Too Soon? Comics are Testing Public’s Taste for Covid Jokes


Did you hear the one about the Zoom lecturer who stayed up all night to arrange the titles in the bookshelf behind him, asking,  “Can I risk having Woody Allen’s new memoir in the shot?”

Or the one that goes, “When this pandemic is over, you all will look back on it and have a laugh. Well, not all of you.”

Welcome to the brave new world of Covid humor. As the grim death toll slows, comics in New York City are beginning to test some boundaries.

Upper West Side comic Eitan Levine is making coronavirus jokes on social media and on Zoom even though his grandmother recently died of the disease.

“It’s all very surreal,” Levine said. “She’s a Holocaust survivor and I just found out she smuggled bread between her legs to save people’s lives.” He says coronavirus jokes are fair game “because the outbreak is on everyone’s mind.” But he stresses that the humor “has to be done the right way.”

Husband-and-wife comedians Ben Rosenfeld and Michelle Slonim of Astoria, who have a 2-year-old daughter, said they’ve been ambivalent about doing comedy at such a time.

“At first we said no,” Slonim said. “But as time went on we were approached by some [promoters], and there was clearly a need for some levity. It’s like the show ‘Shtisel,’ where Akiva was close to his mother and after she passes away he goes to see a comedy troupe. The skit didn’t take away from the love he felt for his mother; it just helped him heal and continue on. Humor makes impossible situations slightly more terrible.”

Erik Angel, an Israeli comic living here, said he’s taking time to hone his Covid material.

“You don’t laugh about death, obviously,” he said. “But without laughter, what do we have?” He said Israelis, hardened by terrorism, may be more prepared for dark humor than Americans.

Like many comics these days, Angel is doing Zoom shows, some for schools and organizations, in lieu of live gigs. Levine said he had to scrap live gigs where he brought comedians of all faiths together.

Elon Altman believes that laughter is a form of medicine. From his balcony in Greenwich Village, he’s been doing routines and posting them on Facebook.

“It’s scary times for everyone and people are on edge,” Altman said. “If a joke can take the edge off for a minute, that’s a good thing. Could be better than alcohol.”

Comedian Eli Lebowicz has the last laugh. These days, he quipped, “laughter and toilet paper are the new forms of currency.”