When DNA first closed down his comedy venue DNA’s Comedy Lab due to the Covid-19 pandemic in early March, the Santa Cruz comedian decided to have a little fun with the marquee in the front of his business.
DNA hung up letters that read “Comedy is funny. Coronavirus is not. We will pause all shows until Tom Hanks is safe.”
All this, of course, was back when Hanks was in Australia, having come down with Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And although the two-time Oscar winner isn’t a comedian, DNA says it was a spur-of the-moment decision to honor Hanks with the online shoutout, and he figured that pretty much everyone was a fan of the actor.
Less than a week after DNA’s sign went up, the county’s shelter-in-place health order went into effect, followed by a similar statewide order, prompting more widespread closures. More than two months later, Hanks is safe, but many businesses, including event spaces, are still shut down.
“I felt like it needed a change,” DNA says of his club’s marquee. “I was thinking, ‘Who in the comedy world do I respect their opinion and I would want people to listen to their voice?’”
The first name that came to mind was Patton Oswalt, who DNA has never met, but he says the two have a couple mutual friends.
And so, DNA updated his marquee. The Comedy Lab’s latest message reads, “Comedy is funny. Coronavirus doesn’t rule. We will pause all shows until Patton Oswalt says it’s cool.”
DNA took a picture and posted it to Instagram, where he tagged Oswalt, whose credits include Ratatouille, Parks and Recreation, King of Queens, The Goldbergs, and Mystery Science Theatre 3000, along with nine stand-up specials. DNA says Oswalt promptly wrote back in a message, saying, “You’re making me blush.”
A couple days later, Oswalt tweeted out DNA’s picture of the marquee, saying “I did not know I wielded this authority.”
The public response from Oswalt—who’s latest special I Love Everything came out May 19—resulted in an explosion of social media attention for DNA’s Comedy Lab, which has been hosting comedy shows on the online platform Zoom for more than two months. “That was fantastic,” DNA says.
The Comedy Lab’s headliner this Friday is Caitlin Peluffo, who has opened for comics like Maria Bamford, Gilbert Gottfried, Gary Gulman, and Colin Quinn. DNA’s Saturday headliner is Ahmed Bharoocha, who has been on Conan and Comedy Central, including for his own half-hour comedy special. Proceeds from the Comedy Lab’s shows go to the artists, with any extra going to paying bills at the venue, which was about to celebrate its one-year anniversary when it closed indefinitely. For more information on shows, visit dnascomedylab.com.
“Things haven’t changed,” DNA says. “When we were open, I was broke. And now that we’re closed, I’m broke. If that’s cred, I have it.”
DNA says that when he first started doing online shows, the Lab was one of the only comedy clubs in the country doing four Zoom shows per week. Now the trend has caught on, making it difficult to draw good-sized crowds online. DNA plans to step back when it comes to content and start doing fewer specialty weekend shows.
He’ll continue hosting the Lab’s Wednesday evening Blind Tiger open mics and Thursday evening Sloth Storytelling hour events. He also hopes to launch his online TV-type channels, via Facebook and Twitch, with around-the-clock original content, including footage from his previous online shows.
DNA also hopes to one day bring in Patton Oswalt to perform, maybe even at an in-person show, assuming the Comedy Lab’s River Street location is eventually able to open again.
Many people have been supportive of the Lab in this time, although DNA says there have been some exceptions, with critics taking issue with each of his recent marquees messages—both the Patton Oswalt one and the Tom Hanks one before that.
One man, for example, was troubled by how the new Comedy Lab message about Oswalt uses the number “4,” in place of the word “for,” and the man started sending angry DNA emails about the grammar issue. The disgruntled man and DNA got into it, with the two of them messaging back and forth. DNA says he explained that it is not unusual for marquee tinkerers to replace the word “for” with the number four, especially when they are running low on letters, and he added the practice was common across the United States of America, before half-jokingly turning up the heat in the conversation. “I said, ‘You’re un-American,’” DNA says.
DNA says the man started lashing out and blasting him and the Comedy Lab with more emails, irate Facebook messages, and angry voicemails.
“Ultimately, I feel bad,” DNA says. “I’m an old hippie. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to make sense of this time and has too much time on their hands and diving into chemical dependencies and who is striving for human contact right now. The way that some people do it is with anger.”
DNA has also been tweeting his way through self-isolation. Here are some highlights: