Rochester Comedy Club Launches Petition for Lifting of Ban

The Four Percent


New York comedy clubs remain closed due to pandemic-related rules. One local club has started a petition drive, asking lawmakers to reconsider regulations which, to them, just done make sense.  


What You Need To Know

  • Rochester’s Comedy at the Carlson has launched a petition asking Gov. Cuomo to allow comedy clubs to reopen
  • Comedy clubs were closed in March due to the pandemic, allowed to open in June, then were closed again
  • The club installed hand sanitizer stations, new clean air filters and mask and social distancing were required

There is a saying about laughter.

“Laughter is the best medicine,” said Mark Ippolito. “We all need it.”

Ippolito is director of operations at Comedy @ the Carlson, the Rochester comedy club which opened in 2017. The main room there is usually full of laughter. Because of the pandemic-related shutdown, it’s not.

“It’s completely frustrating,” said Ippolito, a veteran of the Rochester comedy scene. “Especially because we felt like we were one of the good guys. We were abiding by every law.”

New York State closed all non-essential businesses in March at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, the state allowed comedy clubs to reopen, with social distancing restrictions.  

“We were able to open for four weeks,” said Ippolito. “And it was great.”

In mid-July, the state reversed course. The NYS Liquor Authority said comedy clubs could no longer remain open, including them in the same sentence as strip clubs. Live music venues, however, were allowed to stay open, but with restrictions. That is what frustrated Ippolito the most.

“The decision to make comedy banned, but live music okay is opinion-based, not science-based,” he said. “We just want a fair shot. That’s it. That’s all we’re asking.”

When Comedy at the Carlson was open earlier this spring and summer, Ippolito even put on an outdoor comedy show in the parking lot, right across the street from the comedy club. According to state guidelines, that is now also illegal.

The pandemic prompted big changes. During the closure, the club installed hand sanitizer stations and new clean air filters. Tables and chairs were removed, creating social distancing space. Customers were required to wear masks.  Some of the changes were costly.

Now empty, the bills keep coming, with no income.

“It would have been better off just to say no comedy shows from the beginning and not allow us to open,” said Ippolito.

Complicating matters, 31 people are employed by the comedy club. When the shutdown occurred, they were let go. Open for a month, the employees were brought back. Now, they’re unemployed again.

Ippolito has been working with the office of Chamber of Commerce President Bob Duffy, who oversees the economic reopening in the Finger Lakes region. Duffy’s chief of staff, Marc Cohen, commended Ippolito and his staff for their work, which includes a recent petition drive to try and convince lawmakers they can reopen safely.

Ippolito, with a quarter-century in the comedy club business, just wants to get the ban lifted. To bring back the laughter.

“No matter what side you’re on, or what you’re fighting for, we all need a good laugh,” he said. “And we would be happy to provide that for you.”



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