COVID-19 comedy: Local drive-in theater shines light on new way to deliver stand-up


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Timing … is everything in comedy.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit like a bad punchline, comedians had to find other ways to deliver their jokes.

(Courtesy: Steven Farmer)

That’s why comedian Steven Farmer developed a new routine. Have you heard about the one with the drive-in theater and the flashing lights? Austinites have, and the concept has them coming back for more, again and again.

Farmer has been hosting a drive-in stand-up comedy show at Austin’s Blue Starlite Drive-In Theater every Saturday, bringing both local and touring comics on stage.

Since the comedians can’t hear the audience laughing from their vehicles, they instead flash their lights to show how much they enjoy each joke. The show achieved its weekly status after becoming popular with patrons.

“People love it so much that every show so far has sold out,” Farmer said.

But it’s a bit of learning curveball for the performers.

Every comedian, the first they do a show, they think they bomb, they think they did terrible cause, first of all, they’re rusty, they haven’t done it in forever. Second of all, you’re not getting any feedback, because when the audience is having a good time, they flash their lights. You’re not even getting a honk, you’re getting no auditory feedback. Just lights flashing if you’re really killing, windshield wipers might start going. So you’re having to deal with all that. Everybody’s like, “Ah, I did terrible.’ It’s like no, no, I heard people laughing. I saw them laughing. But they don’t know what to look for. I’ve done three shows so far, so now I’m having fun. I see I’m doing well… but the first time it throws you off bad. It’s like a cross between doing stand-up comedy in a podcast. You know, you just gotta be really comfortable with just kinda hearing your own voice and assuming everybody’s laughing.

Steven Farmer

He believes we could all use a laugh right now, even from the safety of our cars.

“What else are people [gonna] do. You know? There’s nothing else to do, plus you wanna hear something funny instead of hearing the news all the time about things keep getting worse and worse… Not only forget about all of the stuff going on, almost forget you’re in a car listening to a comedian at a drive-in.”

It’s a new reality for the art form since many comedy clubs and shows have been shut down due to COVID-19.

“This is the safest way to do comedy. You’re inside your car, the comedian’s so far [away] you have to hear him on a radio in the back. This is the most fool-proof way to see comedy and stay safe at the same time,” Farmer.

However, local clubs like Cap City Comedy are open and selling tickets. They follow new mandated guidelines to carry on with the show:

  • Temperature checks before entering
  • Mask required except when eating/drinking
  • Reserved tables with limited/assigned seating in advance
  • No meet and greets

If you’re interested in attending Blue Starlite’s drive-in stand-up, you can purchase tickets on the theater’s website. Some come with package deals, including concession items, which are also available on-site. Farmer said they tend to sell out fast, so it’s wise to plan buying days in advance. Each show starts at 6:15 p.m.

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