Laugh outside: Stand-up comic adds jokes to Eighth Avenue happy hour


Yaz Nakayama

Shaun Eli (facing crowd) told jokes during the stand-up portion of the Eighth Avenue happy hour.

“I started eating an apple a day and now my girlfriend doctor won’t see me anymore.”

Laughter came from the crowd of fourteen—plus one dog—standing around the Eighth Avenue driveway of Shaun Eli. This was the stand-up comedy happy hour, now held weekly at a social distance in front of Eli’s house.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the happy hour began. Eli only invited people he knew, mostly from Eighth Avenue, but many people trickled in towards the end. “The more the merrier,” said Eli.

Eli’s career as a stand-up comedian was sidelined by the Covid-19 pandemic. When the happy hours started in March they were a social event, but then his neighbors asked him to tell some jokes. At first, Eli said he resisted because the happy hour was supposed to just be for socializing. But after being asked a few more times, Eli realized he had a lot of new material that he hadn’t tried out on an audience yet.

The Eighth Avenue happy hour became a comedy showcase and a time for neighbors to get together.

“One of the reasons I started doing comedy at the happy hours is because I’ve been writing jokes, and then just letting them sit on my computer for three months,” said Eli. “No one was hearing those jokes. That’s just disheartening.”

Tasleem Samji, in the audience last week, said, “I like seeing people, especially because I spend all day juggling work and my son. It’s nice having a conversation outside about something other than ‘has he eaten’ and ‘has he gone to the bathroom yet.’ It’s nice to be outside with other people. I think we’ve begun to appreciate more and more how funny this street is, and I think the happy hours kind of highlight that.”

Shaun Eli performed at the Gotham Comedy Club before the pandemic.

“I was interested in comedy when I was young, but I always thought I was going to be a comedy writer, and I never thought I would perform,” said Eli. “Before I took a stand-up comedy class, the last time I was on a stage was fifth grade. I didn’t like it, and I never thought I wanted to do anything performing again. But somebody talked me into doing stand-up comedy, and it seemed to work.”

“I think everybody needs to laugh,” he said. “If we can laugh at something we are stressed about, then I think that takes some of the pain out of it. I think comedy has been very helpful during the pandemic because we have so much more access to it.”

“I used to work at a bank. Management never really said, ‘Thank you.’ I realize in my job now, I am thanked three to four times a minute. People laugh, and so I know I’m doing a good job. I can’t think of anything better than making people laugh.”