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"Was that a smelly DD from a big giraffe? It definitely doesn't come from our 14 different Pooper Dooper locations! "
Moments after the stand-up comedian Meg Stalter drops this punch line, her crowd of 11,400 spectators remains silent as part of a routine that makes fun of the process of Disney work orientation. But it doesn't bomb. Stalter broadcasts her comedy set via Instagram Live, and as soon as the joke falls, viewers angrily tap on their phone screens, sending a wave of pink, yellow, and blue clear hearts from their right side of their own live streaming interface.
"I'm about to throw up, that's so funny," typed a fan. It's not the immediate feedback of a laughing crowd, but Stalter will take it.
Current migration patterns of the comedy
This is a live comedy in the COVID 19 era: loud laughter is replaced by hearts as the audience tunes in thousands of miles away. The comedy was migrated to social media such as Instagram Live, Periscope and Twitch as well as to network platforms like Zoom. However, these multi-million dollar platforms have something in common: they were never developed with the special nuances of live comedy in mind, and comedians do their best to adapt. "I really miss all the energy to perform live, like laughing," admits Stalter.
Facilitating a participatory live comedy is perfect for a pandemic that's ripe with uncomfortable interactions and collisions of social norms. However, it is one of the few types of performances that require the audience to react to know if the art works. Most social networks limit their audience to delayed emojis and text messages, while Zoom's standard audio mix means that any audience with a microphone can bother a performer quite a bit.
Getting up in deafening silence is disturbing. When you perform live, "there's an immediate reaction: either it's funny or it's not, but (online) you don't know," says comedian Noah Findling.
Facebook Live and Instagram Live are trying to make their platforms more interactive, with features that allow performers to engage an audience in their videos and include live surveys, says Addie Coronado, communications manager at Facebook. However, according to a representative, Zoom does not add any new features that are specifically tailored to the needs of live performers. And stand-up comedians who need a paid appearance – and are looking to benefit from entertainment-hungry fans at home – are mostly forced to work within the limitations of these popular platforms, rather than expecting fans to tire through like installing or testing brands jump. new apps.
"A two-way conversation"
That didn't stop entrepreneurial tech comedy fans from experimenting.
Two months ago, a new platform called Rally debuted with its own ideas for simulating the comedy club experience online, including live audience laughter. The rally was launched by three Toronto-based designers with live performance experience: Ali Jiwani, Amy Liu and Anson Kao. The idea came when Jiwani, a comedian, and Liu, a musician, struggled to make money performing after the COVID-19 crisis in March.
"How can we make it easier for everyone who is just like us to still perform and get their talent out when people don't (physically) get together?" Jiwani says. They were also frustrated by the lack of interactivity on many platforms, which particularly affected the live comedy, which is a “two-way conversation,” says Liu. "You can't just go to a group of muted people on one screen," she says.
Enlarge /. A model of the rally surface as provided by the developers.
Within the rally app, participants can select a “seat” in a 2D surface filled with tables and chairs about 15 minutes before the start of the show. If necessary, viewers can opt for a video chat with their neighbors before the show. This is subtly encouraged by the audio of other viewers who are routed through everyone's feeds.
As soon as the show begins, it is largely similar to a zoom video conference, with one big difference: the comedian takes center stage and the audience appears as symbols whose voices are audible but have a much lower volume than the comedian. This fixes the standard zoom problem, where a laughing audience ruins a comedian's joke by taking his face over the screen. The current Rally user interface also includes moderator tools: if an audience gets restless, a moderator can boot them into a five-minute break. If they make calls again, they can be kicked out permanently.
Status update via crowd banter
The rally team says it is trying to fix another major problem with live online appearances: the latency or the time lag between a joke and the audience's laugh. Rally, however, claims that the latency is less than a second – roughly equivalent to zoom, which can feel like an eternity when a performer relies on the rhythm of punch lines and laughter.
I saw one of the first rally comedy shows last month that featured artists in Toronto, San Francisco and London. The delay was not bad. I heard other audience's muffled laughter that didn't overwhelm the actors' voices. It wasn't perfect – an actor's feed froze and had to be booted in the middle of the act – but it was great when a comedian asked the audience, "How many of you are single?" and when several viewers answer: "I am!" in a way that the comedian "on stage" did not take away the microphone controls.
A few viewers hung out afterwards to chat with comedians, just like a real comedy show. It seemed more like a comedy club than an Instagram live show. I felt like I was part of an audience of real people, not disembodied Instagram handles that throw emojis endlessly.
The founders of Rally claim they were interested in the agents of popular touring comedians, but the company's incredibly limited online presence at the time of going to print makes us wonder if this experimental platform is built to be both actors and actors Access can be easily scaled by audience. (When searching for “rally comedy” on search engines and social media, stories of political rallies are often displayed and no burgeoning live performance interface is displayed.)
The 800 million pound gorilla
One problem that Rallye has a hard time overcoming is that comedians flock to where their audience is already. Facebook's last big public statement on daily active users came in March 2019 when it estimated an estimated 800 million daily users on its Facebook Live and Instagram Live platforms. These numbers have probably increased in the 14 months since then.
Some comedians seem to have successfully adapted to these platforms. For one thing, Stalter has made interaction with her audience an art form. When Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn 99) recently used a livestream performance to satirize the Home Shopping Network, she jumped in to Altters comments to sell the door to her house. "Everyone commented on them and didn't listen to me," says Stalter, who the comedians were able to play out as a back-and-forth battle for video chat. The bit worked, the latency is damned.
Findling has turned to more recorded bits online, although he also does some Instagram live shows. "It would be really helpful to hear the audience (online)," he says, not only because he can judge which jokes work by laughing, but also because laughter is contagious. "When you have a full room, people want to laugh more because they can hear people laughing."
Although Facebook was optimistic that users could send real money to each other via its messenger app, the company has not yet implemented this system in their livestream video platforms – a strange omission considering that they can streamline the sending process and get it a cut of this cake. "(Comedians on Facebook) can't charge (audience) ticket sales, but that's how they make a living," said Amy Liu of the rally.
Amazon's Twitch service is currently the leader in this department and offers a range of integrated subscription and donation options. However, this popular service has one serious flaw: latency. Even a bulky zoom call, full of the most delayed international viewers you can imagine, has a quicker audience response than Twitch’s standard delayed response system.
It is hard to imagine that, frankly, this report is aging well. In these many months of a pandemic, some performers might very well switch to live streaming appearances, especially to tap the unlimited amount of the online world, unlike cramped comedy clubs. And Hollywood is already striving to achieve the pandemic's greatest exclusive streaming hits. John Krasinski's Some Good News became an exclusive CBS product last week. With such dynamic, a startup like Rally will not be alone in the room for long.