For comedian Fedor Ikelaar, the impact of the coronavirus lockdown measures was no joke. “April was going to be my big Asia tour along some of the major clubs and in May I was going to do a tour across Europe. Obviously, that all got cancelled, but all those flight tickets were already bought so that was a lot of money down the drain”.
As venues across the Netherlands began to close, those in the entertainment industry were faced with many tough decisions. Nicole Mischler is one of the founders of Amsterdam’s improv group Easylaughs whose regular courses and shows at the CREA were no longer permitted. “How were we going to perform or teach? How was I going to make a living? What would happen after?”
To the internet
As the sources of income dried up and with no visibility on how long these measures would continue, many comedians were left with a lot more time and far fewer options. With nowhere else to physically turn, it was no surprise that many took their craft to the internet.
Since March, a huge number of online comedy shows have appeared, shifting the format directly from the stage to the performers living rooms. It wasn’t a natural progression, but one that came as a necessity. An abundance of online shows appeared, some from real-life promoters and several new ones too. Many shows were met with mixed reactions as people tried to make sense of these new formats either side of the camera.
“I had no experience with video conferences or calls and was amazed at how fast other groups seemed to jump online like they had been doing it for years.” remarked Mischler.
No travel limitations
Without the limitations of travel, the opportunities grew massively, as Ikelaar explains. “When it comes to comedy, I would never have considered doing online live-streamed shows, but within days after coming back to the Netherlands, I started my own weekly online show. A month later, I had organised a 24-hour online festival with 24 comedy clubs participating from all over the world”.
Comedians from Japan and the UK were effortlessly performing alongside those in the Netherlands, with nothing but time zones standing in the way. Online platforms like Facebook, Zoom and Twitch gave comedians a simple way to put together these events and a simple way for others to attend. People who would usually struggle to attend these sorts of events suddenly had a way to be part of the fun.
However, this sudden change from one environment to the other wasn’t without its pitfalls. As much as comedians tried, the transformation from the club spotlights to the softly lit bedroom was hard to ignore.
Alexander Nasse who co-runs the standup comedy night That Comedy Thing in Amsterdam was reluctant to make the transfer to the internet, remaining skeptical about how well it would convert online. “I get that for some it has been a crutch to exercise the creative muscle but having seen a couple of them, it just feels off. Comedy is a live experience. With an audience, in a room, with a light and a mic”.
Instead of competing with other options for nightlife in their own cities, they were competing with the entire internet and all the entertainment it offers. Memes, films and even standup specials were readily available through the same devices. It was a whole different playing field. Attention spans were shorter with the ability to turn your attentions elsewhere far greater.
Emma Holmes runs multiple comedy, improv and storytelling nights in Wageningen with EEH productions and made the conscious decision not to take her events online. “The internet is a fickle friend, distraction is everywhere. As comedians, we rely more than anything on our audience’s focus”.
It wasn’t just the audiences who were noticing the difference, as you can imagine, the experience was also a huge change for the performers themselves. Performing to a webcam in your bedroom has a far different feeling than the buzz of a theatre. As Mischler explains “I had to slow down a lot and listen more. When you are sharing a screen and not a space, there are fewer clues from eye contact and physical presence”.
As the shows continued, performers learned from their mistakes and adapted to continue improving what they were doing. For Mischler, the idea of adapting to new situations was a natural one with her background. “In improv, we tried some formats that were more like video calls or meetings, to suit the medium of online meetings.”
Ikelaar began to find other ways to branch out: “I started to do online pub-quizzes and that format turned out to be great for online. In fact, it turned out to be so much fun that I am still doing them”.
While none of this was planned or expected, it was a great example of people coming together to creatively adapt to a difficult situation. Many comedians may welcome the recent reopening of venues giving them an opportunity to return to the stage, but many are still continuing to run their events online.
Trivia quizzes, improv workshops and panel shows alongside standup, improv and more, the trend still continues worldwide. It opens up opportunities to participate and watch for those who cannot leave the house so easily and want stay connected to the communities they’re in.
As Nicole Mischler reflects, “I still really like that you can do comedy online at home. I like that you can do it with anyone in the world, anywhere. And some of the basic things in improv-accepting offers, joining in and doing something together, sharing or building stories together- they still work online”.
How do you feel about online comedy shows? Have you attended one? Let us know in the comment section below!