As comedy turns into a cinematic space on streaming platforms, will its liveness be able to survive?
It’s late in the evening and you’re not sure what to watch. A drama would be too hard going on the brain after a long day and a teen rom-com isn’t quite going to fit the mood. Scrolling down your Netflix account, you stumble across the comedy section. Live performances with wit and sarcasm fill the time until you’re finally ready to get some sleep. Comedy special after comedy special boasts all your favourite acts and some comedians that you haven’t even heard of. You dive on in. Bo Burnam’s Inside, recently nominated for an Emmy and applauded by many for its dry humour that works perfectly for the younger generation; why not give that a go. With so much on offer at the click of a remote or a press of a button, do you really need to go and see a live show when you can enjoy it all from the comfort of your living room for just a fraction of the price?
Comedy has always been something that resonates with so many, filling up our television schedules with pre-recorded performances and comedians filling seats on most panel and quiz shows. We’re introduced to comedians and grow to love them, like how stars such as Ed Gamble rose to fame through appearances on Mock the Week and Phil Wang’s hilarious time on Taskmaster. This is set to encourage us to go and check out when they are next touring, however, wouldn’t it be easier to just catch their latest pre-recorded set streamed straight to our screens?
Just like Live at the Apollo brings the stars to us, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video bring comedy performances into one neat category, with original performances like Gamble’s Blood Sugar and James Acaster’s Repertoire being showcased to us in our homes.
What does live comedy offer that we can’t get for a tenner a month? Not only does live performance bring us up close and personal to our favourite comics, but it plays on the old school heckling and audience participation that reminds us of the intensity of stand-up we grew to love. Pre-recorded specials may bring us into the world of comedy, yet it’s tailored perspective removes the reality of the jokes and reminds us of why things are better in-person.
Saving money aside, you can’t beat some live comedy. From the ease that the comic speaks their mind to the way you feel like you’re the only one in the room being told an incredible story, live comedy can’t be beaten by a controlled camera and heavily tailored script. Mo Gilligan’s Momentum is brilliant, but I’d much rather catch it in person than on my small-screen laptop – and I’d much rather it be a Mo Gilligan original than a Netflix one.
It’s incredible that live comedy is being made more accessible, but we can’t let go of the foundations it is built upon. The pace of comedy specials that are being released under the facade of exclusivity brings about a concern of how long live performances will remain popular. Whilst Michael McIntyre is still selling out the London Palladium, smaller comedians could begin to lose out on audiences who realise they can get the comic relief they need from their own sofa. Supporting small comics, comedy nights and comedy clubs is something we must hold onto, as streaming comedy is on the rise.