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‘Wise Crackers’ Comedy Club Persists Through Pandemic Challenges

Persistence is a trait few have mastered. It takes time, energy, and experience to understand the practice of persistence.

But when COVID-19 hit last spring, it was a trait that businesses like State College’s Wise Crackers comedy club needed to learn — and learn fast.

For the entertainment industry, learning how to adapt to the new normal of masks and social distancing was not always an easy process. Lots of entertainers are reliant on crowds to pay their bills. But they had to get creative when crowds weren’t allowed.

Wise Crackers owners Scott Bruce and his brother, William Bruce, were forced to face that challenge head on, and it was not an easy road. Besides the lockdowns that happened last spring and the current restrictions still in effect in Pennsylvania, William Bruce still has some worries for the future after things start to creep closer to normalcy.

“When we set up a room, we make sure that the seats are close together. We use the term ‘laughter is infectious,'” William Bruce said. “But I am a bit worried about people not wanting to come back, and it’ll have some sort of adverse effect.”

Wise Crackers is open only seasonally from January to April, and it was finishing up its season when COVID-19 came around last spring. Luckily for the Bruce brothers, the Wise Crackers in State College is not their central location, as Scott Bruce owns “main location” at the Mohegan Sun in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. That franchise still took a heavy blow, as all things in the pandemic have.

The comedy industry was hit in a strange way since human interaction is one of the art form’s most important aspects.

“Stand-up comedy is the only art form in existence that not only requires a reaction from the audience, but it’s a very specific response-laughter. If [the audience] is not laughing, you’re a lecturer,” said Scott Bruce, who’s been a stand-up comic for more than 40 years. “If you’re sitting and watching a band play, a trio or a singer and you’re only mildly interested, the worst-case scenario is when they’re done, you look up and give a mild golf clap. But that won’t prevent them from going to the next song.

“If the audience isn’t laughing, we can’t continue on stage,” he continued. “It’s a very delicate balance. It’s a very weird job. Anyone who chooses this job is out of their minds.”

Scott also said that in the few in-person shows he’s done, the audience wearing masks makes it hard to read the audience. His style of comedy is reliant on reading people, and since he’s hard of hearing, he’s reliant on reading lips.

The brothers are still working on a plan for next year’s season and just recently reopened their Wilkes-Barre location. They currently do not have any plans on having an extended season to make up for lost time, but the pair is still working on safe and healthy ways to return in 2022.

There is a lot of uncertainty in the future for the State College Wise Crackers franchise, but Scott Bruce said he feels confident in one thing: The comedy and the entertainment industry as a whole will come roaring back to life when the time is right, and he knows this from experience.

He shared a story about where he was on the day of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and said he was scheduled to do a stand-up comedy set that very night. He said the club was absolutely packed and people were thanking him for taking their minds off of the events of the day for an hour.

“The one thing people will need more than anything is comedy,” Scott said. “They’re going to need to laugh, and they’re going to want to laugh.”

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About the Author

Charles Reinert

Charles Reinert is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He's from Norristown, PA and enjoys a good slice of pepperoni pizza and a brisk fall afternoon. He can be found either yelling at the Eagles through the TV during football season or playing his guitar. If you have any questions for him or want to challenge him to a 1v1 on the basketball court, you can follow him on Twitter @charles_rein10 or email him at [email protected]

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