July 9, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
Comedian Michael Che has been hosting a series of free outdoor popup shows in Long Island City that have been drawing large, socially-distanced crowds.
The Saturday Night Live Weekend Update co-host has been holding weekly stand-up comedy events outside the Plaxall Gallery, located at 5-25 46th Ave., since June.
Che got together with Rebecca Trent–who owns The Creek and The Cave, a restaurant and comedy spot on Jackson Avenue–to find an area for artists to perform given the ban on indoor gatherings.
They teamed up with Culture Lab LIC, which operates the gallery’s converted warehouse facility, to host the shows at the site’s large outdoor car park.
Each event starts at around 5:30 p.m. and there is a different lineup every week, according to Edjo Wheeler, Executive Director at Culture Lab LIC. Some of the performers have included Chipha Sounds, Matt Richards and ‘Big’ Jay Oakerson.
Wheeler said that the artists perform on the back of a rusty old pickup truck – which acts as a makeshift stage – and then Che takes over at around 7:45 p.m. to perform his own set.
Wheeler said that Che, who co-hosted the 2018 Emmy Awards, then invites each comic back onto the truck to chat to him about current events.
“The comics talk about what’s bothering them and the audience just eats it up,” Wheeler said.
“It just creates a really beautiful atmosphere where everyone is sharing and laughing, we’ve been really lucky,” he said.
Wheeler said that the dates for the shows change from week to week and are dependent on Che’s busy schedule. Che typically notifies the public via social media when he will host an event.
The next event is tentatively scheduled for July 15, Wheeler said, and he hopes the series will continue until the end of August given its success.
Wheeler said that nearly 1,000 people turned out for the first show but they have capped the number of attendees at around 500 due to COVID-19 concerns. Attendees don’t require tickets; it’s a case of turning up on the day– with the first 500 let in. The events are free.
People have also been viewing the shows from the multi-story car park directly across from the gallery on the corner of 46th Avenue and Vernon Boulevard, Wheeler said.
Wheeler said that people are required to wear masks and circles are drawn on the ground with chalk to make sure people stay socially distanced from one another. Signs are put up to remind people to adhere to social distancing rules and hand sanitizer is also handed out to attendees, he said.
Wheeler said that the event is well organized and done in the spirit of camaraderie.
“Everyone is out there for the right reason so there’s no political agenda,” Wheeler said.
“They really just come out to laugh because they know that they’re supporting Culture Lab, there’s just a really good feeling about it,” he said.
Wheeler said that there are food and drink vendors at the events. He said that Culture Lab charges them a small fee to rent space which goes to supporting some of the gallery’s programs.
The car park hosts live music sessions from Thursdays to Sundays and is already set up for such events, he said.
Wheeler said that 100 percent of the profits from the beer tent and 30 percent of the profits from the food vendors are also donated to charity. A different charity is selected each week and donations have already been made to Black Lives Matter and NYC Kids RISE, he said.
“No one’s making money off this; it’s going to support really good causes,” he said.