On the Friday before Valentine’s Day, most people were focusing on a romantic weekend with their significant other or themselves. I, on the other hand, was taking my girlfriend up the urine-speckled ramp to the top of the Church Street parking garage.
On top of the lot sat eight or nine cars, all facing toward Pacific Avenue. Across from a gray Honda Civic with audio cables flowing from the front seat sat a small stage and old wooden stool. And at the far end of the lot stood 2 aspiring instagram models crafting their latest photoshoot. Such are the sights at the only live comedy show left in Santa Cruz.
Feb. 26: 8 pm – 9 pm
Mar. 5: 8 pm – 9 pm
Mar. 12: 8 pm – 9 pm
Mar. 19: 8 pm – 9 pm
Stand Up Santa Cruz, an online guide to stand up comedians and shows in Santa Cruz, hosts a drive-in show, “Comedy Audiences in Cars Watching Comedy,” every Friday night on the roof of the Church Street garage. The show has been running since the pandemic began, showcasing about 100 different comics in the past 10 months.
With applause replaced by the flashing of headlights, and hecklers replaced with Vin Diesel impersonators looking to do donuts in the Church St. Garage, comedy looks drastically different than it did a year ago.
The show features comedians performing into a microphone on a slightly raised “stage” while the audience tunes in via their car radio and watches from a safe distance.
Performing in front of people’s cars instead of faces can be extremely difficult, as local comedian Molly Stene has noticed during her time on stage. She said that comedians need to have a lot of confidence in their material and noted the difficulty in testing new material in this setting. But some viewers opt to sit in the trunk of their cars for a more live viewing, providing comedians with a more comfortable and familiar environment.
“The more people’s actual faces you can see and connect with, the better,” Stene said. “And it’s the feedback we need.”
Comedians have been hit hard since the pandemic has closed local comedy clubs like DNA’s Comedy Lab. Live shows are few and far between while online shows are a challenge to perform and monetize. In order to adapt, local comedians Sam Weber and Brian Snyder teamed up to produce and host the show seeking to revive Santa Cruz’s once vibrant live comedy scene.
Weber and Snyder switch off handling hosting duties and running the technology from their cars each week, though Weber is the more tech savvy of the duo. This back-and-forth has been brought on by the show’s purchase of a second microphone for the “backstage” that is the front seat of Weber’s car. The duo has worked together for the past 10 months and intends to continue for as long as necessary.
“I think we work well together. I think [Sam] is a delightful man,” Snyder said. “He is a bit of a manchild and I think I’m a bit like that too, sometimes. And I think it makes it fun.”
“I love him to death. He holds me accountable. I’ve never had that before,” Weber said. “He’s so smart. And silly. He’s a fun guy to joke around with. And he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s a nice boy.”
The comics and producers who take part in the drive-in show have formed a community of performers supporting each other. The comedians find time to chat with other performers before going on stage.
While the content is not the most kid-friendly, the show is open to all.
Two first-time viewers, Ben Brandt and Allani Perman found the show to be an accessible form of live entertainment and a throwback to pre-pandemic life.
“It’s very much a conversation, comedy, and it felt like they were very engaged with us,” Brandt said. “It brings you back to just enjoying a night in a way that today feels very foreign.”