Recently, a comedy club has started something. When I first met him, he seemed very hypocritical and a little sad.
I first became aware of this new phenomenon at a Comedy Cellar in Manhattan’s West Village. My second home in my early thirties, The Cellar is a warm, intimate and claustrophobic club that I have come to love unconditionally. So it was especially depressing when I first saw the bouncers handing out padded envelopes and insisting that cell phones be sealed before entering.
The logic of the club was linked to Twitter, YouTube and other social networks. The comedian worried that it would be secretly recorded, unwillingly go viral and cancelled. The idea of wrapping an iPhone in bubble wrap seemed silly.
My point is simple. If you don’t want people to hear your joke, don’t tell it. The essence of comedy is discovering the truth. All truths, including uncomfortable and taboo truths. And many comedians share the opinion that any topic is not taboo if it can become interesting. Allowing The Cellar to become something like SCIF struck me as not only pathetic, but a terrifying threat to the art of comedy itself.
I didn’t mind making fun of the comics I knew about this new practice. But I have come to understand the difficulty. Like everyone else, comedians assume that when they’re out in public, they’re being recorded for distribution on the Internet. They had the time and space to mature their art while performing in private clubs. , but suddenly they found themselves in front of audiences all over the world. Just as social media flattened and homogenized culture, it distorted the purpose of comedy clubs.
That’s what I thought after seeing Elon Musk treat Twitter like a comedy club on one side and Universal Town Square on the other. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that he isn’t.
Areps test your jokes in front of a live audience. Standup in this configuration was not designed to scale. Quite the contrary. Their intimacy and fragility are magical. Save fancy footage for Netflix specials. The basement is a place where you can darken and experiment. You can know that something is funny in an intellectual sense when you write it, but you can’t really know that without a real reaction from the audience. Here, the energy of the room is harnessed to develop a sense of the exact moment the crowd turns its back on you. Drunks and hooligans show up from time to time, but they know they will be punished or kicked out by the mob.
Needless to say, that is not how the Internet works.
The Basement, with its padded envelopes, not only treats comics like snowflakes, it actually does a noble thing by clearly defining its purpose for everyone who walks through its door. I finally realized what he was trying to do. The Comedy Club exists for comics, not patrons, and their number one priority is protecting artists. (A well-known comedian who appears regularly on Cellar told me more about the impact social media has had on comedy. He said so on one of his streaming episodes.
Platforms like Twitter are the opposite of comedy clubs. Always on, teeming with material, (at best) independent of quality, and designed to scale. The people who hang out there are geographically fragmented. Instead of laughs, you get vague, silent retweets that are used to express gratitude and disgust. And you should always assume that what you do on social media will be widely known, instantly magnified, and forever documented, despite how ephemeral the constant stream of tweets creates. for the present. Most stand-up comedians shouldn’t get old. This is because it should not age at all.
Musk sometimes thinks he bought the dojo for $44 billion. This dojo is where the funniest person in the room wins the day with power of provocation and charisma. Musk calls himself a strong supporter of free speech, so I can understand why he made that mistake. Twitter may be an anti-comedy club, but it’s not without humor. The table was a wonderful seedling.