Dead Ant

Daniel Fernandes’ New Crowd-Work Special Marks an Exciting First for the Industry

By Maanya Sachdeva 21 February 2020

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On a mission to up his content game in 2020, Daniel Fernandes recently announced that he would be releasing a new crowd work special—the first-of-its-kind in India—just four months after his first ever standup special premiered on YouTube. And, like Shadows, Fernandes’ Are You Understanding What I’m Saying is now live on the video-sharing platform for your (free) streaming pleasure. But pay-as-you-like, please?

Ahead of the big drop, DeadAnt caught up with the comedian to ask him how he plans to make a live crowd work special engaging for the Internet, his ‘YouTube’ model, and why he believes in charging for online content. “You go for a music gig, you pay for it. You try to enter a club to dance to recorded music, you pay for it,” he says. “So why not pay to listen to jokes from your favourite comic?”

What was the response to Shadows like?

Tremendous! We’re at a quarter of a million views right now—I don’t want to compare Shadows to a five or 10-minute video on YouTube because that’s like comparing apples and oranges—however inside sources tell me that’s a very healthy performance, comparatively to stuff that’s on OTT platforms. I’ll take that for now.

I think what I’m also happy with is that the engagement is very high on the special. People are commenting a lot—there’s close to two and a half thousand comments—and I think every comment is a first-hand user review. So if anybody wants to know how that special has worked, it’s there for anyone to see. That’s what I like about YouTube; it’s very open source. All the information is there for as long as the video is online.

And…what about the monies?

I saw Shadows as an opportunity to give the audience a value proposition­—watch the special first and then decide what it’s worth. And I think a lot of people really bought into it, which is why they paid as much as they did. Plus, there’s flexibility; no one tells you how much is enough or how much is too much. For Shadows, I’ve had people pay as low as Rs 9 for a transaction and then some have paid as high as Rs 5,000. Let’s see what happens with this.

Since a lot of people have taken to it very positively, I hope that someday all comics can get paid for the work they are currently giving away for free.

Why not a streaming platform?

To begin with, there was no deal in place, we just didn’t get around to having a conversation. Both Prime and Netflix had already commissioned a bunch of specials and so, even if there was a deal, I reckon that the special would probably have only released later this this year or in 2021. However, I had a specific date in mind and, since I had the resources to produce my own special, I thought why not just do it and put it on YouTube?

Plus, I have decided to step up the content game this year, which is why you’re seeing a crowd work special barely four months after my last special. I want to build a catalogue of my work on my YouTube channel so anybody who discovers me—either at a live show and wants to watch some more work or just stumbles upon my work online and wants to watch a lot more—it’s all in one place.

Also, the benefit of being on your own YouTube channel is that you have access to the numbers—you know exactly how the show is performing and what the engagement is—and this is information that OTTs are currently not sharing with creators.

But…

But that doesn’t mean that I am averse to working with a platform; in fact I’m very, very keen. I do have some ideas that I’m developing right now and, if at some point, an OTT wants to pick it up, I’m happy to jump on board. My preference for my next special WOULD be to have it on a Prime or a Netflix, so I definitely do want to work with them if the opportunity presents itself. I hope that I can use the performance of Shadows as a proof of concept when it comes down to negotiating that deal.

What all can you tell us about Are You Understanding What I’m Saying ahead of its release?

This is going to be a very different kind of standup show from me. It’s me on stage, you know, having a good time, being a brat and being a little cheeky. So it’s a very different vein of humor. The idea is to kind of showcase two sides of me as a comic. With Shadows, you got to see that serious, introspective side that’s also funny but, here it’s me just being chilled out, loud, talking to the crowd and building narratives out of the information they’re giving me.

I want to be known as a guy who can do different kinds of comedy, so this is a step in that direction.

How do you make a crowd work special exciting for viewers online?

It’s about setting the right kind of expectations so people are not expecting me to say something really profound. It’s just me having fun, you know? And I think there’s a lot of serious comedy out on these days. That’s common feedback we get. Everyone’s getting really serious about politics. And, you know, mental health and stuff, which is good. But I think as a creator, you say, hey, you want something light as well, here you go.

Also, you have editing at your disposal! I’ve tried to keep it as concise as possible without disrupting the narrative flow. I think, with what the team has done with the special, the show pretty much covers everything that happened on the night. It’s the best moments of the night with a very clear narrative of how the evening progressed.

What has been the most rewarding bit about bringing this special to life?

I think the most rewarding part of doing crowd works shows in general is showing the audience that comedy is not coming just from us. It’s not just “Oh! Look at all these things happening to me as a standup comic, look at how funny it is, look at how tragic it is.” Crowd work is a format where I can show you that there’s comedy in your space as well. So, if you tell me a bit about yourself, a certain area of your life, whether that’s your love life or your career, I can show you how that’s funny.

And the audience really likes that because they didn’t realise that their routine job could have so much of comedy in it. By the end of the show, the audience gets to see that their life can also be funny if they look at it in a funny way.

So I think it’s about helping them not take things (and themselves) too seriously.

Whose crowd work show do you want to go for?

Andrew Schulz, for sure!

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