Standup comedy, like other live art-forms, has been one of the industries hardest hit by the ‘Rona’.
In fact, 3.4 million people in this sector will be out of work as a result of the virus in Australia alone.
Not only are we seeing the closure of comedy clubs and the cancelation of comedy festivals worldwide, such as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which is directly impacting comic revenues, it’s also affecting their ability to write and perform at a high standard.
A major part of both writing and delivering good standup comedy is getting up in front of people, night after night, to hone your style and gain valuable feedback from the crowd by way of laughter or blank stares — something I learned the hard way.
This is what informs the writing process and the subsequent iteration and hopefully, improvement of jokes. Without this, and without the wealth of day-to-day experiences to draw material from, many a comedian might find themselves anxious about making a return to the stage.
As Joe Rogan put it in a recent episode of his podcast, “I wanna be there (LA’s Comedy Store) the first night everyone comes back”, implying that it’s probably going to be a shitshow!
Live Standup Goes Online
With many white collar workers now working remotely, and live conferences taking to Zoom, it was only a matter of time before standup comedy followed.
But unlike meetings and keynote talks, standup comics generally need to be in front of an audience, in order to vibe with them and learn from audience feedback, otherwise they’re essentially speaking into a black hole (the camera) with no feedback whatsoever — a very weird place to be.
Shows are attempting to overcome this by having comedians speak to a host of tiny squares featuring audience members on their couches, often with a pet dog in tow. While it’s no replacement for the real thing, it’s better than the alternative.
I tuned in to one such event, run by the Melbourne-based Kings of Comedy promotion aptly called Corona Comedy.
While the quality of the material on this bill was average at best, I still found myself tuned in for the entirety of the two and a half hour show, and not once did I reach for the remote.
This was interesting to me because I have turned off the Netflix specials of far more accomplished comedians many a time before within the first few minutes, in search of something I deemed better. In other cases, I’ve merely glanced at a 3.5 star or below rating and didn’t even bother pressing play.
So why did I hang out for an entire 150 minutes, despite the quality of the show being somewhat, shall we say, not quite Dave Chappelle?
Here’s my theory.
Given that we’ve been in lockdown for a couple of months now, the live broadcast of a comedy show gives us something that pre-recorded specials don’t — a shared experience.
After all, this is one of the reasons we go out to live comedy shows. It’s a little like watching Saturday Night Live, or perhaps Hey Hey, It’s Saturday for the old enough to remember Australians reading this. While my girlfriend and I couldn’t see the other people watching the live show, we could in a sense feel it, and for whatever reason that made the experience richer.
It’s a little like seeing that your favourite movie was going to be on television back in the 90s or noughties. Even though you owned the DVD you still might’ve tuned it, arguably because of the shared experience with several hundred thousand other viewers.
Uncertainty and Anticipation
While we can see what rating the zeitgeist have given a comedy special on Netflix or Prime, and therefore have the power to seek out higher performing alternatives, we really don’t know what to expect when it comes to the live format. And this uncertainty leaves us in a state of anticipation, because anything can happen. And so, we keep watching.
There is the obvious novel component to the performance of standup comedy via Zoom. It gave me the feeling that I was participating in something new — an experiment of sorts — and that I was in some way a part of history in the making. Perhaps one day I’ll be telling my grandkids how during the Coronavirus of 2020 we watched standup comedy shows via this thing called Zoom!
When something is scarce, we naturally appreciate and value it more — something seasoned sales professionals know all too well.
While there are too many specials to count on Netflix and Prime, not to mention YouTube, the Corona Comedy show is only being run once a month. As a result, there was an element of scarcity and ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ to the production.
It’s a little like music — we used to listen to albums are lot more deeply when we had to buy them with our hard earned cash, particularly as teenagers when we probably didn’t have much to spend to begin with. Nowadays, with the abundance of music on Spotify, there is a trend towards listening to individual songs instead of entire albums, and even then, we’re skipping madly and doing several other things at the same time.
We obviously value the things we pay for more than those we don’t. Having spent $10 to gain access to the live stream, as opposed to $10 for an entire month of access to Netflix, I felt compelled to watch as much of the stream as possible in order to justify my decision to spend money on it, regardless of how bad or good the comedy was.
Finally, Kings of Comedy is a local promotion featuring mostly local and mostly amateur comedians. As a result, there was a sense of civic duty of sorts.
I love what they’re trying to do and so I wanted to support the promotion and the comedians by not only paying for a ticket, but watching the entire stream.
Of course, I’m probably not doing them any favours by eluding to the quality of the performances, but hey, that’s the nature of standup comedy — you try, you learn, you adapt and get better!
These are lessons that transcend standup comedy and apply to all sorts of pursuits across the arts and in business in particular.
Paraphrasing the above, these lessons might be:
- offer a shared experience where possible
- create suspense and anticipation (this works well in all forms of content)
- make your product or offer seem scarce
- charge something - a nominal amount instead of giving things away for free
- make your product or offer novel in some way
- deliver a net good to society
Until next time, keep laughing…or in my case…not. 🤣