After a year of shutdowns and isolation, people are looking for ways to be entertained again. With widespread access to the COVID-19 vaccine now assured, the Gainesville community may be feeling more hopeful than ever about returning to their favorite entertainment venues. But with coronavirus cases still on the rise, there is still a need for COVID-safe diversions.
Enter Jennifer Vito, who hosts Gainesville Comedy Shows every Thursday night at Flaco’s Cuban Bakery outdoor patio space in downtown Gainesville.
Each week, Vito gathers comedians from the community as well as touring comedians from nearby cities like Jacksonville and Orlando, and calls them up to perform one by one.
Gainesville Comedy Shows is a platform that promotes local adult comedy shows and pop-up entertainment at a number of local venues. It is a source of entertainment for the local community as it struggles to find ways to stay entertained, while still being cautious about the virus.
Most of the comedy shows have been at outside venues, where guests can socially distance and wear masks.
“I think it helps people find a way to connect from a distance ,” Vito said.
Vito has been involved with comedy for years and has always been a fan. After moving to Gainesville years ago, she became an event coordinator. This led to her first performing experience, which was a “farewell roast” for a friend.
“I got on stage, and it was exhilarating,” Vito said. “And I never stopped.”
Vito uses Gainesville Comedy Shows as a way to create opportunities for the community . Providing people with a chance to be entertained and giving places like Flaco’s some extra business. All with the priority of creating a COVID safe environment for guests to feel comfortable.
“It fills our hearts, people come to see the show,” Vito said, “I hope it’s making them feel better.”
Noah Bennett, one of the comedians, spoke of the community of Gainesville and his love for the audiences.
“The community embraces everyone,” Bennett said, “I think it’s a perfect place to grow.”
Bennett, a Jacksonville native, got his start in comedy after majoring in Theater at the University of Florida. He contacted Vito and began doing open mic performances. He values working with Gainesville Comedy Shows due to the safety precautions they take regarding COVID.
“They actually care about us,” Bennett said. “I’m able to just go out and do my thing.”
Allison Markwich has always thought of herself as a comedian. At three-years-old she got her parents to believe their car was haunted by turning on the windshield wipers before they started the car.
Markwich got into comedy after reading a book about stand-up comedy. Originally starting in Jacksonville, she transitioned to Gainesville Comedy Shows.
“I didn’t realize what close friends I would make here,” Markwich said. “It’s been more than just comedy.”
She shared about the hardships of not being able to perform and be a part of her community during the shutdown.
“It feels like everything got taken from us at the same time,” she said.
The pandemic challenged Markwich. She considered quitting comedy a few times. But her passion persisted, and her friends kept her in it.
“I just can’t stop now,” she said.
With an outside venue in their patio, the staff at Flaco’s has cultivated a great relationship with Gainesville Comedy Shows. Jill Kubisek works at Flaco’s and is friends with the owner, Sarah Puyana. Kubisek has enjoyed the Thursday night entertainment and the crowd it brings in.
“It’s been fantastic,” Kubisek said, “a real good time.”
Flaco’s has gone through a lot of changes and transformations in the way it operates. COVID forced the restaurant to adapt. Kubisek reflected on how dealing with the virus has allowed them to expand and become more well known.
“It’s been quite a year, but we’re still here, and we have comedy so that’s awesome.”
The Thursday night shows bring in customers, and some of them are familiar faces.
“We have a lot of loyal customers,” Kubisek said.
Two of those customers are Jordan VanGlish and Hannah Gilman, who went to the comedy show on April 1 , looking for some entertainment.
“I’m glad Gainesville is taking steps to make outdoor options feasible,” Gilman said. “I definitely feel comfortable coming to this. It’s really nice to feel good about going to see entertainment.”
VanGlish feels more comfortable as more people have received the vaccine for COVID.
“I’m vaccinated now, let’s search for things to do,” he said.
Gainesville Comedy Shows will continue respecting its audience’s safety as the community slowly makes progress towards a new normal.
Kubisek is happy about the weekly shows and the fact that people can be entertained again in a way that caters to them.
“To be able to offer that to people and have them come out of their houses and feel safe and comfortable, and want to come and have a giggle here with us — it’s great,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”