Is video killing the comedy star?

Nothing beats live comedy, and the atmosphere of mass hysteria is beneficial to all performers. Ever watch Live at the Apollo and think “hey, that joke wasn’t actually that funny, why is everyone laughing so hysterically?” Exactly.

Sneakily filming a comedian’s set and uploading it to YouTube is not only frustrating for its detrimental effect on ticket sales; it robs people of that experience of unified laughter.

About five years ago now, I saw Russell Howard snap at a girl for having her camera out during a gig. At the time I thought “Wow, she’s going to have an amazing ‘the awkward moment when.. ’Facebook status to post when she gets home’, and laughed it off as a strange over-reaction. Now that I’m no longer seventeen, I can appreciate how frustrating it must be to be yearning to fill out venues, only to have people stay in and watch your material online for free. Luckily for Russell, he managed to break through anyway.

Russell Howard live comedy

But unfortunately, if you’ve heard the punchline of a joke before – chances are it’s not going to be as funny the second time round. Even if performers are accepting that there’s no alternative and consenting to their material being made available online, they are still being forced to accept the added burden that follows this decision. Gone are the days when comedians could reel off the same old jokes night after night. Now, in a society where we demand constant and immediate gratification, recycled material just doesn’t cut it. I must admit, I’m as guilty as any of feeling disappointment upon watching a snippet of a stand-up routine and thinking ‘Oh, I’ve heard all these jokes before.’

Then, on further reflection, you’re forced to accept that if you’ve previously watched the show immorally online, you only have yourself to blame. No-one watches a pirated stream of the latest blockbuster to then pay to see it in the cinema, expecting to be surprised. Why should comedy be any different? Just like the old anti-piracy adverts shown at the beginning of Disney videos used to warn us, (the one where someone was forced to suffer a terrible version of 101 Dalmatians. Remember?) copies just aren’t the same as the real thing.

When you attend a comedy performance, it’s not just about listening to some nice jokes and drinking overpriced beer; there’s also the added element of the unpredictable. Maybe something will go wrong, maybe their support act will be the next big thing, maybe they’ll veer away from what they’ve pre-prepared to share a story that will only be heard that night, or maybe, just maybe, they’ll address you personally. And that unrivalled fear cannot be matched online. Within the boundaries of the law.

With everything available at the click of a button, it’s understandable to opt to stay in your own living room. There’ll be no queue for the toilets and you don’t have to drink out of a plastic cup. But equally, you’ll miss getting to enter buildings you never know existed, listening to terrible drunken heckles, and feeling just a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.

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