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Home Court Disadvantage: Out-of-Towners Like Joe Rogan Get to Play NYC Vaccination-Free

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Podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan.


When it comes to vaccinations for those who play on New York’s biggest stages, the city has a double standard.

Performers who live in the city and professional athletes representing “home teams” here are required to get their shots. 

But traveling entertainers, including comics and ballplayers from out of town — and their entourages — get a free pass. 

That means figures like Joe Rogan, who brings his “Sacred Clown Tour” to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, can perform in front of thousands, despite not disclosing his vaccine status and being a vector for anti-vax misinformation.

Rogan, a comedian podcaster with a massive following, has opposed vaccine mandates and recently announced that he took animal dewormer (and other experimental remedies) after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Garden, which seats roughly 20,000 people, requires at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for attendees 12 years and older. 

Masks are not required for fully vaccinated guests at the indoor venue. It’s unknown what, if any, measures the Garden will implement to ensure partially vaccinated guests don masks. 

The arena’s website shows that vaccine requirements can vary by event — and by entertainer preference for those who want to go above the minimum. 

Attendees of Rogan’s Oct. 2 show must have at least one dose of the vaccine, according to MSG.com. To see Harry Styles, who is performing there on Sunday, ticket holders must be fully vaccinated as of two weeks prior. Performers and production companies are allowed to request even more stringent rules than the city mandates. 

Rogan could not be reached for comment. 

When asked whether Madison Square Garden would be implementing any further protocols to ensure safety at Saturday’s show, an MSG spokesperson reiterated that the arena was in compliance with city laws and would “continue to follow government mandates at all of our venues.” 

While indoors, New York City residents must show proof of the jab while they’re eating, exercising, gambling, partying, at the theater, bowling, and a whole lot more activities. 

Just last month, performers like Rogan who reside elsewhere were required to wear masks if coming within six feet of others, but they no longer have to. 

‘Not a Loophole’

City mandates also give indoor establishments the option to log additional health information such as customer names and vaccine records. But the venues are not required to verify proof of vaccination by checking IDs against documentation like vaccination cards, the Excelsior Pass and the NYC COVID Safe app.

Some venues, like the 19,000-person capacity Barclays Center in Brooklyn, have elected to employ higher standards. Guests 18 and older are asked to show ID, along with proof of vaccination. 

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio implored Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, whose home court is the Barclays Center, to “get vaccinated,” so he can play with the team this upcoming season.

Mayor Bill de Blasio wears Brooklyn Nets gear at City Hall on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

Michael Appleton

On Thursday, the mayor sidestepped a question from THE CITY as to why Rogan can perform in New York but Irving cannot play here. De Blasio said he was confident in the “professional operation” at MSG. 

The performer vaccine exemption is not a loophole, he insisted, even as he called for “everyone” to get vaccinated. 

“There is a recognition that if someone comes through briefly, it’s a different reality than someone who works regularly in a location,” de Blasio said. “Vaccine only, that’s the most important issue in terms of all the people coming [as guests]. And I think it can be kept safe for that reason.”

‘A Different Set of Rules’

Not all agree that the city’s existing rules meet the mark. 

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer called on the city to “review and update” its COVID policies for indoor establishments to “balance the ability of our venues to host performers while allowing audiences and employees to be protected” — potentially by implementing a negative test result requirement. 

“It’s unfortunate that performers from out of town and their employees get to play by a different set of rules than everyone else when it comes to being vaccinated,” Brewer added. 

In late August, Rogan told his podcast listeners that he’d already sold 13,000 tickets to his Garden show, and that he’d issue refunds to those who oppose the city’s vaccine mandate.

“If someone has an ideological or physiological reason for not getting vaccinated, I don’t want to force them to get vaccinated to see a f---ing stupid comedy show,” Rogan said. 

Last month, the Mayor’s Office abruptly reversed policy and told the U.S. Open that all attendees had to show proof of vaccination, following reporting by THE CITY. Athletes participating in the tournament, however, were not required to get the shot.

For Broadway shows, cast, crew and audiences are required to be vaccinated. This week, breakthrough COVID cases shut down a production of “Aladdin” at The New Amsterdam Theater a day after its first performance since the pandemic began.  

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