Better virtual standup shows?
I had a #showerthought idea yesterday. I am just logging this one here as I don’t have the time to build this one. I hope to get to it if I can get some validation.
TL;DR: The idea is a virtual open-mic platform where a comic can share his set as a video and people can react to specific jokes by clicking on emojis throughout the delivery. The comic can choose how long they want to get this feedback and get information on what works and what doesn’t. Additionally, depending on the participants, the comic can get demography information to see what works for whom.
If you like the idea and think it will work, please leave me a word in the comment or tweet me @abishekgoda.
The Full Version
I love standup comedy. I love everything from the latest kid that attempted Comicstaan on prime all the way to the Gods like Seinfeld or George Carlin or Eddie Murphy and the like. I don’t discriminate at all – language, genre, topic, affiliation. If it’s funny, then I’ll watch it. The pandemic year has hurt a lot of my favourite comics, though. Some of them have found workarounds, while others are probably just waiting it out. The overall new content has come down a lot. I am guessing its a lot worse for budding comics who are dependent on open-mics to tune their set.
Personally, I have always wanted to attempt this one. I am not confident enough to do an open-mic myself. I don’t know if I can find out if my jokes will work without getting humiliated. It is probably right-of-way in that industry. It takes a different level of motivation to survive that. And it takes a hell of a lot of confidence to stay up there when your jokes aren’t working. Even in small conference-style talks, when your opening joke fails, you can awkward-smile it off and move on to the stuff that won’t humiliate you as much. But you can’t do that in standup shows. It’s not to say I am averse to negative feedback – but I am definitely not sure if I can take it to my face and stay fine.
This year, I had the opportunity to attend one or two shows on zoom. It felt very lame. Pre-recorded shows on YouTube were much better. The biggest difference is the ambience, in my opinion. In live shows, audience feedback – laughter, heckling – adds to the overall joke. I think a joke works very well for everyone only if it works for some and starts applauding. I couldn’t help but think how much worse it is for the performer. And we are so trained to keep our mics muted in online meetings; it is difficult to break that for a standup. Besides, it might never be practical to have 100+ audience shows on platforms like zoom and get live and synchronised feedback.
To address these two situations, I dreamt up a virtual open-mic platform. A comic should record his set, say a 10-minute video and post it on this open-mic platform. There is a stream of such open-mic videos that a user can pick to listen to. Users can react to the video by using various emojis – much like Facebook reactions – but the reactions are captured along with a timestamp as if the user reacts to a joke. The comic can run this video on the platform until they receive a certain number of impressions or for a certain duration. They get a dashboard with the video and how the users reacted to the videos and specifically to what portions of the video.
So what do they achieve? They get asynchronous feedback on what jokes work and what bombs. They get feedback in a somewhat safe space. Of course, that’s not going to help the comic face an actual crowd. It might help them pick and choose their best before going into an actual open-mic.
There’s more, though. Every time users react to a segment, we can insert fake laughter proportional to the actual reaction counts to simulate a live ambience for future users. Of course, nothing will stop the comic from doing this themselves. But we have to trust they won’t game the system to start, and they may need this to work more than I need this to work.
We can do the whole thing live. For instance, a comic can perform his set live and users can react using emojis while keeping their mics muted. Then the platform introduces fake laughter, fake heckling or such feedback for everyone. Again the loudness and duration would depend on how many people actually participate in reacting. I suspect a whole lot of us would give feedback if it is fairly anonymous.
Personally, I’m not too fond of ads. So I won’t consider ad-monetisation. I don’t know if comics can pay to be on the platform, and I am definitely unsure if I’ll pay to watch a video to help a comic hone their set. So at the moment, it looks like there is no money in this. Besides, if zoom is reading this, they can A/B test this faster than I can publish this post. But all that said, this is something I definitely want. And if this post causes zoom to build that in, I’ll probably just pay for zoom 🙂