With performance venues closed during COVID, artists looking to still perform before a live audience had to create their work in adventurous new places. Comedians Julio Diaz and Nathan Habib found an artistic home at Cooper Park, where they present Comedy at Cooper each Monday night at 7 PM. Come August 2, the duo will celebrate a year of their donation-based comedy series, which uplifts other local comedians (and even a DJ who grooves to a pre-show set). The series will continue into the fall, a blessing for those seeking a good reason to get outdoors, see grassroots performances, and enjoy quality comedy. As the big anniversary approaches, Habib discusses the genesis and evolution of Comedy at Cooper.
Greenpointers: Let’s start at the beginning: was Comedy at Cooper created in reaction to the pandemic, and when did you two begin performing at Cooper Park?
Nathan Habib: Yep! Our first show was August 3, 2020. I actually created a 15-minute documentary on how Comedy at Cooper started on our IG channel. I highly recommend checking out the clips to get the full picture. Parks were the place you go to find entertainment since everything indoors was closed. So I thought, “Maybe I can do stand up at my local park.” The only problem is I had no sound system. One day I went to a show with another comic and he introduced me to Julio Diaz. We started talking and immediately clicked. He mentioned he grew up in Williamsburg and I told him I’d like to do a show at Cooper Park but I have no equipment. So he offered to lend his amp and mic. The next day we did a sound check together, picked a date, posted one big neon pink poster at the front gate, and did our first show. We booked five comics and I texted them saying, “This is either going to be amazing or a complete disaster.” Here’s a very short clip about how Julio and I met. Also every now and then we make funny promo videos together.
What are the fixtures of your routines? Or rather, what kind of humor and narratives can audiences expect when walking into Comedy at Cooper?
Audiences can expect the exact same material they would hear in a comedy club that’s 21 and up. We don’t want comedians holding back on any material just because they’re in a public park. Our audience appreciates when comics are either working out bits or referencing what’s going on in the present moment at the park. Julio and I perform every week which forces us to come up with new material. That has been challenging but it’s rewarding. There’s nothing better than going through a week, trying to find the humor in that week, sharing it with our loyal audience, and getting laughs in return.
I imagine, like many arts scenes, comedy in New York can seem on the surface to be an inclusive place but actually has many barriers that keep people from “making it.” How has Comedy at Cooper democratized the art form?
I’m actually not sure if we are helping democratize the art form. We’re very meticulous on who we get on the show because our audience expects a quality show. We get a ton of regulars and donations that go right back to the show so we want to ensure the quality stays high. That being said, we respond to every comedian that sends us a message to perform at the show. What’s rewarding to see is in the beginning we would feel nervous to ask comedians to do our show but now we’re getting a ton of requests to do the show even with the clubs open. Perhaps we’re democratizing the art form by having a popular stand up show in a place where you wouldn’t typically do stand up.
What have some of the challenges been in producing independently in this outdoor venue?
Weather! It’s frustrating when the weather is amazing in the morning so naturally we hype up the show, then all of a sudden it starts to rain so we decide to cancel, and then two hours before showtime it’s beautiful again and people message us like “Why’s the show canceled?!”
Another challenge is gear but Julio and I got SUPER lucky. There’s a dad with two kids that would come every week to our show. One day he came up to us and he asked if he could bring his speakers and DJ for us before the show. We said absolutely! So every week at 5:30 PM DJ Stig brings his generator, speaker, vinyl records, and two kids to the park and brings the best funk vibes. He’s an instrumental part of the show. His mentality is simple: “Our job is to uplift the people.” He’s just as passionate, if not more passionate, about funk music as Julio and I are passionate about stand up.
Also, the ice cream truck music can be a tough heckle to handle.
As fall nears and 7 PM starts to become a darker hour, will you be performing then as well on Mondays? What does the future hold?
Fall is the best time for us! The atmosphere is similar to a comedy club which is exactly what we want. It’s dark, a tad chilly, the “stage” lights set the tone that you’re coming to a quality show, and the street lamps bring a beautiful ambiance.
Our last show of 2020 was in December. It was 45 degrees outside and 50 people came. We were holding the mic with gloves and still couldn’t feel our fingers. That’s when I knew we had to take a break. Our goal is to find a venue near the park once it gets too cold to comfortably sit outside. However we plan on being on the lawn every spring, summer, and fall for the foreseeable future.
I assume you accept donations for your performances, or how does that work?
Our audience is absolutely amazing. People venmo (@comedyatcooper) us after every show. We make it clear that all the money goes back to the show. Our audience has allowed us to pay every comedian that has performed, buy lights, a mic stand, posters, tape, pay for our photographer who is absolutely incredible (JT Anderson), and other random expenses.
Anything else you’d like to add? Thank you!
Julio and I started Comedy at Cooper for selfish reasons. We both wanted to work on jokes while comedy venues were closed. However over time we realized that this show is way bigger than both of us. People come up to us after the show saying they actually look forward to Mondays and our show helps them get through their week. So while it’s amazing to work on our jokes with comedians we love, we’re also incredibly grateful that we get to build a community by bringing people together with laughter and uplifting vibes. August 2, 2021 is our one-year anniversary show where we will be giving out free Comedy at Cooper swag and Mark Normand will be headlining.