At the beginning of 2020, we asked comedians what audience members should (and should not) do while watching live comedy, to ensure everyone has a good time. Things have changed dramatically since then, making that list largely irrelevant for the time being. Social distancing, self-isolation and home quarantine continue to be crucial, as COVID-19 cases soar in the country. Thankfully, technology and widespread internet access offer an alternative in Zoom comedy and live-streamed performances that have become a regular feature of our lives—one that might persist in a post-COVID world too, some comedians say.
“There will always be people who can’t travel for a show or, for whatever reason, we can’t perform in their cities, so this is a good by-product,” says Daniel Fernandes, who has been keeping himself busy with a spate of online performances. Neeti Palta adds that Zoom calls are good way to workshop jokes even post-pandemic and tells us they will definitely feature on her line-up of upcoming shows permanently. “It’s very difficult to be late to a Zoom comedy show,” laughs Rahul Subramanian, even though he says he can’t wait to go back to the good ol’ days of offline comedy. “But here you can mute people, that’s another advantage,” he suggests.
Which means we might as well get comfortable with them. Here is an updated list of resolutions—more in tune with the times—for what has easily been the best year for online comedy. Some of these may seem quite obvious, but you’d be surprised at, say, how many people have flushed mid-punchline. In fact, Palta confirms, “I have a 15-minute bit just on Zoom etiquette! That’s my material right now.” This is your guide to staying out of it—as told by comedians.
- Keep your video and audio on because comedians need to see people’s faces and hear them to know what’s working and what isn’t; this is a crucial feedback mechanism. To that end, ensure there’s adequate lighting in the room that you’re watching in and, Fernandes suggests, use earphones or headphones if possible.
- Please don’t start talking in the middle of the show because, as Palta says, you can’t have two people talking at the same time on a Zoom call; the voice gets cut off.
- Resist the urge to interject with your own comedy content. “When multiple people speak, not all of it gets through to the other side,” Kunal Rao explains, which means the comedian will spend a lot of time repeating words or even full jokes, thanks to that particularly chatty super-fan.
- Give your folks at home a heads up about your plans for the evening, so they don’t inadvertently embarrass you. Subramanian says “There have been so many times that people have been yelled at while watching a show.”
- Try and make sure that there’s no background noise; even the tiniest noise is amplified, Palta says. If you can’t help the sounds of the mixer from the kitchen, mute yourself and wait for it to subside before you turn your audio on again. How do comedians deal with these sudden, unexpected disturbances? “9 times out of 10, if you tell someone that there’s background noise and ask them to mute themselves, they cooperate,” Rao says cheerfully. Do the comedians know where, nay who, these sounds are coming from? Always, Rueben Kaduskar says. “They think we don’t know who’s making these noises, ki main aise thoda masti karega (‘I’ll do some mischief’), I will also get a few laughs. But we do.”
- “Once, during a show, someone took their phone to the washroom and said, ‘Haan, upar ka hi toh dikh raha hain’ (‘Yeah, you can only see the upper body’),” Abijit Ganguly shares. The lesson here is to leave your phone behind when you need a bathroom break. You’ll miss a few minutes of the show but, we feel, that’s preferable to drowning the jokes out with your flush. And any roasting that may (read: will) follow.
- Make sure your Zoom display name is the same as on your ticket. This is important so that organisers can let you into the meeting. Fernandes says that those who don’t login with the same credentials they used to buy their tickets might not get in.
- Don’t record! This is one of the major reasons comedians are hesitant about performing via livestream or Zoom—it’s harder to ensure the ‘No Phones’ rule isn’t being violated. So check yourself?
- Show your appreciation in the chat which, according to Rao, is “not intrusive to the performer who’s simultaneously trying to remember his set, interact with the audience and managing the show.”
- Have a good time! Times are tough so treat yourself to an evening of uninterrupted laughs every now and then. The fundamentals are the same, says Kaduskar, and you can do what you would at a live gig. Just watch the show, laugh if you find the joke funny and applaud heartily!