Is this what comedy is now? Posting one-minute clips for the rest of our lives? | André De Freitas wants time and space to make something better

Is this what comedy is now? Posting one-minute clips for the rest of our lives?

André De Freitas wants time and space to make something better

Growing up in Portugal we didn’t have much comedy on TV but when something did reach us, it was amazing. One day, my dad was watching TV and Never Scared, the Chris Rock special was on, he called me to the living room and we watched it together and just laugh our asses off. I didn’t understand all of the jokes, but it felt polished. Even before I knew what polished meant.

That experience was so impactful that I needed to understand how he did that. And in that research, I understood that the process to create what Chris Rock created took years. 

When I started comedy, that was the way. You get up, night after night, you get your stuff tight, you keep your cards close to your chest and quietly craft and grow until eventually you’re ready to go out of your cocoon. 

First, with your trial 10-minute spots at the clubs, then your paid 10’s, climbing up to that middle 20 and wherever you can, find longer spots where you can stretch your legs and start to see what it’s like to maintain a 30/40 minute set. Quietly, in the shadows, so that one day when the sunlight shines on you, you don’t get sunburnt. Perhaps, not the best analogy to make in England. 

All of a sudden, that changed. No one can afford to be in a cocoon. If your face is not in front of people, every day, all day you might as well quit. The workload and the pressure has become immense. If you can’t write, film, edit, market and perform then this is no longer the business for you. 

One day, New York comedian Andrew Schulz decided to not wait for the sunlight to come and instead of waiting for someone to give him a chance to put out that finished hour, he started putting out a finished minute. All of those bits that he had been working up in the little basements for years, started coming out. In easily digestible, short form content directly to your phone. And minute by minute, clip by clip, changed the way people consumed comedy. He kept those clips coming as fast as the Chris Rock punchlines. 

You’d open your phone and expect to see something. Soon, many others started following until where we are today where you cannot open your phone without seeing someone’s stand-up clip. 

And sure, it rocked the comedy world and democratised audiences. Some TikTok and Instagram comedians are now bigger than many who are on Netflix. Anybody, wherever they are, whatever their style, their standing with the industry can build an audience. Can find their people. As long as you never stop posting. Constantly, feed the algorithm. Never stop. Stopping is dying. 

The expectation nowadays is that every single comedian has to be a one-person production company. Sure, there’s more power in the hands of the comedian than ever but at what cost? 

The rate of creation and output is insane. The amount of friends and colleagues that are stressed, anxious because they are not posting enough and some already close to burning out because they’re posting constantly and their whole life revolves around it. And the pace is killing us. 

The word of the day is quantity, not quality. It’s about how much you post, not what you post. Nowadays, you show up at any given comedy night and at the back there are four cameras set up. Let’s be honest, no one needs this many clips of us asking people what they do for a living. It’s not that interesting. 

The priorities have changed. The joke is no longer first. The clippable moment is. Comics are mindful about writing bits that are longer than a 1 minute and 30 seconds because that doesn’t fit into reels. 

And yes, for some of the older comics there’s still some resistance to this new way. Well, at least until they’ve posted one of those classic club bits they’ve been doing for so many years in clubs and all of a sudden gets millions of views and they realise, they too, have a second chance at the career that slipped through their fingers the first time around. Now, they can fill up rooms and don't need to drive up and down the country for £150. 

More than ever, everybody is trying to keep up with the Joneses. It’s impossible to open your phone because every time you do someone else has just gone viral and guess what? They’re doing better than you. More followers, more likes, more re-shares. 

And this seems to be the only way. There are not many TV opportunities for stand-up and the ones that do exist seem to be on the way out. So what does this mean? Is this our life now? Posting one-minute clips and sketches for the rest of our life? Where do we go from here? 

I don’t want to spend the next 10 years in front of a green screen alone. I want to have time and space to work on new things, collaborate with other people, create interesting long form content without this constant feeling that I’m just trying to keep my head above water.

Have we created a system that is impossible to sustain? Can we grow a great generation of comedians if the focus is more on the hustling than on the craft? In fact, if audiences are being constantly fed throwaway content and half baked ideas are we robbing them of a better comedy experience?

Chris Rock is brilliant because the bits are deeply worked and re-worked -  time and focus is put solely into creating the best possible routines. Can you truly be good at something if you’re constantly trying to do everything? 

Most comedians didn’t get into comedy to become social media managers. 

True, it’s a necessary evil and the pandora box will never close. We have to find a healthier middle ground. Being able to not live to create content but live in order to create content has to become the priority and the industry has to become more agile. 

And yes, the democratisation of comedy is great but what will this added pressure to consistently be out there do to the mental health of an already fractured group of individuals?

Anyway, gotta go back to the green screen. The algorithm’s calling.

• André De Freitas is bringing his debut stand-up show  to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. What If will be at the Pleasance Courtyard at 8:10pm from August 2 to 27.

Published: 27 Jun 2023

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