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Life under quarantine has been tough on comedians. Without live stages, some have tried to do stand-up online. Some have just stopped and waited for things to get back to normal. For Corey Rodrigues, quarantine provided the opportunity he’s been waiting for to create “Corey’s Stories,” a live kids’ show he broadcasts on Zoom and Facebook four nights a week.
Rodrigues, a professional comic, has always been able to make his friends’ children laugh, making up jokes and songs and trivia. The kids would demand their phone time with him when he called. That’s where the idea blossomed that he might have a sideline in children’s entertainment. He thought about writing a joke book — an idea he’s still brainstorming — or even developing an interactive app with his voice. It was a “someday” project for him until suddenly, everyone was stuck at home with their kids. He thought he could help give them a break and entertain their children for a while.
“When quarantine time hit, I started thinking, why don’t I just do a live show?” he says. “Why don’t I just do a live show and play around and do like a read-aloud, but then make it fun? I started thinking, why don’t I do something like ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’ meets ‘Reading Rainbow’ meets ‘Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?’”
On April 7, “Corey’s Stories” went live for the first time. It was a humble beginning, just Rodrigues, a giant clock and a book to read, both of which looked backward to his viewers. He finally fixed the issue after several episodes when he learned how to “mirror” his screen. “Everyone was like, ‘Wow! It’s going straight. You can see!’ he says. “I didn’t know. I was super green. I had no idea.”
Rodrigues was a quick study. He would improve with each show. He bought lights and a green screen for a home studio. He moved to Zoom so he could bring kids on to interact with, and have images and videos in the background to put himself into the books he was reading. At one point, he added guest comedians to tell a few jokes. “Each week I was like, ‘It’s going to be better next week! Don’t worry, it’s gonna look better!’” he says. “You hear me in some of those episodes, like ‘It’s gonna look even better next week,’ because I was just trying to figure it out. ‘People will be able to call me next week! Don’t worry!’ And it was happening, so it was pretty cool.”
What Rodrigues didn’t have to learn was his natural chemistry with his guests, big and small, and the infectiously upbeat demeanor he displays on “Corey’s Stories.” He’ll start by getting the kids up to dance and clap. He’ll banter with his son and frequent sidekick Kinston, indulging in silly jokes. Sometimes the kids who join him by Zoom will be a bit stunned at first, and he has to work a bit harder to coax them along. “There’s a certain level of energy I’ve got to bring because I’ve got to keep these kids watching and keep them entertained for that period of time,” he says.
Fellow comedian Mike Whitman says the show is fun for kids and adults alike, and it makes him feel better about a world that seems in constant turmoil. “It’s just positive,” he says. “It’s like an antidepressant. You’re inundated with all this stuff, and then after 30 minutes, I’ll just watch it, I’m just walking away like, ‘okay, things will be good. We’re good.’”
Telling jokes to kids isn’t easy. Rodrigues has seen his show humble some hardened veteran comedians who just don’t know what to do when faced with a 4-year-old they have to make laugh. “It was so funny to see so many people I really respected, I love them and they’re hilarious comedians, but they were just so, ‘uh, I’m so out of my element! I don’t know what to do,’” says Rodrigues. “I would always give them the example like, I made up a joke, like, ‘Hey! This is a joke about vegetables! Why was the celery sad at the dance? ‘Cause he couldn’t keep up with the beets!’ The kids love stuff like that.”
When Whitman was a guest, he played up the nervousness with a silly prop, grabbing weird things out of a box like a broom or a package of hot dogs, claiming he was trying to find his joke book. It was a funny gag, but the fear was real. “Comedy gets crazy sometimes,” he says. “I’ve had a glass thrown at me. Going to stand-up is just nothing for me. I’ve seen a lot. It was just the kids, they were terrifying.”
The show continues to change. Publishers are sending Rodrigues books to read. He’s had some bigger name guests like actor and comedian Lenny Clarke and former New England Patriot Matt Light. He’s also looking into the possibility of bringing it to another platform like television. For now, “Corey’s Stories” has shifted from five days a week to four to accommodate the trickle of live stand-up dates that started for Rodrigues in June with three shows at Comix Roadhouse at Mohegan Sun. On Fridays, he plans to post older or pre-taped shows on YouTube. When he travels, he’ll bring the show on the road and talk about wherever he is. “I’m kind of excited to bring that element into it, as well,” he says.
Rodrigues knows for certain he won’t stop doing the show whenever stand-up comes back full time. “It’s a lot of work,” he says, “but I feel like I’ve just achieved something every time I’m done with the show.”
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