Entertainment

Is Livestreamed Stand-Up Here to Stay?

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The cultural legacy of the pandemic can’t just consist of shows canceled, careers derailed, and theaters and clubs closed. There were also innovations, such as the creation of the virtual comedy club.

What started out of desperation has evolved into a new digital genre that has attracted a sizeable audience who have made it a habit to purchase tickets for live streaming stand-up from the comfort of their homes. With clubs now reopening and comics and customers returning to their old homes, the next few months will be an important test of this business. Was it a pandemic fad or will it be a permanent part of the landscape?

On a video call from her San Francisco home, Jill Paiz-Bourque, the executive director of RushTix, perhaps the largest digital comedy club, claimed the lockdown was only accelerating an already inevitable revolution. “Why did Netflix dwarf television?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s streaming, unlimited, global. Why did Spotify dwarf terrestrial radio? It is being streamed. It’s global. It is unlimited. And that’s why, because it’s streaming, live streaming with RushTix Live Nation ultimately eclipses it, global and unlimited. “

Many are skeptical, including fans who miss being surrounded by echoing laughter and stand-ups, who are exhausted when performing for screens, and who generally prefer to tell jokes in the same room as the crowd. While admitting that nothing replaces the traditional comedy format, Paiz-Bourque said the doubts will look as short-sighted as the early ridicule of Twitter, podcasting, and so many other now popular forms of the Internet. She has good reasons for such boasting. Paiz-Bourque’s business, which she describes as a “Silicon Valley start-up,” regularly sells over 1,000 tickets to see comics such as Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt and Maria Bamford. In February, it sold 15,000 tickets for eight shows for nearly $ 280,000 in revenue.

“When we got our first taste of 5,000 ticket shows, it was exhilarating,” said Paiz-Bourque (the groundbreaking artist Colleen Ballinger, the popular YouTuber best known for “Miranda Sings”).

When the tour resumes, Paiz-Bourque optimizes her vision and not only moves away from the headliners, but also radically increases the volume. Her goal is to produce five shows a day by summer. In other words, to live up to the tagline that appeared on her website ahead of a recent show: “The World’s Greatest Comedy Club.” She said she wasn’t worried about club reopening because, “I like a lot more Offer than they have access “.

Over the next month and a half she will be releasing nine original, interactive series, including competitions (“Very Punny With Kate Lambert”), a cooking show (“Bake Better With Tom Papa”) and a dating series (“Find Your Boo”) Reggie Bo ”). It also adds subtitles, a subscription package and new technology that allows visitors to move around the “club” and hear different levels of laughter.

The overall vision is to produce new work with emerging artists during the week and double the headliners on Friday and Saturday nights. How will she compete when stars enjoy touring and returning to live stages? Quite simply, she says: Make comic offers “worthwhile”. After previously offering 80 percent of ticket sales, it recently started guaranteeing up to five-digit amounts. She says six figures are becoming common among a select few elites. “I got this pushed back from day one,” she said of comic mailing. “Then you start wiring up thousands and tens of thousands of dollars and they said, I see.”

RushTix is ​​hardly the only player in this market. Nowhere Comedy Club, a smaller, scratchier operation started by comedians Ben Gleib and Steve Hofstetter, has booked a stellar lineup of comics including Mike Birbiglia, Gilbert Gottfried and Nikki Glaser. In a kind of coup, Bill Burr recently appeared in a benefit production for a studio that Gleib had built in his home. Paiz-Bourque said she was “devastated” for which she had no chance. (She just announced that Burr will appear on RushTix on May 16 in a live version of the animated TV show “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist”.)

Gleib, who started Nowhere after a presidential campaign ended in 2019 that nearly broke him, puts on his own show online every week. And while he’s optimistic about the future of live streaming, he sounded more concerned than Paiz-Bourque about losing comics on touring. “I think we can live together peacefully,” he said. But as he nears Nowhere’s anniversary next week, his strategy isn’t about changing the rebranding or recasting so that Nowhere fits more seamlessly into the existing ecosystem.

He recently started geotargeting, a technology that prevents consumers from certain areas from buying tickets. He may have called this tactic “groundbreaking”. In this way, a comic on tour can block the places it visits so as not to affect sales there.

Emilio Savone, the co-owner of the New York Comedy Club, which starts indoor shows on Friday when the city allows indoor shows with 33 percent capacity and a 100-person limit, said such digital theaters had a future. “Do I think it can last seven nights a week? Maybe not? “He wrote in an email.” But I think it’s a good tool for comedians to work on material and it is another way for the comic to get involved and reach their audiences. “

Felicia Madison, who runs the West Side Comedy Club in Manhattan – which will begin outdoor shows on April 14, but won’t start indoor shows until the city allows 50 percent capacity – also sees a future with a mix traditional and digital clubs. “If they’re smart, they’ll work with clubs” to live stream from there, she said.

RushTix is ​​already doing that, and stand-up comedian Godfrey is performing at the Gotham Comedy Club on April 7th. But neither Paiz-Bourque nor Gleib are enthusiastic about the economic efficiency of such arrangements. Gleib argued that Nowhere’s strength lies in relationships with new comedy viewers. “We have reached huge demographics that have never been served by comedy clubs,” said Gleib, pointing to patrons who live in remote areas or people with disabilities or social anxieties. “Then there is the lazy one,” he added. “We’re great for lazy people who don’t want to go out.”

Nowhere are the fans’ faces shown on the screen and anyone can speak, laugh, or even heckle (although they can be muted for that too). This creates a free running show that emphasizes the community of audience and performers. In contrast, RushTix keeps the audience in a chat room and limits laughter to 20 people. Gleib called this “elitist” and said the RushTix approach is not similar to live stand-up.

Paiz-Bourque does not argue that their goal is to produce the best experience as no online show can duplicate a live show. “We gave up emulating the live experience and the more we gave up, the more we started to open barrels of creativity,” she said.

If at all, she wants to break away from the dependence on conventional stand-up and book big names at the same time. Because of this, one of the first comics she recruited was Bamford, a natural experimenter, who put on an unusual show on April 17th: After a set, she’ll film herself in her sleep for the next eight hours. You can watch her at breakfast the next day and be with her.

Bamford already has an engaging audience that will follow her everywhere. The real test for these clubs will be whether they can develop enough loyalty to encourage audiences to try out less established talent. These platforms usually benefit those who already have a large and dedicated online fan base. When clubs and theaters return, they’ll be booking acts that they know can sell tickets, which makes them more wary of adventurous or emerging comics.

Right now there is a real danger that we are entering a very cautious moment of comedy as the institutions are struggling to rebuild, and Paiz-Bourque, a former comic book gifted in the art of selling a premise, argues that now is the moment for them to fill another niche.

Pointing to an accumulation of early and middle career stand ups whose careers have been slowed down by the pandemic, she said, “This is not just going to be a business that works. It has to be creative for all of these comedians. “

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Robert Dunfee