Putting the wit into Twitter?

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Well, it was certainly a headline-grabbing idea, if not necessarily a brilliant one: the first comedy club held over Twitter.

Sitting in front of my computer, I can tell you the location is perfect, the dress code relaxed, the door staff friendly and the beer remarkably cheap, but it isn’t a great experience.

First up, there are much better applications for this sort of thing. The 140-character limit the microblogging site imposes might be a spur for tight writing, but getting the updates is a pain.

To follow the gig you needed to use hashtags – the comic puts ‘#tcgig’ in all his posts, the audience search for that, and you see the routine unfolding. But it’s not quite as simple as that…

On Twitter you have to keep hitting refresh to get the next batch of search results, so you really need to use an application such as Tweetdeck – which was running remarkably slowly last night – or a web-based service such as Twitterfall.

Also, anyone can use the hashtag. So among the actual material you get all sorts of chatter – some well-meaning, some not – despite compere Tiernan Douieb urging people to desist. You even got posters using the hashtag to urge other people not to use the hastag, or complaining about the number of people using them, which is the height of stupidity.

Gary Delaney tried the perfect putdown: ‘To all the non-performers using the #tcgig hashtag Where did you learn to type? In a helicopter?’ but it didn’t shut them up.

And Justin Moorhouse had to slap Delaney down on another occasion: ‘ @GaryDelaney stop talking at the back - you're an act ffs - have some respect.’

The audience was potentially huge. The official tweetcomedyclub account (confusingly, not where the gig was taking place, but a feed containing information about the gig) had about 6,900 followers by the end of the virtual gig – but they weren’t all necessarily watching.

Where are you all from, Douieb dutifully asked, and we found there were follows as far-flung as Switzerland, Norway, South Africa, the States – and Swindon.

The format allowed for a little fun, such as getting everyone to simultaneously send messages to Demi Moore (@mrskutcher): ‘Like when used with gods, does your first name mean you are only a half-Moore?’

As for the acts, first on ‘stage’ was Matt Kirshen, who started with a couple of one-liners, but tried an involved story about Scientology, psychiatry and statistics, which he couldn’t type fast enough to tell, as the chatter that filled the minute or two between each line drowned him out. He was Twittering from the back of a real gig, hopefully he went down better there than in cyberspace.

Then back to Douieb to introduce the next act, Rob Heeney, Only our compere ran out of Tweets allocation and had to switch to a secondary account. Later, he forgot to hasthaga a couple of lines, too, adding to the technical chaos of the night.

Heeney ramped the pace up, wisely going for quantity first and foremost, posting a punny one-liner every 30 seconds or so. This is the only way to do this gig, and many of the quips were certainly worth a chuckle. ‘I finally managed to successfully steal a bike in Saudi at the THIRD attempt,’ he Twittered. ‘I was riding down the road going, "Look. No hands!’ His efforts attracted scores of appreciative messages sent in is direction.

Lazy, lazy Carl Donnelly cheated by linking to a YouTube clip of his actual set and directing people to watch that. ‘I think I’ve set the benchmark for lowest effort of the night,’ he conceded, although it has to be said, watching an actual live performance, in whatever format, is funnier than watching Tweets scroll down the page.

Mitch Benn was stuck with the quandary of how to perform funny songs over Twitter; so he broke his own rules and resorted to the old trick of changing words to a well-known song so at least we would get the tune in our head. But by reducing this to a cascade of couplets does show how creatively bankrupt lyric-swop songs always are: ‘Mama ooo-oooo-oo- (send out for a pi-zza) I don’t want to tweet, I sometimes wish I’d never logged on at all…’ But it seemed as crowd-pleasing as the real thing, with an avalanche of appreciative comments such as ‘*wipes tears of laughter from eyes*’

After the Twinterval™ came pun king Gary Delaney, whose taut, brilliant, one-liners proved ideal for this format, from the zen-like: ‘I used to play around with time machines when I was older’ to the topical: ‘The BNP would have got many more votes, but when their supporters saw a cross on the ballot paper they set fire to it.’ I won’t repeat any more, but Delaney was worth the price of admission alone, and that would be true even if the gig wasn’t free. And he cracked so many that hee, too, exceeded his Tweet limit and had to switch the another account. For the ultimate vote of confidence, his gags were the most ‘retweeted’ of the night, as gig followers tried to bask in some reflected humour.

Next up, Terry Saunders who compressed a witty story of his embarrassing medical ailments into byte-sized chunks, interrupted only by audience members repeating gags from earlier in the night. He invited audience feedback via his dedicated hashtags, linked to photographs to illustrate his set and gave a Spotify link to provide a suitable soundtrack – a realy 360-degree use of technology, as TV tossers might put it. Only problem was he typed so fast my Twitterfall couldn’t keep up with all the updates, and I missed a line or two – but then suddenly the anecdote dried up. Another victim of the Tweet limit, although for a moment it seemed like a Britain’s Got Talent style pregnant pause to build tension…

After stand-up and musical comedy via Twitter, what next but sketch comedy from Pappy’s Fun Club – the unfortunately rather visual Knockabout troupe. They chose to Tweeted a list of gags they couldn’t do (‘the sketch about the Cosmetic Surgeon who used to be in a biker gang, Harley Street Davidson’) that would have done the Two Ronnies proud, posted a couple of visual gags on twitpic and introduced a couple of fictional rival Twitterers, that got a bit lost among the genuine (and genuinely annoying) hecklers. A nicely silly set, even if text-based internet gigs aren’t the best environment for their boisterousness. That probably won’t hold their careers back.

Headlining was pear cider salesman Mark Watson, who didn’t get off to the best start by omitting the hashtag – the virtual equivalent of not turning the microphone on – but soon started expressing his wry disappointment with the world in 140 characters or fewer, although he was again blighted by impatient hashtag hecklers. Speed of typing is definitely a factor here – like all comedy timing is everything – but when the punchlines did come, they were enjoyable, but the gaps between them too long.

There’s obviously never going to be any substitute for the atmosphere of being in a comedy club. For much of its three hours, this Twitter gig was like watching a football match by getting text updates of who’s just crossed to whom. But it was an experiment that had to happen (and boosted all the perfomers’ follower numbers considerably), and even if the experience itself was disconnected, some of the gags – especially Delaney’s one-liners - were fantastic. I’d see his one-man Twitter show at the Twitter Fringe any day…

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Review date: 8 Jun 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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