Get ready to laugh: Zanies set to reopen Chicago, Rosemont comedy clubs
Leave it to the folks at Zanies to find the light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic tunnel.
"There's a bright side to everything," observed Zanies executive vice president Bert Haas a week before the scheduled Friday, July 10, reopening of the Chicago flagship, followed by its Rosemont counterpart a week later.
"A lot of Chicago comics who would be touring right now aren't touring right now," he said, which means Zanies has access to top-notch local talent able to deliver laughs to quarantine-weary comedy fans.
Elk Grove Village native Vince Carone is excited to get back on a real stage but admits he's slightly nervous.
"I'm hoping everyone follows Centers for Disease Control guidelines and respects each other," he said, "but I'm 100% confidant in Zanies taking all the precautions."
To that end, Zanies employees have reconfigured seats to keep patrons six feet apart, installed hospital-grade HVAC filters and hand-sanitizing stations, readied electronic temperature readers, purchased masks and gloves for employees and stocked up on cleaning supplies, all according to CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines.
"We're going to put on the best show possible in the safest environment possible," Haas said.
With clubs closed, some standups like Carone took their acts to platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.
"I knew I had to find a way to keep talking to people," said Carone, whose album "Vincectomy" is available on streaming services and at vincecarone.com.
Performing standup via Zoom "allowed the art to continue," he said, but it wasn't the same as being in the same room with an audience and experience their reactions to new material.
Haas expects Zanies headliners will have a lot to say.
"There will obviously be lots of new material because of the coronavirus," Haas said. "The advantage these pros have is they've got a ton of material in their hip pockets."
"Quite a number of them are parents, so they've been home schooling," said Haas. "I can't wait to hear this material."
Carone expects he'll mention the coronavirus. As for hot-button topics such as racism, police brutality and social justice, Carone hasn't decided how or if he will address those.
"I want people to feel better on the way out of the club than on the way in ... That doesn't mean I won't touch upon a subject.
"Comedians are social commentators. I feel if you have something funny to say that can drive positive change, this would be the way to do it," said the comedian.
For the present, sitting elbow-to-elbow among standup comedy fans is a thing of the past, says Haas, although groups of six or fewer who arrive together can sit together.
"Needless to say we probably won't have that many bachelorette parties," Haas said, referring to the 50-person capacity.
"We still feel we can put on a great show even though we're limited in seating," he said.
Employees, performers and patrons will receive mandatory temperature checks, he said. Anyone registering a temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit will be asked to leave.
All employees must wear masks, back-of-the-house employees will wear masks and gloves, and patrons must wear masks when moving to and from tables. All transactions are debit/credit card only (no cash) and tickets must be purchased in advance at zanies.com (no exceptions).
Cleaning will be nonstop, said Haas, with bathrooms sanitized every 15 minutes and surfaces sanitized every 30 minutes. The showroom will also be fully sanitized between shows, he said.
"People come to Zanies because they expect a quality show. It's my obligation is to give them that show," said Haas. "After 42 years we've held up our end of the promise."
Zanies' reopening comes at the right time for comedians as well as fans.
"All I can think of is, boy, do we need to laugh or what?" Haas said. "I can't think of a better time for people to have an opportunity to see live, stand-up comedy."
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Where: Zanies, 1548 N. Wells St., Chicago, (312) 337-4027 or zanies.com
When: 9 p.m. Friday, July 10, and 9 and 11 p.m. Saturday, July 11
Tickets: $30, plus a two-item food or beverage minimum