Over the weekend, as I entered yet another hour of playing Kirby Star Allies on my Nintendo Switch, came a reprieve of my hours alone during self-quarantine and social distancing: an open mic. Except, instead of traveling to a dimly lit Brooklyn bar to hear stand up comics crack jokes, I was front-row center thanks to my phone and the technology of Instagram Live.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues in New York City and all around the world, many people responsibly staying at home to prevent the disease’s spread have found new ways to keep themselves entertained. In Italy, people are jamming out together through their balconies. In a place like NYC, comedians have leaned into the internet to lighten the dark times we have found ourselves in.
News like Disneyland closing its doors and the NBA suspending its current season, have meant that practically everything involving mass social gathering has been shut down. Comedian Ana McCasland had to cancel an open mic at a Brooklyn bar, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to happen. Instead, she hosted one via Instagram Live, slotting in three minutes per performer. Acts ranged from actual stand up sets, home tours, neti pot tutorials, and casual banter with Ana. (Editor’s note: I was one of the people that performed, but mainly just chatted with Ana while doing a beauty routine).
“I expected it to maybe have a few people tune in, and selfishly I just wanted to socialize. I was surprised and delighted that people actually tuned in, and after the broadcast some non-performers reached out to me and said how much they loved the mic,” Ana tells Teen Vogue via email. “The biggest reason I got into comedy was because I wanted to make people feel happy, and give them a break from how dark life can be. This livestream was really a dream come true and I didn't realize it.”
While an open mic in Brooklyn would typically only have comics that could geographically make it to event, Ana’s mic had many NYC-based comedians but also some in Los Angeles. Her former improv coach even joined in from his hospital bed (due to a non-coronavirus related illness). So even while social distancing may feel isolating, the mic via an Instagram Live connected people from all over.
“With a little finessing this could be a great way to reach out to people that want to perform, but aren't in the position to be able to,” she says. “Whether it's because you are house-bound, immunocompromised, socially anxious, or just not ready for an audience, these livestream shows may inspire someone who never thought they would be in front of an audience to get up there and do something! Even if it's just to have a freeform conversation.”
Also over the weekend but in a different corner of the internet, Marissa Goldman also concocted a reprieve for those cooped up at home. Another comedian who faced canceled shows, Marissa’s “immediate reaction” was to do something online. She hosted a show via Google Docs where performers had a section to put whatever they wanted, and later added a video conferencing component via Zoom per the suggestion of a friend. Some people used the collaborative workspace for stream of consciousness, memesplaining, side-by-side photos, kinky images of Peppa the Pig, and plenty more.
“Obviously the circumstances are horrible but the format is interesting to experiment with. I couldn't get the immediate gratification of a laugh so I didn't really know what was working or not,” Marissa tells Teen Vogue over email. “You maybe see a chat like ‘hahaha’ that's ten seconds later, but because of the lag it's hard to tell what they are laughing at. At an IRL show, I lean into what's working based on the audience’s reaction. With this, it's like maybe I accidentally lean into something that isn't connecting with anyone, and that has the potential to massively bomb, but also could take me to a new interesting place, maybe could allow me to be riskier?”
Marissa also was surprised by the number of viewers that tuned in. She sees it as having been a nice distraction from everything else that’s been going on. She’s even planning another one for next Saturday and every one after that “for as long as we need.”
Livestreams have long been used by everyone from influencers to brands (never forget the BuzzFeed watermelon) to connect with viewers. Google Docs has even become the new hot hangout spot for teens. It’s not like these digital tools are new. What is new, however, is this evolving coronavirus pandemic and the fear that comes with it. The isolation and doldrums that follow, especially somewhere like New York City where your home probably isn’t that big. It’s uncharted territory, but people are paving the way. There’s a slew of other comedians and artists who are organizing shows big and small through Instagram Lives and other avenues. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra even performed for a livestream of more than 26,000 viewers. Art such as comedy and music clearly won’t be silenced. Just experienced differently.
“This has opened up a new world to me, I just wish it didn't happen in this way. I hope to do similar things after but of course it's different when there isn't a need for it,” Marissa adds. “Twitch streamers are always doing this, but that's made for people who are like in basements looking at screens anyway. Live comedy is for people who like to be out, so it may be very different after.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue