I’m not a fan of TikTok. I’ve never fully understood its appeal. For every 1 viral, entertaining video there’s at least 5000 that are incredibly annoying. Have you ever taken a wrong turn on there? It’s very easy. I watched one bad makeup tutorial and suddenly my feed was full of back to back cringe. Multiple videos full of people who look like their family trees are simply sticks that go up and then curve right back into the ground. With that being said, one of my goals for 2024 is to master the clock app. How you might ask? I have no friggin’ idea, but when I figure it out, you’ll be the first to know.

One of the main reasons why I’ve grown to despise TikTok is due to its negative effects on the comedy community. Everyone and their mother suddenly thinks they should have a career in comedy. I’ve seen people get a hit video that does great numbers and then publicly contemplate to their followers: should I do a comedy tour? No, you shouldn’t! As someone who has managed comedy venues since 2018, I’ve seen first hand multiple “viral sensations” completely bomb in a live show format. 15 seconds on a phone screen is very different from having to fill a stage with 60 mins of clever, hilarious material. This past year I saw a “conventionally attractive” gay man, who has amassed a following on both Instagram and TikTok, decide he’s going to start standup and embark on a North American tour. When he came to Toronto, he couldn’t fill a 200 seat theatre without free tickets being given out, plus the local, opening act stole the show with their material which made his appear completely amateurish. Success on TikTok does not make one a solid entertainer, and more people need to realize this as fact.

Standup comedy has become a popular category within TikTok’s algorithm. Clips of crowd interactions are easy bait for likes and a solid method to generate an online presence. I’ve avoided posting clips of my own standup mainly out of fear of theft, but have contemplated posting crowd work clips in the New Year. Unfortunately by doing so, I’m worried I would be adding to a growing trend that I feel is beginning to have a negative impact on local shows.

For most standup comedians, crowd work is usually the throw away portion of their set, where you get a sense of the audience so you can steer your material in new directions as needed. If you’re lucky you’ll hit a gold mine where improvised moments create new material on the spot, or it will trigger a joke from your mental rolodex that you can quickly throw into the mix. Also gives you a slight breather to collect yourself if you’ve lost your train of thought or if a joke’s punchline didn’t hit as well as you’d hoped. I am by no means judging any comics who post daily reels of their crowd work hoping for some form of engagement. In our current social media driven climate, your online “worth” is sadly determined by how many views, likes, and followers you can attract. As someone who currently manages two comedy venues in Toronto, I do feel audiences are now expecting standup shows to be predominately crowd interactions, and are beginning to lose interest in written, rehearsed material.

I often wonder if audiences realize the crafting and rehearsing comics go through to organize their sets. Despite what the Marvelous Ms. Maisel suggests, most comedians don’t jump on stage and just talk randomly for 7-12 minutes straight hoping it works out. Any good comic will put thought into their set prior to the show, weaving stories and strategically placing callbacks that fit. Recently I’ve seen first hand multiple comics perform 5-7 minutes of fantastic material and get a semi-decent reception from the crowd. When they pull the rip cord and revert to crowd work though, you can visibly see a shift in the audiences demeanour. A few become uncomfortable, fearing they’ll be called upon. But most perk up because this live show now reminds them of what they’ve been inidated with on social media. Often times during theatre seating, my staff will be asked “are they going talk to us if we sit very close?” We’ve also had ticket buyers who specifically hope to be a part of a “moment” and adamentally request to sit front row. Those are the audience members you need to watch the most for during performances, as they tend to think being called upon makes them a part of the entire show and gives them a “pass” to speak up whenever they feel the urge. This leads to my final point.

Thanks to crowd work clips on TikTok, Instagram, and even the graveyard known as Facebook, I believe audiences feel more at liberty to contribute to shows without being called upon. They forget they’re not at home watching the show on their phone, and wrongfully assume they have the right to disrupt a comedian’s performance by heckling or critiquiting their material in the moment. Its as though they’ve misunderstood being in a live audience for being in the comment section of a YouTube video.How much of this is a result of post-pandemic mentality? After months of on and off isolations due to COVID outbreaks, could general audiences be that starved for any form of connection with another human being? Or have we just become so vapid and self centred from being couped up and alone for so long in 2020 that we’ve forgotten how to act in public? Sadly, I’m leaning towards the latter.