The cultural legacy of the pandemic can not only be canceled shows, derailed careers and closed theaters and clubs. There have also been innovations, such as the emergence of the virtual comedy club.
What started out of desperation has matured into a new digital genre that has drawn a huge following in the habit of buying tickets for a live broadcast from the comfort of their own home. As clubs now begin to reopen and comics and patrons return to their old haunts, the next few months will be a key test of this business. Was it a fad in the era of the pandemic or will it be a lasting feature of the landscape?
During a video call from her San Francisco home, Jill Paiz-Bourque, the CEO of RushTix, perhaps the biggest digital comedy club, argued that the lockdown was only accelerating an already inevitable revolution. . “Why did Netflix eclipse television?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s streaming, unlimited, worldwide. Why has Spotify eclipsed terrestrial radio? It’s streaming. It’s global. It’s unlimited. And that’s why live streaming with RushTix ultimately eclipses Live Nation because it’s streaming, it’s global, it’s unlimited. “
Many are skeptical, including the fans who sorely miss being surrounded by laughs and echoing stand-ups, exhausted playing for screens, and largely preferring to tell jokes in the same room as the crowd. While conceding that nothing can replace the traditional comedy format, Paiz-Bourque said the doubts will seem as short-sighted as the early mockery of Twitter, podcasting and so many other now-mainstream internet forms. She has good reason to be so boastful. The Paiz-Bourque company, which she calls “a Silicon Valley start-up,” regularly sells over 1,000 tickets to see comics like Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt and Maria Bamford. In February, she sold 15,000 tickets to eight shows, bringing in nearly $ 280,000 in revenue.
“Once we got our first glimpse of 5,000 show tickets, it was intoxicating,” said Paiz-Bourque (Colleen Ballinger, popular YouTuber best known for “Miranda Sings,” was the groundbreaking artist.)
As the tour picks up, Paiz-Bourque polishes his vision, moving away from a narrow focus on these headliners and drastically increasing the volume. By the summer, his goal is to produce five shows a day, every day. In other words, to live up to the slogan that appeared on its site before a recent broadcast: “The Biggest Comedy Club on the Planet”. She said she wasn’t worried about the clubs reopening because “I have a lot more supplies than they have access to.”
Over the next month and a half, it will roll out nine original interactive series, including contests (“Very Punny With Kate Lambert”), a cooking show (“Baking It Better with Tom Papa”) and a dating show (“Find Your Boo “) With Reggie Bo”). It also adds closed captions, a subscription package, and new technology that allows patrons to walk around the “club” and hear different levels of laughter.
The overall vision is to produce new works with emerging artists during the week while doubling the headliners on Friday and Saturday nights. How will she compete when the stars can’t wait to shoot and return to the live stages? Simple, she says: make comic book offers that are “worth it”. Having previously offered 80% of ticket sales, it has recently started guaranteeing up to five figures. She says six characters will become common among an elite. “I had reservations about this from day one,” she said of the comic book enlistment. “Then you start to wire thousands and tens of thousands of dollars and they were like, I get it.”
RushTix is not the only player in this market. Nowhere Comedy Club, a smaller, more scrapper operation that was 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 coup of sorts, Bill Burr recently starred in a benefit production from a studio Gleib built in his home, a reservation Paiz-Bourque said she was “devastated” on and that she hadn’t had a chance. (She just announced that Burr will be appearing on RushTix on May 16 in a live-action version of the animated TV show “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.”)
Gleib, who started Nowhere after ending a presidential campaign in 2019 that left him nearly broke, also puts on his own show online every week. And while he’s optimistic about the future of live streaming, he seemed more anxious than Paiz-Bourque about losing comics to touring. “I think we can coexist peacefully,” he said. But as Nowhere’s anniversary approaches next week, its strategy isn’t to change its name or recast it instead of making Nowhere more seamlessly into the existing ecosystem.
He recently started geo-targeting, a technology that prevents consumers in certain areas from buying tickets, a tactic he called “revolutionary.” This allows a comic going on tour to block the places it visits so as not to lower sales there.
Emilio Savona, co-owner of the New York Comedy Club, which begins indoor shows on Friday, when the city begins allowing indoor performances at 33% capacity with a limit of 100 people, said these digital theaters have 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 provides another way for comics to engage and develop. ‘reach their audience. “
Felicia Madison, who runs the West Side Comedy Club in Manhattan – which will begin outdoor shows on April 14 but not indoor shows until the city allows 50% capacity – also sees a future involving a hybrid. traditional and digital clubs. “If they’re smart they’ll work with the clubs” to broadcast live from there, she said.
RushTix is already doing it, with stand-up comedian Godfrey performing at the Gotham Comedy Club on April 7. But neither Paiz-Bourque nor Gleib seem enthusiastic about the economics of such arrangements. Gleib argued that Nowhere’s strength lay in the relationships he developed with new comedy audiences. “We have reached huge demographic groups that have never been served by comedy clubs,” said Gleib, referring to clients who live in remote areas or those with disabilities or social anxiety. “Then there are the lazy ones,” he added. “We’re great for lazy people who don’t want to go out.”
Nowhere puts fans’ faces onscreen and allows everyone to talk, laugh, or even heckle (although they can be mute for that, too). This creates a freewheeling show that emphasizes the audience and performer community. In contrast, RushTix keeps the audience in a chat room and limits laughter to 20 people. Gleib called it “elitist,” saying the RushTix approach didn’t feel like a live stand-up.
Paiz-Bourque does not argue, claiming that no show online can duplicate a live show, its goal is to produce the best experience. “We gave up on trying to emulate the live experience and the more we gave up on it the more we started to open barrels of creativity,” she said.
If anything, she wants to move away from a conventional stand-up addiction, while reserving some big names. That’s why one of the first comics she recruited was Bamford, a natural experimenter who puts on an unusual show on April 17: After making a set, she’ll film herself sleeping for the next eight hours. You can watch her and join her for breakfast the next day.
Bamford already has a dedicated following who will follow her wherever she goes. The real test for these clubs will be whether they can develop enough loyalty to entice the public to try less established talent. These platforms tend to benefit those who already have large engaged online fan bases. When clubs and theaters return, they’ll be booking acts that they know they can sell tickets to, which can make them more wary of adventurous or emerging comics.
There is a real danger right now that we are entering a very cautious moment in comedy as institutions struggle to rebuild themselves, and Paiz-Bourque, a former comic good at selling a local, argues that the time has come for her to complete another. niche.
Pointing out a traffic jam of early and mid-career stand-ups whose careers have been slowed down by the pandemic, she said, “Not only is this going to be a business that works. He has to be creative for all these actors.