With NYC comedy clubs reopening, what jokes are — and aren’t — fair game?


Judy Gold is ready to shed tears.

“I want to cry with joy. I cannot wait to get on stage at a club and bare my soul,” the New York-based stand-up comic told The Post. When the city’s comedy clubs finally reopen on April 2, at 25 percent capacity, things will be different than they were pre-pandemic.

New lines of taste have been drawn with the events of the past year: COVID deaths, political divisions, racially-motivated violence and civil unrest.

But, cancel culture be damned, Gold — whose summer 2020 performances outside the Bel Aire Diner in Astoria had her playing to patrons inside their cars in a parking lot: “Hey, Mercedes! What’s your problem? You don’t like Jew jokes?” — and her comrades in comedy are ready.

“I hate the idea of ‘too soon.’ No topics are off-limits as long as the jokes are funny,” she warned, before freestyling a bit related to the Boulder shootings: “Now when I pick up milk, I need to remember to leave the house with a mask — plus mace and a bullet-proof vest.”

Some of NYC’s most famous comedy clubs

According to Cris Italia, co-owner of The Stand NYC in Union Square, comedians have to find an equilibrium that balances funny and offensive.

“We can all relate to feeling trapped for the last year, that we’ve been losing it because we can’t leave the house,” Italia told The Post. “Laughing at that can make it okay. It’s not joking about people dying but joking about the human condition we all contend with.”

Although Jay Leno set a politically correct, highly contrite tone this past week when he said he’s sorry for making anti-Asian jokes in the past, don’t expect many others to follow suit.

Acerbic standup Aaron Berg — the subject of the documentary “25 Sets,” he describes himself as being “on the front-lines of the anti-woke pushback” — already has a Boulder joke of his own. It’s centered on the ways in which different races flee mass shootings. “Brothers are laying back, low in the seat, listening to music, slowly driving away,” he said. “White guys are leaning forward, stressed out, holding the steering wheel tight and [robotically] saying, ‘Ten and 2 … Ten and 2 … We must evacuate these premises.’”

And Gold, author of “Yes, I Can Say That,” will be hitting the stage insurrection-ready: “How did the insurrectionists defecate on-command in people’s offices? Did they meet and strategize about having bran muffins and coffee at 11 o’clock so they could be ready at 2? And the guy who s–t on someone’s desk is complaining about sharing a bathroom with trans people … ”

In 2001, weeks after 9/11, Gilbert Gottfried made a joke onstage at the Friars Club about “having a flight to California” stopping “at the Empire State Building first” that compelled an audience member to shout “Too soon … ” amid collective boos. Twenty years later, he laments the culture of sorry.

“It’s as if the whole world is your wife,” Gottfried told The Post. “You apologize 24 hours a day, whether you did something wrong or not.”

Comedians that frequent NYC’s comedy clubs

As for whether it’s too soon for COVID jokes, Gottfried, who hosts Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, does not think so: “I’ve told bad taste jokes when I’m on stage and I continue to. So if there was something funny for me to say about COVID, I would say it.”

One comedian who’ll be trying to avoid that is Wali Collins. Though he describes himself as “more of a clean, clever comic,” he recently unspooled a joke that received more gasps than laughs.

Collins, who is African American, found himself working on a tiny stage in a makeshift club downtown (operating in a gray-zone prior to April 2). Considering the confined area and a completely white audience, he joked, “This could either be a comedy show or a slave auction.”

Recalled Collins, “Everyone in the crowd said, ‘Oooooh.’ And I asked, ‘Is it too soon? Do I have to wait another 200 years?’”

As he learned that night, “Across the board, people are more easily offended [now than they were before]. Making a joke about people dying of COVID will upset people — like, if you say that you kind of wish some other people got it and died — but comics want to provoke and take risks and push to the edge.”

Collins even has a kinder, gentler COVID joke for those who want to shove just a little bit: “I went to a friend’s apartment and the decorations were tacky. Apparently he had COVID, because he had no taste.”

But, Collins acknowledged, “For my character on stage, it’s too soon. I’ll wait a few months until more people are vaccinated. No matter what you say, though, you will offend somebody.”

Gottfried agrees — and he’s looking forward to the inevitable fallout. Just not for himself. “Nowadays,” he said, “I enjoy watching other people getting in trouble. I like to sit back, relax and see somebody else being destroyed by the public.”

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