The open-air comedy series debuting Friday night at Boca Raton’s Mizner Park Amphitheater probably doesn’t happen without a pandemic — but it’s an idea so good and obvious that its COVID-era origins will someday be an afterthought.
Organized by veteran comedian and TV writer Dave Siegel and wife Stephanie, pre-pandemic transplants from New York to Boca Raton, the series is called Comedy on the Green, with the audience set up on the lawn of the recently reopened amphitheater.
Accentuating its relaxing atmosphere, the series puts a unique spin on social distancing with tiered seating on low-slung canvas beach chairs, pre-positioned blankets, as well as traditional seats. There will be order-by-phone waitstaff bar service for those on beach chairs and blankets, and a walk-up bar for others.
COVID sensitivity is part of the brand of Comedy on the Green, Dave Siegel says. But the couple hopes the unconventional seating appeals to an audience looking for a distinctively fun night out.
“We could have just done all black folding chairs, spaced them out. … But we wanted to do something cool. We wanted it to be a little different experience than a) a typical comedy club and b) just to utilize that beautiful space, with the lawn,” he says.
Comedy on the Green opens with an 8 p.m. Oct. 22 performance by Kurt Metzger, a writer for comic actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Amy Schumer. Miami comedian Kyle Grooms will be the warm-up act.
The VIP beach chairs near the front of the stage, sold in four-person pods for $71.75 per person, were the first to sell out. Three-person blankets ($53 per person) and general admission folding chairs ($38) are still available at Ticketmaster.com.
Other upcoming performances in the series include Christian Finnegan, of “Chappelle’s Show” (Nov. 26), and late-night talk show regular Ted Alexandro (Dec. 10).
Dave Siegel has been a stand-up for two decades (he’ll perform at the Dec. 10 show) and a writer for shows hosted by Diane Sawyer, Don Lemon, Anderson Cooper and, currently, Ashleigh Banfield. He also does a very funny film-short series, “White Guy Indifferent,” with more than 60 million views on YouTube.
While Stephanie Siegel handled the business end of the project, Dave found the comedians. He describes the challenge of finding comics in the Venn diagram of being available, hilarious and able to work without offending diners at nearby restaurants.
“These are guys who have all been on TV. They know what ‘TV clean’ is. They’re able to adapt,” Dave says.
The idea for these comedy picnics came to the couple shortly after they moved with two young daughters from an 800-square-foot Manhattan apartment to Boca Raton in February 2020. Stefanie Siegel’s parents live in nearby Highland Beach; Dave’s parents live in Delray Beach, and he has a brother in Boynton Beach.
When the pandemic hit, Dave could no longer travel to perform stand-up and the move took him away from the profusion of stages available in New York. Stephanie’s business — a former on-air reporter at WPIX in New York, she’s founder and CEO of TV talent development firm Reel Media Group — was also grounded.
“I needed a new project. I was going insane during lockdown,” says Stephanie, who describes her husband as “chill,” and herself as the opposite of that.
“We would just take drives in town with the kids. I know Boca. We got married here. That’s why we moved here,” she says. “We got to Mizner one day and I remember always thinking, this is the coolest venue. I just said to Dave, ‘Honey, can you imagine if some day we could create a comedy venue here?’ And that was it.”
There was a bit more to it. They began planning the series in the thick of COVID, with the original April 2021 opening postponed several times by the City of Boca Raton, operator of the amphitheater. Searching for an interesting way to distance the crowd, Stephanie found images of beach chairs on the “mini lawns” set up for concerts at New York’s Pier 17.
After a few phone calls, she found a manufacturer in China and purchased 150 of the chairs for VIP seating closest to the stage. She also bought 100 blankets, which will be the second tier of reserved tickets. The amphitheater offered use of 150 folding chairs for general admission seating in the back.
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Each performance will be for an audience of nearly 600 in a space that seats 3,000.
The Siegels say the first three installments of Comedy on the Green are just the beginning of what they hope to do in South Florida. They are spending more than $20,000 to make these shows happen.
“We’re not the richest people. This was money that was going to go into savings for our kids’ college or it was going be invested in something we believe in,” Stephanie says. “I trust my hustle more than I do the stock market.”