Long before his iconic “show about nothing” took the world by storm, Jerry Seinfeld got his start in the comedy clubs of New York City, packing in paying crowds there for a night of laughter from his routine and those of his fellow stand-up comics.
“New York is so special for performers,” Seinfeld said. “When you come into Manhattan as a performer, and you stand in front of New York audiences, you find out if you’re good enough to have a career in the arts. There’s no question in my mind that New York audiences made me good enough to go out into the country and perform.”
But these venues, and many other entertainment sites across New York and the country, are among the many businesses fighting for their survival during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea, where Seinfeld and Senator Chuck Schumer gathered Sunday for a press conference, hasn’t had a live audience in attendance for months due to capacity restrictions.
While speaking from the Gotham Comedy Club stage, Schumer and Seinfeld stood up for passage of the Save Our Stages Act, a new federal bill that would provide $10 billion to the federal Small Business Administration for a grant program offering economic relief to live venue operators, producers, promoters and talent representatives.
New York City, undoubtedly, would receive “the lion’s share” of the relief, Schumer said, given the plethora of performing venues including comedy clubs, Broadway theaters, community theater groups, concert halls and talent agencies.
These businesses, the senator said, would be eligible to receive grants of up to $12 million to offset losses suffered over the past six months.
“They say ‘All the world’s a stage,’ but New York City’s are the spotlight, and we have to save them,” said Schumer. “Independent venues, like Gotham Comedy Club, performance pubs, concert halls and more are the beating heart of New York City’s cultural life and a driving force of the larger New York economy. These local businesses were among the first to shut down at the start of the pandemic, are struggling to stay afloat, and will be among the last to reopen.”
Without the new infusion of funding, the senator explained, up to 90% of independently-owned performance venues might wind up closing. Their closures would result in thousands of job losses, including behind-the-scenes workers, waiters and bartenders, and artists who will find themselves with fewer places to ply their craft.
The impact on the economy would be even worse, the senator explained, as the closure of venues could cost the country up to $9 billion in ticket sales alone. Other sectors would also suffer including hotels, restaurants, transportation and retail shops.
The Save Our Stages Act has 28 bipartisan co-sponsors on Capitol Hill and the support of artists across the country including Seinfeld, the Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, Jimmy Buffett, Coldplay and Jay Leno.
The bill, Schumer noted, would be folded into a larger economic relief bill that the House and Senate Democrats hope to pass soon.