Laugh like it’s 2019 at one of Astoria’s hippest comedy spots!
If someone were to ask their fortune-telling, billiard-style Magic 8-Ball, whether Queens’ comedy scene would be making a strong comeback, the answer revealed in its little window would likely be “yes.”
Just like struggling restaurants and small businesses, comedy clubs here have been fighting to survive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, many popular places have shut down or moved on, “leaving stand-ups and improv groups to improvise on how to get attention and build shows from the ground up in this new landscape,” said comedian Zach Petrovich, founder of 8 Ball Comedy and PetroProductions.
His innovative approach may forge a new frontier for comedy in unlikely venues – as live shows finally return to the “World’s Borough.”
With that as his driving force, the Astoria resident went full speed ahead and gambled on an unexpected, offbeat spot in his own neighborhood: the back of Steinway Billiards, a pool hall, located at 3525 Steinway St., in Astoria. So, stop by, grab a beer, and enjoy great comedy shows at 8:30 p.m. every Thursday, for just $10.
“It was time to get back to a sense of normalcy,” Petrovich told QNS.
Along with some amazing comedians and pal Syrus Porter (the “consigliere”), Petrovich’s team recently joined forces to create “an outlaw comedy venue.”
“When I say outlaw, it’s not that we’ve broken any rules, but the idea of having a comedy show in a pool hall has some people scratching their heads,” Petrovich added. “During this pandemic, a lot of us comics have been aching to get back to work, so when the owners of Steinway Billiards offered up a Thursday night space, we said, ‘hell yes!’”
Everyone has their temperature taken; contact tracing is in full effect; and all CDC guidelines have been heavily enforced.
The comic-turned-entrepreneur remembered all the hurdles, “the trial and error, and this element of not knowing quite how it would pan out,” when the show debuted back in February.
“Originally, we were in the dining section of the venue, competing with a chess club and older Greek dudes playing backgammon furiously. It was chaos, but we made it work and eventually moved the show to the current space on the far side of the building, away from the sounds and people of the pool hall,” he explained. “Steinway Billiards is a local legend, and — in the vein of community — 8 Ball Comedy has, from the beginning, been about supporting local business and the neighborhood as a whole.”
Each week, you can catch a premium show with some of the best up-and-coming and veteran comics in the city.
“It’s gritty, it’s raw and it’s Queens to the core. It’s filled a hole for the community here,” Petrovich said. “8 Ball Comedy isn’t flashy, it isn’t polished, but it is real standup comedy in its purest form, the way it’s meant to be seen.”
Some of the regulars include Josh Accardo, Joey Gay, Chris Hamilton, Chloe LaBranch, Andre Kim, Michael Terry, Maggie Crane and Norlex Belma, among others. And the club tries to feature a diverse group of great local talent each week, as well as traveling comedians, who all hang out after the show to play pool, grab a few drinks and support their peers, according to Petrovich.
“That’s been the best part – that 8 Ball Comedy has brought the ‘hang’ aspect for comics back, and created an environment in which the comedians feel comfortable working out their material,” he said.
“A lot of these comics hadn’t seen each other in over a year, and it’s been tough,” Petrovich added. “Most of the pandemic, we were forced to get very creative with how to work in the ‘new normal.’ Many of us tried to keep busy with outdoor shows, or even Zoom shows. But to be honest, nothing is the same as the comedy club atmosphere; it’s an innately human experience and doesn’t translate when you are trying to tell your material into a webcam for no audible laughter.”
Indeed, staying in the game has been challenging, especially for those comics who were once working two to three shows a night over a weekend. That’s just one reason why, pre-COVID, New York had a reputation of being a “comedy town,” offering performers multiple opportunities to get on stage every night of the week, which meant more chances to work on their material and perfect their acts.
“Without those stages, we really went through a withdrawal phase. To be back on a stage with a live crowd is such a relief to all of us,” Petrovich said. “8 Ball Comedy was my way of getting to the light at the end of the tunnel and bringing everyone that was feeling the same way, with me.”
For more information, visit 8 Ball Comedy’s Facebook page.