Erin Harkes is growing a little tired of trying out new jokes on her fiance, and to be honest, she says, so is he.
“What I’ve missed most during COVID-19 is not having an audience,” said Harkes, a successful musician who has also become one of the Capital Region’s most popular stand-up comics in the last five years or so. “I might walk into a room at home and throw a line at my fiance, but that gets old quickly, and he really is over it, too. That’s been the struggle. Not being able to engage with people.”
Voted the Capital Region’s top singer-songwriter a couple of times by Metroland and The Alt, Harkes has produced four albums of original material in the past two decades. This weekend, she’s releasing another “album,” but this one, titled “Zoloft and Probation,” is her first all about comedy. It is also only available, for now, on line.
“It’s on all the streaming platforms, and that was all new to me,” said Harkes earlier this week. “But digital is the way to go these days. People don’t tend to buy physical albums, and it’s really hard to sell physical copies when you’re not doing live shows.”
Harkes’ comedy album is being released by Howl and Roar Records in Toronto, which recorded a few of her live performances up in Toronto before COVID-19 hit early last year.
“I had a tour down South all set and everything got canceled,” remembered Harkes. “I called it off when the pandemic hit, and a few days later it would have been called off for me. I remember thinking, ‘well, it’ll maybe be a month.’ Then a month turned into three months and that turned into a year.”
Harkes did perform in public outdoors at Gaffney’s in Saratoga Springs during the summer, but it was strictly her musical show.
“I did a handful of shows at Gaffney’s, and they were very good to me,” said Harkes. “They were adamant about keeping the family together and that was great. But I’m clear about my shows being music or comedy, and I really don’t like doing comedy outside. It just doesn’t work, and I think it’s going to be a while before I do comedy live again. Comedy, and clubs like the Funny Bone, thrives on the place being packed with people, and it’s going to be a while before things open up that much.”
Like many artistic people, Harkes enjoys finding a societal issue to advocate for, but typically she doesn’t get political.
“Most of my routine is based on observational humor, and the little gripes that I have in my life,” said Harkes. “It’s the kind of stuff that seems so insignificant now. But it’s all from my personal experience, and everything is so political now I feel like people need a break from it. I’m not necessarily against that type of humor, but I guess I’d rather make fun of myself.”
Harkes hasn’t worked too hard on her stand-up act lately, other than writing down a few notes now and then. She has, however, kept busy over the last 12 months.
“Musically, I felt like I was blocked for a while, but something shook loose and I started writing and recording new music,” she said. “I also was able to start an online business selling shirts and masks, and that’s helped keep me sane. I’ve had my moments, but for the most part I have remained positive. There was a strange comfort that I wasn’t the only one going through all this. This was the worst thing for me, but it’s happening to everybody and a lot of people have it tougher than me. I kind of stand tall during the big tragedies. Now if I was to stub my toe, then I go crazy.”
Sometimes, Harkes will concede, she even enjoyed the isolation. She says she doesn’t like being the center of attention, unless she’s performing.
“There were moments when I felt more isolated, but I’m kind of an introvert anyway,” she said. “I don’t crave all the social aspects that some people do.
“It’s hard to explain,” she adds. “I guess it’s just proof of how a stage can transform you. I’m luckily able to leave my inhibitions off the stage. Once I get to know folks I’m definitely less introverted, but playing live shows isn’t an opportunity for getting to know folks. I guess that’s the best way I can explain.”
For more information about Harkes’ new comedy album and her spring schedule — she hopes to be performing live soon — visit www.erinharkes.com.
More from The Daily Gazette: