This week I did an hour long comedy show for a large group of teachers. Virtually of course. So technically, it was for the laptop in my office. But thanks to a little pre-show prep, not only was the show not as awkward as it could have been, I actually enjoyed doing it. And judging from the faces of those that I could see watching, they did too!
I’ve done quite a few of these types of shows now, so I’ve come up with a list of things that can make these shows if not “good” then at least better than the worst it could be. If you’re not a comedian, feel free to incorporate these in your next virtual meeting or large family zoom call:
1. IT’S GOOD TO SEE YOUR FACE: I insist when doing virtual shows to have at least a handful of friendly faces on screen that are essentially my “front row”. Even though they are usually muted (unless I choose to unmute them) it’s nice to see some smiling faces. And as a bonus their names are generally on screen, so I can refer to them by name. Having someone refer to you by name engages you in a conversation. It’s also a fun opportunity for everyone to use a fake name to liven things up a bit. In most calls that I participate in for instance I am “Enrique Iglesias”.
2. THE POINT IS MUTE: The simple, beautiful technology of the “mute” button is the single greatest thing about virtual communication. If you don’t want to hear what a co-worker or classmate or teacher is saying, you simply press mute. This doesn’t go over well in live settings. In comedy terms, while I miss the sound of people laughing when everyone is muted, I also enjoy not having other audio interruptions such as a glass breaking, conversations going on or, of course, drunken hecklers. I’m not sure how this technology can be carried forward into the live world after this, but if some comedy club were to experiment with “muting tasers” on a particularly drunk heckler on a Friday night late show, well, I wouldn’t hate it.
3. LESS COMMUTE! Before the pandemic had started I, as an adult without a ‘day job’, had already built my life around barely ever having to travel during rush hour. In the few times I found myself stuck in it I legitimately wondered how people, be it in bumper-to-bumper traffic or in nose-to-armpit public transit, did it every day. But I had a different challenge as a travelling comedian. The vast majority of the time, I was flying several hours, to do a show for 1 hour, to sleep away from home, to fly several more hours back home. Now, I walk 3 minutes to the office space I rent near my home, do a show for an hour and then walk 3 minutes home. 6 minutes of travel versus multiple hours and days just seems more efficient. And it’s made me realize that my Air Canada frequent flyer status shouldn’t be as big a point of pride as it had become. I’ve flown over 75,000 kilometers every year for the last several years. I used to look at people with 100,000 kilometers/year in awe. From here on in I’ll think, “they must not have people at home that miss them.” Fortunately, my family is happy that I am home more these days (or at least they were at the time I wrote this)
4. BE IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE!: Many people (let’s call them dads) have joked with me at live shows they’ve come to that they had just heard me on the radio, from a different city, on the way to the show. So… “how did you get here so fast? Are you a wizard?” As dad jokes go, it’s a pretty good one. But now, thanks to pre-recording and virtual shows, I CAN actually entertain different groups, in different places, at virtually the same time. As an example, while taping Debaters for CBC in Vancouver over a few nights last October (to a very small, socially-distanced audience) I was able to do a virtual daytime show for a group in Ontario, some of whom may have actually been in other provinces (it was a government group so some may also been vacationing in the Caribbean). Point is, if I can entertain one group virtually in one city during the downtime that I am in another city to do a live show, well, maybe I am wizard!
5. SPECIAL EFFECTS AND SIDE CHATS!: I hesitate to bring this up because I know many people are already abusing it. Just because you technically can green screen yourself into “space” or some other fun loving background, doesn’t mean that you SHOULD. However, if you are willing to put in a little effort you can make some additions which will make whatever you do much more fun to watch than simply being a person in front of a bookcase full of books they’ve never read. Call up some video clips, incorporate some tunes, or make use of the “chat room” which allows side conversations during virtual meetings like the good old days of passing notes in class. Just make sure you set it to “private” and specify which person you want to chat with. Otherwise, everyone on the call will answer whether they like you or “like like you”. Or they all may opt for a third option of not liking you at all.
In short, just because you’re doing a show alone in a room to your computer, it doesn’t have to seem like you are doing a show alone in a room to your computer. The more fun you have with your virtual shows, the more fun the people watching you will have. And hopefully more people will want to watch. Good talk.