 viewers of the four-hour stream.

“Go live. Don’t overthink it. Just be yourself and share yourself. It’s more comforting and more helpful than you know,” Wright said.