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On New Year’s Eve, a cautious return to comedy

Comedian Tony V, shown onstage inside Giggles' outdoor tent in 2020, plays a pair of shows indoors at the Saugus comedy club on New Year's Eve.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

On a normal New Year’s Eve, every room becomes a comedy room. Clubs and theaters, restaurants, function halls, convention centers, public libraries. It’s the biggest night of the year for comedy, and any space that can support a microphone, a spotlight, and an audience is potentially a stand-up venue.

But this won’t be a normal New Year’s Eve. It’s the second year of a pandemic, and a few months after venues started getting regular crowds, variants of COVID-19 are dampening the holidays. Some cities and towns are enacting new mask and vaccine policies. First Night, which usually offered stand-up shows in pre-pandemic times, has cut back on indoor events. Even so, a year after most rooms went dark for the champagne toast, comedy is making a tentative comeback.

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“I believe it’s a necessity,” says Tony V, who’s doing two shows at Giggles in Saugus on a bill with Lenny Clarke and Johnny Pizzi. “And I think it’s the right thing to do. I think if you can do it properly and safely, then it’s a needed thing.”

Whether it will feel like the same celebration as years past is yet to be seen. “The telling is in if people show up,” says Tony V. “I know the last couple of weeks some of the clubs have been a little on the slower side, and I don’t know if that’s just because of the season or the worry about the variants.”

It’s hard to predict what kind of an audience any show might get. Tony V notes that this year’s Buzz Ball charity event, featuring multiple comedians and a full band, packed the Chubb Theatre in Concord, N.H. “It didn’t feel all that weird,” he says, “except that at one point, I found myself sitting in the wings with a mask on sort of, you know, avoiding people. But once we got on stage, it was fine.”

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Carolyn Plummer, who is playing an early show at the DoubleTree hotel in Andover with Steve Bjork and a later show at Salvatore’s in Lawrence with Mike Koutrobis, will also be social distancing between sets, but she is expecting a good turnout. “People are still ready to go out,” she says. “And I think vaccinated people are like, well, ‘I’m vaccinated, even though you can still get it.’ But they feel more comfortable going out because they have some sort of defense.”

It has been an up and down year in comedy for Plummer. Bookings were almost back to normal, but her Comics Come Home debut was squelched when November’s show at TD Garden was canceled. She’s entering the new year with a refreshed perspective about performing. “Now I look at it as I get the opportunity to do this, because for a year we didn’t,” she says. “So I’m gonna have fun every single time I’m on stage.”

One difference in this year’s New Year’s shows is that most will be ending early, long before the traditional toast and noise-making with party favors. “When you blow a horn, I don’t know where that stuff goes,” says Tony V, “but I don’t think they want it out in the universe anymore.”

Niki Luparelli canceled the live show she was producing at the Crystal Ballroom and will host an online show on New Year's Eve instead. Courtesy of Niki Luparelli

At least one show has been canceled in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, and there may be more before Friday. The Gatsby Ball, which was to have taken place at the Crystal Ballroom at the Somerville Theatre, was nixed last week in a mutual decision between the venue and producer Niki Luparelli. The Ball would have featured roughly 20 performers, including a band and burlesque dancers, many of them mingling with the crowd. Luparelli saw shows similar in scope, like “The Slutcracker” at Somerville Theatre, shutting down last week. Figuring in the odds of people being exposed to the virus during Christmas week, “I just didn’t see any situation where somebody important wasn’t going to test positive before the event,” she says.

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Instead, she’ll be streaming a music and comedy show from her “SpookyLoopy” Twitch channel, trying to raise money for the performers who might have been counting on the Gatsby Ball to help them make rent. It’s similar to the online show she did last year in lockdown, and she plans on featuring videos from some of the acts that would have been at the Crystal Ballroom. “If people are locked down and they’re home, you’re looking for a friendly face, or a boozy face, I could be that,” she says. “And we’ll just get through it again.”