All the work, half the laughs: A return to live comedy

  • Dick Mitchell, owner of Pitman’s Freight Room in Laconia, is shown here on stage with his dog, Rory. The venue will resume hosting comedy shows on Saturday for the first time in many months. Adam Drapcho

The Laconia Daily Sun
Published: 10/20/2020 3:44:20 PM

For several years, Chris Dimitrakopolous was on stage most nights of the week, performing for audiences and honing his comedy skills. Then the pandemic arrived.

“It’s something I used to do four, five times a week, then it went down to zero. It was a real shock,” said the Peabody, Massachusetts-based comedian.

Dimitrakopolous will be joined by Joe Epsy on Saturday, Oct. 24, for a live comedy show at Pitman’s Freight Room. It will be one of the few performances he’s been able to book since March, and it will be the first comedy show at Pitman’s since the governor’s stay-at-home orders were issued in the spring.

Dick Mitchell, owner of Pitman’s, said that the comedy show, like the musical performances he’s resumed hosting, won’t look like they did prior. He’s limiting his capacity to 125 – half of what he used to be able to fit in his performance space. He’s also asking that people call and make a reservation, which will allow him to arrange the seating for space in between each party.

People can wear masks if they choose, Mitchell said, but he won’t require that of his guests.

With only half the maximum capacity, the potential earnings are cut in half – though Mitchell said it’s still the same amount of work for him. It’s worth doing, though, because he said he enjoys watching people enjoy themselves in his space.

“We get used to seeing these people come in, we get used to seeing these familiar faces, and then we get shut off. After a while, you get depressed about it. It’s nice to see the people,” he said.

It’s still the same amount of work for Mitchell, and it’s the same commitment from the performers. Many of the acts are from the Boston area, and when travel time and sound check is considered, it could be as much as 11 hours from the time they leave home until they get back home. Yet they’re still willing to take the deal, even for a half-filled room.

Mike Smith, a comedy promoter who helps bring talent to Pitman’s, said comedians will be willing to make the drive as long as there’s a stage and a microphone waiting for them.

“Some of these guys have not been on a real stage, or had limited access to a real stage, for seven months,” Smith said. “We’ve done tent shows, we’ve done remote shows, to be inside for a real stage like Pitman’s, people will drive up from the Cape because the atmosphere, the audience interaction, is what they feed off.”

Dimitrakopolous said he’s performed at Pitman’s several times before, and it’s just the kind of place that he’s been missing these past several months. He’s done outdoor shows, but then he has to contend with traffic sounds or airplanes going overhead. He’s also performed in large theaters that have severely limited capacity, and those aren’t much better.

For Dimitrakopolous, the peals of laughter let him know that his jokes are landing as he intended. But if there’s only 100 people in a space that can hold 800, he said it sounds “weird.”

“It sounded like you bombed,” Dimitrakopolous said, even if people gave him positive reviews afterward.

He’s expecting a different feeling at Pitman’s, where the seating is a mix of vintage furniture, and where the unusual shape of the room means that each audience member is relatively close to the performers. It’s an easy room to connect with the audience members, he said.

“It’s almost like the owners are inviting their friends over to their living room. They even have their dog walking around. I love that. It’s awesome. It feels more personal, like you’re telling your jokes to your own friends,” Dimitrakopolous said.

He’s got a lot of new jokes to try out, as his life sounds like a sit-com right now. Because of the coronavirus, both he and his brother have moved back in with their parents. His parents, meanwhile, are both immigrants.

“I definitely have expanded some more COVID jokes,” Dimitrakopolous said. “I have a lot of stuff about growing up with Greek parents.”

He understands that the show won’t have as many people as the last time he performed in Laconia, but Dimitrakopolous said he hopes the show will be a meaningful respite for the people who attend.

“I just really want them to escape for a little bit, because life is crazy right now. And providing them with that escape is an escape for me,” Dimitrakopolous said. “I hope people come out and be safe, and have a good time. I just want to provide a little bit of relief for the audience and for myself. I love making people laugh, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

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