Funny Farm Is Ready to Laugh Again

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — “It’s the new normal” might be the buzz phrase, but the entertainment business is yearning for the good old days. 

Those who make a living bringing people together for theater, music and comedy are eager to get back to some semblance of the way it was before the COVID-19 shutdown

The Business Journal checked in with five of the more unique, if not iconic, Valley venues and stores to see how they are faring and what they see down the road.

The five – The Youngstown Playhouse, Westside Bowl, The Record Connection, the Funny Farm and Golden Star Theaters – represent different genres of entertainment but all depend on getting people through their doors. Each has its own set of problems and all see a troubled path going forward. 

Laughter, like the coronavirus, is contagious, and both spread most effectively in a crowded room. No one knows that better than Dave Robich, who has owned and operated the Funny Farm comedy club since 1988.

The club has been in various locations over the years, but has been on the second floor of The Federal Building in downtown Youngstown since 2018.

The Funny Farm has been closed since March 16 when the state order against gatherings took effect. Robich is hoping he can reopen some time in June, but says he wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in the fall or even further in the future.

Comedy is needed now more than ever, but he wonders if people will show up at his club, and how many he will be allowed to let in. 

“We are rescheduling shows now, but I worry about how this will change things,” Robich says.

Social distancing requirements would put a damper on a show and on audience enjoyment. “What if I can only put 25 in a room that seats 100?,” he says. “Comedy is contagious and you lose that rolling laughter in a room with only 25.”

The atmosphere of a comedy club is something that can’t be replicated, he says. 

“Watching on TV is not the same,” Robich says. “At any time, the comedian could be talking directly to you. There is a different edge to that. [Patrons] want to sit up front where they could be part of the show.”

Robich books comedians up to five months in advance, and has shows every Friday and Saturday. He also opens his club on week nights for private parties, and has had to cancel several.

“There’s not much we can do now,” he says. “I’ve been posting clips online to keep people entertained but there is no income coming in.” He has laid off his servers, most of whom are college students.

Robich worries that the stay-home habit will become permanent for many people. “How do you go back unless they have that vaccine or a cure,” he asks

That’s why he plans to reopen with a bang when he gets permission.

“I am thinking of bringing in someone big for the restart, someone with a very recognizable name,” he says.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.