We are currently in the midst of a new, deadly coronavirus wave in the US, with experts forecasting a rise in cases through September and into October. As has always been the case with Covid, the risk it poses is not just to people who catch it, but to anyone—everyone—who might find themselves in need of hospitals overburdened by Covid patients. That's not to understate the highly contagious Delta variant's risk to those who catch it, a risk disproportionately high for unvaccinated people. A new CDC study of Los Angeles public health records found 29 times more hospitalizations among the unvaccinated than the vaccinated.
In response to rising Delta cases, local governments have begun implementing vaccine mandates for indoor spaces. New York City's took effect last month, with enforcement set to begin this month; California's mandate for indoor events with at least 1,000 people will take effect on September 20th. The Comedy Store beat California to the punch with its own vaccine mandate after suffering a Delta outbreak in early August. While some venues followed its lead, others chose to wait for official guidance.
So while it was not strictly illegal for a certain comedian to market his shows to unvaccinated fans last month, it was certainly an interesting choice.
Podcaster Andrew Schulz is currently in the middle of his nationwide "Infamous Tour." In the last few months he and his entourage have stopped in Orlando, St. Louis, San Antonio, Denver, Omaha, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, and Tucson. Prior to a weekend of shows last month at Los Angeles's Orpheum Theater, the venue's owner told me, Schulz requested that the theater change language on its website to establish that unvaccinated fans could attend.
Early last month (and right now), Orpheum's website described a "health verification" policy requiring patrons to show "either proof of full vaccination… or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event date." According to owner Steve Needleman, the mega-promoter Live Nation asked on Schulz's behalf that Orpheum make clear this policy did not apply to Schulz's shows. "We follow the guidelines of the promoter who's promoting the show," he said in a phone call yesterday, adding that this guideline specifically was "the request of the artist."
After the change, made sometime after August 11th, Orpheum's website read: "Health verification does not pertain to the Andrew Schulz events on August 20 and 21, 2021. Per county mandate masks are still required." (This text is gone now; that screenshot above was captured on August 23rd.) In advance of the shows, Schulz explicitly promoted them to unvaccinated fans, posting on Instagram: "🚨🚨🚨🚨 NO PROOF OF VAX REQUIRED FOR LOS ANGELES SHOWS!" That post has since been deleted; my screenshot below didn't capture the date, but this Reddit thread indicates he posted it around August 19th. "Proof of Vaccinations no longer required," the author wrote. "How many Assholes showing up this weekend? I’m pulling up for the Saturday show, what are some plans to do either before or after the shows?"
"I don't know if you're familiar with Mr. Schulz and his comedy, but everyone has their own opinion about wearing masks and everything," Needleman told me yesterday. "So he was on one side." He added that Orpheum "followed the law and legal protocols and the promoter," giving out as many as 200 masks to comply with the county mask mandate. Images posted on Schulz's social media accounts show rows upon rows of unmasked fans:
Live Nation declined to comment on the record. After I reached out to the promoter this morning, Needleman called me back to clarify his previous comments. He said that at the request of and in discussion with various parties—Live Nation, Schulz, and "other people that asked about it," including customers—he changed the website language to avoid confusion about a policy that wasn't yet in effect. He stressed that nobody told him to do anything. The language was intended for customers buying tickets for shows after official mandates take effect, he said, but did not reflect any active Orpheum policy at the time. (The Internet Archive shows the language appearing as early as August 11th, seven days before California announced the mandate beginning September 20th. The Los Angeles City Council voted on August 11th to draft a hitherto un-passed mandate, however, so there's some wiggle room there.)
When I asked about the images of unmasked audience members, Needleman said the law permits people to take their masks off when they're eating or drinking. When I asked why he would accommodate such a request given the risks, he again deferred to the law. "Every venue's trying to do what they can," he said. "I'm following the laws."
Schulz is the cohost of Flagrant 2, a podcast dabbling liberally in racism, xenophobia, and transphobia that currently makes almost $100,000 per month on Patreon. Last year Netflix released his special Schulz Saves America, in which he described the coronavirus as "the Asian parasite" and blamed the pandemic on Chinese people: "Don't tell America what to wear. Tell China not to infect. I mean, let's be honest: next to squatting to smoke a cigarette, slinging viruses is their favorite thing to do." In a December 2020 episode of Flagrant 2, Schulz and his team recalled how they had to shut down production on the special because his cohost, Akaash Singh, gave Covid to the entire crew, and likely to several other comedians via a podcast he went on before testing positive.
Schulz is also the cohost of Brilliant Idiots with Lenard McKelvey, a.k.a. Charlamagne Tha God, the soon-to-be Comedy Central host accused of raping a 15-year-old girl when he was 22, and who in a 2015 Brilliant Idiots episode described having sex with a drunk, incoherent woman who didn't remember their encounter the next morning. (His spokesperson later said the incident was completely consensual, and he apologized for communicating it poorly.) After the release of Schulz Saves America, an ex-girlfriend of Schulz said he "manipulated, controlled, and abused" her for years. In a subsequent episode of Flagrant 2, Schulz mocked the allegations and admitted to one of them—that he cleaned his shoes with her toothbrush, after which she fell ill—describing the woman as "my retard ex" and a clout-chaser seeking attention.
As Needleman stressed, Schulz's shows at the Orpheum preceded California's vaccine mandate for indoor events. They were also several weeks after a Delta variant outbreak at the Comedy Store that affected more than a dozen vaccinated and unvaccinated people, according to Schulz's friend Joe Rogan. In a briefing yesterday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky emphasized the dangers of indoor gatherings and recommended that unvaccinated people avoid traveling for Labor Day. "Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that the vast majority of transmission takes place among unvaccinated people in closed, indoor settings," she warned.
Andrew Schulz's "Infamous Tour" will stop in 18 more cities this year. He and Akaash Singh are set to perform at the Moontower Comedy Festival in Austin later this month. Earlier today I called Orpheum's main number to ask if there's a health verification requirement for the show this Saturday, September 4th. There is.
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Header image via Netflix/YouTube.
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