It started, appropriately enough, as a joke.
Not long after the quarantine was implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus, I thought it would be funny to perform a monologue as if I was a late-night host, with the jokes centered on what we are all experiencing. What birthed from that light bulb moment is “Quarantine Tonight,” a daily weeknight monologue featuring me and my kids in our den acting like we’re on a talk show.
My older son, 9, is the bandleader, although he fails to have an instrument most episodes. My younger son, 7, is the sidekick and inevitably veers into talking about farting. It’s absurdity in an absurd time.
“Quarantine Tonight” is meant to be cheesy, with a low-rent laugh track provided by an app my wife downloaded and plays with one hand while she records the show on my phone with the other. The script is taped under the lens facing me, a rudimentary teleprompter for this scruffy host who hasn’t shaved in weeks and almost exclusively wears sweats. Some jokes are clever, some are conceptual and some are nothing more than silly puns.
We try to keep the focus on the relatable and surreal elements of this otherwise terrifying experience. The hoarding of toilet paper, the struggle to get groceries delivered and the sheer madness of home-schooling our kids are just some of the topics that we’ve mined. “Tiger King” has been a godsend.
There is no rehearsal. I pick out jokes I’ve written and quickly arrange them in what I hope is some sort of cohesive order. Boys will be boys, so, yes, there is sometimes yelling while my wife and I tell them before the camera rolls what to do. We rarely do more than one take if we manage to get through an episode without any sort of glaring blunder. On occasion, I trip over my words or the laugh track doesn’t play on cue. It’s perfectly imperfect.
There is a universality about what is going on in our world right now and laughter is a way to release the tension. Have no illusion: This moment in our history is scary. Humor, though, is a great equalizer and defense mechanism, one I’ve clung to for as long as I can remember. It’s an unlikely coping strategy put into action.
Coming up with material has proven to be a challenge worth its weight in gold. Our family takes walks around our neighborhood each day, an ample opportunity for me to run ideas by my wife, who has a keen sense of tightening up punchlines. Friends text me their suggestions. My boys try their best to write jokes.
It’s unclear how long we can keep going, but it’d be a point of pride to continue this show every night until the quarantine ends, if for no other reason than it feels like such a daunting, albeit unnecessary, task.
It’s given us something to do and is a way to keep our minds occupied. We’ve gone “on location” from different rooms in our home and have themed episodes in the works. It’s our attempt to mix it up while trying to be creative and lightly address the anxiety everyone feels.
What exactly is the point here? There’s the hope of providing a distraction, for ourselves and for people who’ve watched our videos. In a time when structure is so hard for us to define — trying to home-school our boys while my wife and I work has proven to be as futile as getting a 24-pack of Angel Soft delivered within the hour — we now have something resembling a schedule as the day draws to a close and we get set to shoot.
It’s surprisingly soothing. In a time when nothing is normal, doing this show makes us feel exactly that, a way to bond with others with the knowledge that we are in this together, even when we’re at least six feet apart.