The streaming platform Twitch represents a new frontier for budding comedians
Comedy moves with the times, jokes fall in and out of fashion, as do performers, and the boundaries that a comedian can push without crossing the line from satire to offense are fluid and ever-changing. Likewise, the medium through which comedy is transmitted has changed. The ubiquitous Netflix special is now as much a part of the standup tour as the jokes are and late-night shows have gone from bastions of a-political comedy to fiercely partisan edifices relying on politics to fuel their writing.
One of the newest tech revolutions to leave its mark on how comedians reach out to their audiences is the streaming platform Twitch. Twitch is most commonly associated with the huge popularity of eSports, but one of the reasons the platform maintains 1.2 million concurrent viewers is the breadth of its content. Jump on to Twitch at any point and you can watch a huge range of content, from the rising stars of the online poker world, to voice actors playing live Dungeons and Dragons, or a whole new generation of improv comedians.
So what is it about Twitch, which doesn’t on the face of it seem too dissimilar to streaming services like Netflix or YouTube, that is making an impact on comedy?
An Easier Start
Pretty much every comedian has a horror story about the venues that they played when they first started out. The terrible gigs, the horrible road trips, barely having enough money to survive and occasionally being attacked by members of the audience. By comparison, pretty much anyone can set themselves up as a comedian on Twitch and, with enough social media skills, start drawing an audience without also collecting jobbing funnyman horror stories. Sure, you miss out on the chance to join Ari Shaffir on “This can not be happening” but that’s probably a sacrifice most are willing to make to avoid getting a bottle thrown at their head.A good example of this is JackAM, Jack Allison and Cait Raft’s Twitch based comedy morning show. Described as “a Howard Stern for broke millennials” the show takes advantage of Twitch’s interactivity to function as a standard morning show that would not have normally existed, because in Raft’s words “none of us can afford Sirius and regular morning news shows are for boomers and people waiting to get their teeth cleaned at the dentist.”
Canned laughter has been around since the 1950s and can still be seen in stilted sit-coms like CBS’s Kevin Can Wait. The reason that canned laughter was introduced in the first place, and the reason that Twitch chat has an effect on how comedy is perceived, is that we are social animals who prefer to experience comedy with others. The laugh track makes things seem funnier by giving the impression of other people finding it funny.
Likewise, the community created by an interactive chat overcomes that inherent separation that watching comedy on a screen causes. You can discuss the jokes, the timing, the subjects and your reaction all without being thrown out by the bouncers, or picked on by an irritated performer.
Intimate but Separated
Let’s face it, standup is pretty harsh on budding comics. Honing your craft by presenting it to a room of half-drunk people at an open mic night is quite the baptism of fire. And, while some might argue that this trial of blades whittles the wheat from the chaff, there is every chance that people who could have become world-class comics were driven away by one rowdy crowd at a bad venue.
Twitch still has a reputation for, shall we say “harsh feedback” so a complete excoriation is still on the cards, it just removed the chances of it being screamed in your face by drunken punters. This gives people, for whom open mic night was just not an option, the chance to dip their foot into the comedy pool, without immediately being eaten by the sharks. And anything that widens the pool of comic talent is always good for the genre and the audience.
Adapting to a New Medium
Like radio, TV, and streaming before it, Twitch is just another new medium to which comedy has to adapt. And like those tech-revolutions before it, it’s a good thing for comedy. Shows like JackAM wouldn’t exist without Twitch and anything that lets new funny people have a voice can only be a positive