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COMEDY

Coming to the big screen this summer: comedians at drive-ins

Comedian Steve Sweeney is about to find out what it's like to perform stand-up for an audience watching from their cars.
Comedian Steve Sweeney is about to find out what it's like to perform stand-up for an audience watching from their cars.

Comedy clubs and theaters are still closed in Massachusetts, but fans will soon be able to see stand-up live and in person in novel new venues — drive-in movie theaters and converted parking lots. The “People In Cars Getting Comedy” series kicks off June 27 at Apex Entertainment in Marlborough featuring Steve Sweeney, Kelly MacFarland, and Brian Glowacki. Four other editions with different lineups of local comedians are set for the Misquamicut Drive-In Theater in Westerly, R.I., in July and August, with more dates to be announced soon.

“We’re gonna put the comedians up on a riser in front of the screen, have them projected on the screen, and then people sit in their cars and listen on FM modulators,” says John Tobin of Laugh Boston and John Tobin Presents, the organizations behind the shows.

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“Clearly in the summer of 2020, you need to adapt,” he adds. Tobin is involved in producing comedy at several clubs, including Laugh Boston and Nick’s Comedy Stop in Boston, the Comedy Scene in Foxborough, and Worcester’s WooHaHa Comedy Club and Comedy Attic. These would likely be included in Phase 3 of the state’s plan to reopen, but even then, Tobin notes, different communities might have different guidelines. In his best-case scenario, the clubs would start to open in a limited capacity sometime in July.

Sweeney, a veteran Boston comic, has been teaching and coaching comedy online, but hasn’t done stand-up since the clubs closed in March. He misses the feedback from an audience, and wonders what that will look like when the audience is isolated in their cars. “Part of comedy, for me, anyway, is, you say something and they laugh. In this, I say something, and you hope they laugh. I’ll probably ask them to beep if they’re laughing and probably tell them to stop making out.”

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Since May, the idea of doing shows at drive-ins or in larger parking lots has been gaining traction, starting with music. Drive-ins have hosted everything from cover bands to high-profile acts like Keith Urban and the Eli Young Band. Comedian Jim Gaffigan will play a show at Monmouth Park in New Jersey in July. Locally, the Kowloon restaurant in Saugus is turning its parking lot into a drive-in.

Tobin says he might have as many as seven venues on the schedule soon. “Laughing at comedy shows is kind of a communal experience,” he says. “You’ve seen outdoor movie theaters that have kind of risen in stature across the country and in other parts of the world. They’re kind of becoming a vital resource for entertainment in the COVID world.”

As strange as the shows may seem, Tobin says he could see them being a part of the traditionally slow summer season for comedy if they go well. “If someone had told me in February I’d be putting together tours to do comedy at drive-in movie theaters and parking lots, I’d tell you to go lie down,” he says. “But now it’s sort of like, why haven’t we been doing this all the time?”

Check LaughBoston.com for lineups, dates, and ticket info.