It could be just any other new act night. A succession of semi-coherent putative stand-ups crack shock-value gags to a room sparsely populated by those waiting for their turn on the stage.
But look around, and the audience of wannabes includes Batman, a wookie and a Transformer… for this is the new independent Xbox game Comedy Night. And although it is a virtual hang-out, it seems a fairly faithful recreation of a low-rent club, weird avatars aside.
First up, it’s pay to play – though at 80 Microsoft points (about 75p) to download from the online store, it’s a lot cheaper than most real-life counterparts. Plus you have to bring your own microphone, in the form of a headset mic and you also need an Xbox Live account (a requirement which took me a frustrating hour trying to resuscitate dormant details, with Microsoft acting like an Alzehimer’s victim, asking ‘is this you? I don’t recognize you’ every step of the way, but that’s by-the-by)
Once set up, you’re faced with three options: Two amateur clubs – clean and adult – and one pro club, where anything goes. And you can sit in the audience or leap straight on to the stage.
The amateur nights have two mics, so two comics can share the spotlight – but either can be buzzed off if three people in the audience sound their buzzer, gong-show style.
I first went into the ‘keep in clean’ room. It was very lonely. In the others, a soul-sapping diet of sub-Frankie Boyle gags about Madeleine McCann, hanging ‘niggers’ from trees, Aids, dead babies and brutally aggressive sexism. Edifying it isn’t… especially given that some of the contributors (at around 11pm) sounded very young.
Like the actual stand-up circuit, Comedy Night is predominantly a male domain, and the tirade of cheap and nasty jokes about women hardly makes them feel welcome. Depressingly, you get the feeling today’s comedy scene has legitimized these views rather than abhorring them.
One Scottish woman did try to get out a more traditional stand-up routine about dating, but was generally drowned out by the rest of the audience.
If you’re sitting in the crowd, you can turn the rest of the usually inane audience chatter off to concentrate on who’s on stage – if only real life were that easy. There were a couple of good heckles, but mostly the audience, which can number up to a dozen, was populated by people who loved the sound of their own voice, with ‘get off the stage, wanker’ as inventive as it got. And when booing is as simple as pressing a button, it happens a lot.
When these vocal contributors leapt on stage themselves, they tended to perform their sick jokes badly – nervously laughing or bugling set-ups, as the pressure of having pressed the button to make their avatar the centre of attention clearly getting to people.
At best Comedy Night – which is essentially an internet chat room with jokes as a theme – might have had the loft ambition to encourage an exchange of humour, like a virtual Algonquin Round Table. But sadly, whenever internet anonymity is involved, the level of wit sinks to the level of a toilet cubicle door.
Although it would be fun to throw a real comedy gig in this virtual world, the best function seems to be as a an outlet for those nervous and crude new acts no one would really want on the real circuit. In this case, it’s OK to hate the player, not the game.
Here’s some footage: