by Dora Bodrogi
Lockdown-schmockdown, the show must go on! While live shows and immediate feedback are usually at the heart of stand-up, comedians have had great successes through DVD sales and streaming services such as Netflix or YouTube. Edinburgh’s The Stand Comedy Club is still standing even without a live audience, as yesterday’s broadcast has shown, one of the first of its kind. Live comedy in the time of COVID-19. Can it work?
The night’s host, Mark Nelson, opens with a load of obligatory coronavirus-related jokes as expected, interjected by cheap jabs at Michael Jackson that weren’t all that funny even 15 years ago, but these are desperate times. He admits the mural in the background is a visual representation of the self-employed – such as most performers – now that the world has come to a stand-still: a cowboy kid shooting himself in the head with a wide, showbiz smile on. This welcome is one of the better parts of the night. Aside from the skeleton crew actually present in the club, audiences from around the world can tune in, comment, and donate if they can. Nelson also encourages us to heckle – never a better time for it, since he has to read them on the website and has ten full minutes to come up with a comeback!
Jo Caulfield is the first act of the night, and she spends the entirety of her slot imitating other comedians and comediennes with a collection of their jokes, from Sean Walsh to Mark Simmons. The impressions, while accurate enough to be sufficiently amusing, fall flatter and flatter as the minutes drag on. Caulfield’s best is her Sarah Millican and should have been saved for last.
Gareth Waugh’s set on dogs, ghosts, and other topics is also great as background
entertainment now that it’s streamed into our homes, as is Vladimir Mctavish’s act that follows. There are some good bits but, as in a real-life club setting, one itches to do something else meanwhile. In a bar, it would be getting another round of drinks and talking to friends. At home it’s getting another drink from the bedside table and checking social media instead – finally, we are safe to do this without being predictably called out on it by comedians who have nothing better with which to fill their contractual time slot.
The act of the night is Phill Jupitus, who surprisingly fails to liven up the end of the broadcast. His performance, while clever and funny as ever, is entirely made up of poems. We love a good rhyme but making the entire performance nothing but that makes it feel longer than it should.
The question is: will this do? Is this the future of live comedy for the next few months? Costly shows broadcast rather than flat-out cancelled is a great option. For huge fans of stand-up who have watched John Mullaney’s full-length Netflix shows to death, a fresh set would be excellent to watch once in a while. However, performers need to rethink their acts far more, not only because of the lack of immediate, live audience feedback. Tricks and jokes that work in a live setting may not come across as well on screen. The Stand has proven there is a worldwide live viewership for such an event – someone was even watching from Milan, the epicentre of the pandemic – but they need to make sure it stands up and doesn’t just barely wobble on crutches next time.
Saturday Night Live from The Stand was a one-off broadcast.
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