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Positive Pandemic Side Effect

The opportunity to perform despite COVID-19 restrictions boosted the South Florida comedy scene's reputation. Now, will connections made during the past year benefit local comics on a national scale?

by Chuck king

BOCA RATON – The strict COVID-19 restrictions in Los Angeles and New York prompted an influx of national talent into South Florida.

Now at least one local comic believes that exposure could lead to more opportunities for local comics outside the Sunshine State.

“I do think there’s people from New York and LA and between that networked during this time period and I think there are some people – maybe not necessarily me – that took advantage of it better,” Chris Flanagan said. “They are going to get spots in big cities that aren’t in South Florida because they reached out to (national comics) and got them stage time and possibly some money.”

The sample size is small, but Flanagan’s prediction is already coming true. On Wednesday night, South Florida comic Nadeem Awad opened for Bret Ernst at Las Vegas’ L.A. Comedy Club, located within the Stratosphere.

“I liked the club a lot,” Awad said. “It was a cool place in the hotel we were staying at.”

A native of the Mobile, Ala., area who has crossed the nation performing at festivals, Flanagan envisions potential similarities between the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the upcoming months that follow the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

With Katrina rendering parts of New Orleans uninhabitable, many of the nation’s top jazz musicians relocated to Mobile.

“I thought it was going to last and it didn’t,” Flanagan said. “They went back to New Orleans and they went back to other cities. The question is, Is the scene going to stay where it is right now, where it’s flourishing right now, where it’s blossoming? Or are those people going to go back? Common sense tells you New York is New York. LA is LA. If you want to be a comedian with air time, you go to LA. If you want to go to New York to get stage time for comedy you go to New York. Maybe I’m wrong and it will last longer than a year, and that would be great.”

Jimmy Shubert, Flip Schultz, Richie Minervini and Ernst are among the nationally known comics who spent much of the pandemic in South Florida. At least Shubert and Schultz are considering spending more time is South Florida even after everything re-opens.

Those comics discovered a vibrant, growing South Florida comedy scene.

“The question is, Are they here to stay, to help support the community? Are they here to keep their talent or is it just a six-to-eight month thing?” Flanagan wonders. “So it’s tough to tell whether South Florida comedy is going to stay. I hope they stay and bring it to the table and grow Broward, Dade, Palm [Beach] and beyond – Port St Lucie even.”

Flanagan, who resides in the Fort Lauderdale area, didn’t perform as often as some comics during the pandemic.

When he did, Flanagan sought hybrid comedy shows that offered a limited live audience – fewer than 10 people – but was streamed live to an unlimited internet crowd.

“I tried to find a balance of not just being in my living room on the couch,” Flanagan said. “I was like, I still need to be on a piece of wood four inches off the ground with a mic and a chord dangling at my feet.”

Beginning in January he started working more live shows, even hitting a couple open mics earlier in the week before headlining Thursday’s Bier Bash show at Boca Raton’s Biergarten.

“It’s been good to kind of get back out,” Flanagan said. “I’ve been writing some new material. I’m not sure if it’s ready for the stage. I’ve been testing it out recently at some open mics.”

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