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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

StUCC at home: How a UC Davis stand-up comedy club has adjusted to virtual entertainment

Through creative tactics and Zoom shows, StUCC has continued to spread laughter from home

When in-person gatherings stopped in March, the live-entertainment world went almost completely dark. The Stand-up Comedy Club at UC Davis (StUCC), however, has found a way to keep students laughing from their homes over the past eight months. StUCC shows, performed from separate Zoom screens, look different than last year’s when they held live audiences of up to 500 people, but they have held true to the idea that “the show must go on.”

Matt Simons, a fourth-year economics major and the president of StUCC, acknowledged that live performances simply are not the same in a virtual setting. 

“It’s hard to capture the feeling of a live show over the internet, […] but I’m happy to say that I think we’ve gotten close and we’ve done a good job at preserving the comedy community at Davis,” Simons said. “It’s like the difference between listening to live music and listening to an album. One is definitely more exciting, but live is not an option, and I think Zoom shows are a good alternative.”

One key piece of comedy is interacting with the audience, which is not possible in the same way over Zoom, according to Simons. He said that in person, pointing out audience members and doing crowd work was a huge part of many performers’ shticks, but over Zoom, they have had to find more creative ways to engage the audience.

“What makes live shows so cool is that there’s a very thin line between audience and performer,” Simons said. “What that looks like over Zoom is pointing out different things about people’s backgrounds, asking people to turn on their mics and videos or making comments on people’s weird usernames.”

Even using these strategies to engage the audience, the whole experience can feel less personal in a virtual format. Martitza Filman, a second-year international agricultural development major, shared that a lot of the genuine connection with the audience at live shows is hard to replicate over Zoom.

“It feels a lot less personal,” Filman said. “It’s harder to form a genuine human connection. When we were in the [Sciences] lecture hall, there was someone like five feet away from you and you could just look that person in the eye while you’re telling a joke, so you miss that human connection.”

In addition to the change in atmosphere of virtual shows, comedy shows are not immune to the technical issues that have become routine in the online world. Zoom software and internet issues are common during shows, and can often interfere with a performer’s routine, Filman said.

“There’s always performances where [Zoom] does that thing where it lags for a second,” Filman said. “With stand-up, comedic timing is essential, so when you don’t have that perfect pacing or a few words get messed up, the whole joke can fall apart.”

Along with lags and muffles, Zoom tends to quiet most of the audience, which can be a challenge when an audience member’s laughter overpowers a performer continuing their bit, Filman added. Zoom also pins the speaker’s face, acting as a mirror for comedians during their performances, which can be distracting and get in performers’ heads. Simons said that he’s had to start covering his screen during his performances to keep himself from getting distracted. 

“It’s torture,” Simons said. “It’s the worst. At a certain point, you can’t take looking at your face because you’re looking at yourself doing comedy and you’re not looking at the audience. You’re not looking at how well your joke’s being received, you’re looking at how well you’re receiving your own joke.”

When shows first went virtual, Simons explained that he would be sitting in front of the camera during his sets, but he’s learned that by standing and mimicking the footwork and movement he would be doing in person, he’s been able to perform better on Zoom. According to Simon, the learning curve has been steep over the past few months for members of StUCC.

Filman said that one way comedians have changed their routines is in the types of jokes that they share during their sets. 

“People are starting to do more anecdotal type comedy where they just share a funny, personal story that happened instead of solid jokes,” Filman said. “I have less pauses and there’s less laughter throughout, but I still try to keep it funny.”

Simons has also had to alter his stage presence since the stage became the living room of his childhood home in March. He explained that he’s had to exaggerate his character—a sort of self-embarrassing dad—a lot on Zoom. 

“On one Zoom show, I felt almost like I was playing a caricature of a caricature,” Simons said. “It’s so hard to pick up on nuance on Zoom, so my response is just to hit it with a blunt instrument.”

Despite the challenges that this new form of comedy has posed for StUCC, it has allowed them to get more creative with the way they perform. Filman expressed that it’s been harder for members to tell jokes based on real-life experience since they’ve all been in quarantine for so long. Simons reiterated that this lack of content has been challenging, but that it has allowed for greater creativity.

“One meeting we were hitting the bottom of the barrel for ideas, and [a club member] came in with, of all things, a PowerPoint slide,” Simons said. “He went through this odd PowerPoint presentation that was ostensibly about ramen noodles, but as the presentation goes on, you can tell it’s really about him breaking up with his girlfriend. It had us in the equivalent of virtual stitches.”

Another StUCC member, Lauren Low, who graduated from UC Davis last March, agreed that doing virtual shows has helped her rethink the way she delivers her sets.

“I tried to do this bit where I acted out Hamlet talking to his friends but kind of just talking over them, but it didn’t really work over Zoom to do the act outs,” Low said. “I started thinking of creative ways to make that work and I settled on sock puppets […] it worked over Zoom because I’m doing a normal set and then all of a sudden these two haphazard puppets pop up. In front of a live audience, there wouldn’t have been a way to have that same element of surprise.”

Stand up comedy is not the same without the energy and interaction of a live audience, but Low said that performing through Zoom has helped StUCC continue to foster their community and stay social while being apart.

“Stand up is usually a very individualistic art form, but we’ve managed to really make a community around it,” Low said. “Especially in the past year, it’s become something that’s expanded past our members, and a lot of the UC Davis community enjoys […] participating in our shows. I think right now a lot of people are feeling kind of isolated, so I think it’s really important that we keep trying to have that space in the community for people to make social connections.” 

Written by: Katie DeBenedetti — features@theaggie.org

Disclaimer: Matt Simon is currently a humorist for The California Aggie.


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