Come On, Be Happy at the Quarantine Comedy Club

Erin Harkes is a really nice person but make no mistake, she’ll be frank and serve you back double the rudeness you serve her.

Honest, blunt, and funny, Erin can make anyone laugh at the realities of being a human, even when reality means coping with a pandemic.

Jim and I had the chance to catch up with Erin to ask her about her upcoming comedy show, “Quarantine Comedy Club.” The show will also feature fellow comedian and Boston native Kelly MacFarland (on Saturday, April 11th at 6:30 pm via Zoom.)

Erin shared her enthusiasm about her friend’s participation. “Kelly is the funniest person I know and I’m excited to do this with her,” Erin beamed.
Erin is no stranger to comedy, though she primarily makes her bread and butter as a musician, she’s been performing for the past seven years in comedy clubs.

“I had wanted to try comedy for nearly ten years. And then one night, the stars aligned and I had the chance. I prepared three minutes worth of jokes, and read them off a paper. I had to follow this gross dude telling disgusting, dick jokes. I got up to the microphone and asked if I had to use the same mic, and everybody started laughing. And I was instantly hooked,” she smiled. “It was amazing. I felt like I was having a panic attack but in the best way. Like as close as you can get to being high, as a sober person. Like I had taken 7 grams of ecstasy. 

“Like an adrenaline rush?” I asked.

“Sure. But it’s easier for me to equate it with drug use.”

Erin’s new addiction is comedy.

“What’s great about it is I still get really nervous. It’s been seven years since I started really doing comedy, and I get so nervous. I ask myself before each show ‘why do I do this to myself? I’m the worst. I’m not funny! This is the worst. Why do I put myself through this?” The second I get on stage and get that first laugh, I remember: this is why I do this.”

She’s a local girl; Originally hailing from the Catskill region before relocating to Albany as an adult. Erin’s humor originates from a very authentic and real place, often touching  on “Smalbany,” the sense of how interconnected our community is and also the honest (and often ugly) truths about being a woman in the performing arts field.

“You know, what you see is what you get. I’m pretty much the same on and off the stage,” she bluntly explained. Erin swears like a sailor and isn’t afraid to share she has been sober for nine and a half years. She shares this in the hope she can help others, inspiring insight and belief that becoming sober is not only a realistic but worthwhile trip.

Erin performing Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window”

She’s also a gifted musician with over 20 years of experience under her belt. Erin has been performing professionally for the last ten years, backing her incredibly versatile vocals with her equally powerful guitar and piano skills. Of those 10 years, the last 7 were done without the comfort of stable day job, as Erin bravely traded her desk for a tour van and a tip cup. She’s since travelled all corners of the US, only recently putting on the brakes, postponing an East Coast tour in response to the worldwide pandemic. 

“I wasn’t sure if I should go, you know? The timing of it was crazy,” she recalled. “I wasn’t worried about my health as much as being a carrier. I was worried about potentially exposing all these people in Florida, you know these senior citizens in “God’s waiting room” It was a hard decision to cancel the tour,” she owned. She had invested a lot of time, money and effort into purchasing merchandise, reserving hotels, and advance press in preparation. “And right after I canceled, like three days later, everything ended up closing.”

Erin was heartbroken. She had done the right thing in canceling. but also recognized this could be a really hard time for herself and other professional artists to make a living.

“I did my first livestream show a week after this all went down, and people were incredibly generous,” she humbly recalled.

Erin enjoys playing online shows. “I know it sounds sentimental, but I love playing online because it is still about connecting with people. After a show, people will tell me that it made them feel more human to listen.”

Erin graciously picked up her guitar to share our favorite songs with us, performing first a few lines from Richard Thompson’s “Beeswing,” and then a full version of Brandi Carlile’s “The Story.” Her reach of voice, musicality, and connection with the lyrics’ message were all incredibly moving to experience.

A true musician, Erin has respect for not only the craft but other fellow performers as well. “When this is over, I want to pay it forward as much as possible. The support I’m being given is so generous, and I really want to pay that forward.”

She also has a tough side, a “take-no-enemies” wit forged by years of road gigs and barroom crowds. When discussing how to manage having a public persona, she said she loves her fans but is careful to maintain some sense of privacy for herself.

“Maybe it is because of the sobriety, which is sometimes like amnesia, but I see people who call out my name, and I panic! I think ‘How do I know that person?’” she laughed.

Erin’s public persona shares a very private, personal internal dialogue that often invites listeners to feel close to her. Between songs or within her comedy show, she shares stories that come directly from her life. That content builds bridges with listeners but sometimes that vulnerability can be too much, even for her.  “It can be really hard to put boundaries up. I want to help people but sometimes people tell me very personal things that I’m not qualified to help with,” she admits. 

When asked about her stage persona she said she doesn’t really have one. “What you see is what you get.” 

Erin is also a contributing writer for Nippertown, and when asked who she would want to interview if given the chance for us, she quickly identified Brandi Carlile, Richard Thompson, Chris Thile, Chelsea Handler, and then added Conan O’Brien.

And what about goals for the future?

“I’m really happy where I am,” Erin confessed. “I feel like people don’t believe me when I say this, but I’m really happy where I am.”

“You know, there are a few things here or there. Like I’d like to sell a song that somebody else can make famous, or do one comedy set on late night television. But I get uncomfortable with the moderate amount of local celebrity status that I have. People can get really invasive, and I like having some things that are just mine.”

“I don’t want to ever be any bigger than I am. I like my life right now. I’m happy. I love what I’m doing. I don’t want some big time fame or to be a star. I used to wish on shooting stars or candles being blown out and say ‘I want to be rich and famous.’ Once I started just wishing for being able to support myself doing what I love I was able to make it come true. I heard once ‘if you’re not happy with what you have what would you do with more?’ I’m sure i’m saying it wrong but you get the idea.” 

Come be happy with Erin Harkes and her friend Kelly MacFarland Saturday night at the Quarantine Comedy Club. After all, we have a lot to be happy for right now, especially having a gem like Erin Harkes performing for us.

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