Is the crowd-work craze killing scripted jokes? | Maybe.. but the best comedy defies TikTokification, says Dylan Dodds

Is the crowd-work craze killing scripted jokes?

Maybe.. but the best comedy defies TikTokification, says Dylan Dodds

As a comic preparing to head to the Edinburgh Fringe, I enjoyed Brian Logan's receny Guardian article on the increasing popularity of crowdwork videos online. Doesn't it make a nice change for a comic to enjoy the work of a critic? (I kid, there's nothing I love better than reading a 2-star review. Just please, not one for me.)

He gave a great summary of the trend, but I think missed a few things.

Greater weight needs to be given to the 'reality TV-ification' of stand-up. The artform has long used crowdwork to segue into material, creating the illusion of a spontaneous story, or one way conversation.

In a post-Stewart Lee world, it's unclear how many audience members are even aware of this, but the relative popularity of crowdwork videos vs videos of material does suggest the spell is broken a little when material seems pre-prepared. After all there's nothing worse than someone explaining: 'I'm going to tell you a joke now'. Just ask my wife.

The move away from stand-ups performing on TV, towards podcasts and reality TV shows masquerading as comedy shows, has, if anything, increased the idea that a stand-up should not be a person telling jokes. Comedians must be someone you'd be a mate with, with no hint of deception in what they might be doing or saying. They wouldn't be saying something scripted would they? That'd be cheating.

Yet online, we find new ways to cheat, and hide behind the edit. Hey, how come that comedian jumped across the stage a little bit before their snappy comeback? Hey, why is there a little cut in the set-up of this joke? I thought this was a moment of spontaneous crowdwork?

The difficulty of transferring the thrill of live comedy to an online clip, is the true measure of a great comedian is a high laugh-to-word ratio. Really, the winner will be the first person to post an unedited 90-second video of only the audience laughing and them not saying anything. Which may not appeal to people watching with the sound off...
One of the fun things about doing a show where I'm stuck in a time loop - the premise of my Edinburgh show - is that it's incredibly fun having to recreate interactions that happen in previous loops. It carries the same joy of the off-the-cuff riffage on TikTok, yet cannot be translated and packaged as a 90-second clip online.
Equally, some of the most exciting acts performing with a high degree of audience interaction such as Julia Masli and Natalie Palamides defy the TikTokification of crowdwork. Their interactions rise beyond a simple 'comedian says something funny, audience member says something funny, comedian says something funnier' back and forth.

Perhaps this is a good thing? As long as the experience of being in a room laughing with people about something specific to that room is better than sitting at home on your phone, live comedy will thrive.

* Dylan Dodds: GroundDodds Day will be at Just The Tonic at the Mash House at 2.10pm during the Edinburgh Fringe.

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Published: 7 Jul 2024

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