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Online Comedy Emerging in Covid-19 Era

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The new frontier to explore in comedy is online. From makeshift talk shows to the world’s first digital comedy club, how comedy fans can find new ways to get a laugh.

A career in comedy is unlike most other professions especially now as Covid-19 has put a hold on business as usual for comedians whose jobs is really to perform live. “I think a lot of comedians are trying to pivot to other ways of expressing themselves,” says stand-up comic Kate Willett. “Like podcasts and videos and other writing.”

Since live comedy essentailly halted by end of March 2020, performers have had to adjust their schedules and club dates because many venues have had to layoff their staffs or permanently shutdown. Comedians now have to broaden their entrepreneurial muscles and find new ways to reach audiences online.

“The act of leaving your house and buying a ticket and sitting in a dark room and not knowing if there are gonna be hecklers—all of that’s obviously not the same,” says Jo Firestone of the new digital frontier of live comedy. “But we’re trying to get as close as we can.”

For the past two and a half years, Firestone along with Aparna Nancherla and Maeve Higgins cohosted popular Brooklyn’s hottest weekly stand-up show, Butterboy. Every Monday night, comedy nerds would gather in the Gowanus venue Littlefield for their fix - comedy, margaritas and a mix of local comics with occasional big name comedians. Covid-19 forced them to shutdown their live show so many took to Instragram Live to share their jokes, and that inspired Butterboy producer, Marianne Ways, to find a way to put on a show.

In the beginning of the Covid-19 nationwide shutdown, comedy fans could turn to their favorite content by tapping into streaming services like Netflix and comedy podcasts. Late-night talk shows had to quickly adapt to the new environment with at-home editions of their respective shows. Even SNL had to remotely put together three shows to close out their season.

Everyone now has to recreate and experience comedy online. Slowly, comedy practitioners independently begin to find their own way. Check out this piece from Fast Company.

Online Comedy Talk Show Scott Rogowsky best known as host of mobile game show HQ Trivia was about to host a baseball show the MLB network, but was served a Covid-19 strikeout. After doing one stand-up set online that felt too far removed from the real thing, the comic went on Instagram Live and launched a talk show, IsoLate Night. His current Twitter handle is “COVID Letterman,” and he referred to himself as “Cedric the Quarantiner” on a recent episode of his show.)

“I think the best way to do comedy well in this medium is to do it in the talk-show style,” he tells me over the phone. “It has to be rehearsed in a way. You’ve got to talk to your guest ahead of time. Like, ‘You got some funny jokes you want to tell? How can you get there? I’ll set you up and then you can do your bit.‘”

IsoLate Night started out as a nightly show but has since pared down to five nights a week. It’s not much of a stretch for the comic, who has been running a sporadic talk show called Running Late with Scott Rogowsky on stages around New York for years. The digital edition finds the host each night in a suit jacket and tie, trading banter with guests like David Cross, the Sklar Brothers, and Richard Kind, in between Letterman-indebted bits like Top 9 Places to Look for a Coronavirus Vaccine.

While the online world of live comedy is new terrain for most comics, it’s something Ben Gleib and Steve Hofstetter have been exploring for years. Hofstetter, former host of the Fox show Laughs, started experimenting with VR stand-up on platforms like Altspace and Sansar back in 2015, while Gleib, formerly of Chelsea Lately and GSN’s Idiotest, was the first comedian ever to perform an entire headline set on Facebook Live. (He eventually played eight cities of his 2016 tour on the medium, getting almost 4 million total views.)

The global pandemic forced this pair to collaborate in creating Nowhere, the world’s first entirely digital comedy club. “Steve and I have both separately been doing things that had elements of this for a long time,” Gleib says. “And as the greatest business ideas always do, it just took a global pandemic.”