If you tell a joke on YouTube and you can’t hear anyone laughing, does it really exist? More importantly, is it funny? That’s the existential question faced by up-and-coming comics trying to emulate the success of independent musicians on social media.
While Justin Bieber and dozens of his contemporaries can draw a direct link between early performances on social media and their current international fame, few comedians have successfully made the same journey.
Those that have achieved notoriety on such platforms as YouTube Live have largely remained there–think Miranda Sings or PewDiePie. And most rely on a manic style and precise editing that keeps them from branching out beyond their digital roots.
It hard to say a social media platform less than a decade old needs to evolve, but there’s clearly something missing from the comedic version of amateur performance online–and we think that missing element is a live audience, generating live laughs.
Online Comedy Uses YouTube to Gain Traction
Maria Bamford’s 2012 comedy special, The Special! Special! Special!, offers something of a precedent to follow for comedians who want to reach a large audience quickly. Bamford filmed her set live in her own living room before an audience of her Mom and Dad, some tech guys, and a pianist.
Her act is far too unique to be imitated, but Bamford’s idea that an intimate audience can convey the energy of a live performance is worth considering. This is the simplest version of what is possible by engaging with social media. You just film yourself delivering gags to a close group of friends and then post it on YouTube and wait for the groundswell to appear.
But you can go much further. For a start, you could stream the performance online through a service like YouTube Live, inviting the anonymous masses on the web to watch you succeed or fail in real time.
What’s more interesting, however, is the opportunity to stream your performance live to an audience that can give you an instant reaction–an audience that uses video conferencing to applaud or boo you directly right to your face.
With Video Conferencing Apps, a DIY Comedy Club Appears
That two-way communication dynamic can be reached using the social media tools already abundant on the net. An app as common as Skype, Messenger, or Hangouts can act as the first rung on the ladder. The comic can reach out to their existing contacts and perform live in front of as many as will attend–Messenger can accommodate up to 50 people, enough to replicate a small club show.
That may seem a little closed off, but the sound of a few dozen people you know well not laughing is probably more daunting than the sound of a silent roomful of paying audience members.
But get them laughing and there’s an instant cadence to the performance, the setup, punchline, and laugh rhythm that powers a live performance. And as calls on all these consumer apps can be recorded, it means the performer can still produce a show that’s ready for consumption online. Or, they could kick the live factor up a notch by building their own permanent online home and inviting the internet public to one-off shows.
Creating a WebRTC Live Venue
WebRTC is an open source set of internet protocols that lets anyone incorporate live video and audio links on any site hosted on a compatible browser. It’s exemplified by free public video calling sites such as Appear.in, which let anonymous users stage instant 1-to-1 or group video chats without downloading an app, handing over their email details, or signing up to subscription.
Through the magic of WebRTC, users can build a video chat room of their own, and then invite people to join them for a free video call via a link–all their invitees have to do is click on it. Rising comics could use a site like this to build their own permanent online stage. Or they could build the functionality into their personal website.
Using mass broadcast social media like Twitter and Facebook to disperse the link, a comic could conduct regular live shows in front of an empowered live audience. Once the audience is logged in, the comic can even take to a stage adorned by green screens, altered backgrounds, and other digital disguises.
Unlike Youtube or other platforms, the comic has complete control over their work, and their performance schedule. And, unlike a static one-to-many broadcast, there’s a live audience right there to inspire and polish their skills. How can you tell if a joke succeeds or falls flat if your audience isn’t there to tell you in real time?
The next generation of stand-up comics could pay their dues from home while reaching as many audiences online as traditional comics once found out on the road.