Comedian Roy Wood Jr. said the current coronavirus pandemic has brought stand-up comedy, along with much of the entertainment industry, to a standstill, leaving “all eyes on the Internet.”
Wood, 41, a stand-up comedy veteran of more than 20 years and a correspondent for Comedy Central’s The Daily Show since 2015, predicted in a Vulture article in early March that the COVID-19 pandemic would cause comedy clubs and other venues across the country to shut, and he told UPI in a recent interview that he already has seen comedians adapt to the new status quo.
“I think we’re still on the uptick part of the roller-coaster,” Wood said of the coronavirus crisis. “We haven’t even gone down yet. It is refreshing to see comedians adapting and starting to put online videos of them doing stand-up.
“We’re still figuring it out, but at least comedians are out there trying to make funny videos, trying to entertain us. That’s important.”
Wood said he was particularly impressed with comedian Mark Normand, who posted a Corona Comedy video March 24 that showed him performing stand-up comedy for passersby on the streets of New York City while lamenting the closing of the city’s comedy clubs.
“Mark Normand, doing comedy on the street. Outdoors. Dude is smart,” Wood said.
He said Normand’s video is an example of what to expect from stand-up comedy in coming weeks.
“All eyes on the Internet right now,” Wood said. “We’re going to have to keep an eye on what’s the best way to present this stuff to people. I think that’s going to be the deciding factor in how to connect, because with comedy, with stand-up in clubs, you perform in front of a live audience.”
Wood said performing stand-up for an online audience is different from performing at a live venue because a comedian is simultaneously performing for “one person” and “a million people individually.”
“It’s not really the same audience ideology,” he said.
The comedy veteran said he expects comedy clubs will reopen once the virus has run its course, but it remains to be seen how the economic fallout from the pandemic will affect stand-up for months and years to come.
“I don’t think we will ever lose the nature of that connection. It may happen in smaller venues, in fewer cities, in fewer places after corona, but there’s still going to be concerts,” Wood said.
“I don’t believe comedy will be any different,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to lose stand-up in a live capacity, but there’s definitely going to be a huge change. I think the important thing right now that’s been happening is giving people an opportunity to connect with their audience.”
He said one question looms large among stand-up comedians: Will audiences be ready to return to comedy venues once they reopen?
“People won’t have disposable income, and they’re going to be more discerning about how they choose to spend it. So the $5 open mic night will become free open mic. Well, now you’re not making money, so how long can you last? So those are the variables that are going to come into play for a lot of young comics, when no one has stage time,” he said.
He said some comedians who have been building an online presence for years are likely to have an edge in the current, Internet-focused environment.
“If a video is engaging, it’s going to find eyeballs,” Wood said. “So the people that are already doing it well can just keep doing what they’re doing. And for others, it’s going to be a learning curve.
“I think that’s what’s happening right now to a lot of comedians — myself included — who haven’t built their brand solely online. I’m an analog guy, I started in the 1980s. If it weren’t for The Daily Show, I wouldn’t be half as sharp as I am now.”
‘The Daily Show’
The Daily Show was one of the first of the late-night comedy shows to adapt to the coronavirus crisis, quickly modifying its format to allow its staff to work remotely. Correspondents like Wood have been delivering remote reports from their homes.
“I’m thankful to still have the workflow. I think it’s still a work in progress, but I’m thankful the fans have stuck with us,” he said.
Wood said the pandemic also affected the content of the show, with the already chaotic news cycle becoming even more unpredictable.
“We’re going from a 24-hour news cycle to a 12-hour news cycle, and now, with corona, it feels like a six-hour news cycle. It’s new terrain,” Wood said. “It feels like there’s one set of news at 10 a.m. and then a couple of news conferences after, and the world’s upside-down again.”
He said the show doesn’t seem to be struggling to find content, despite the virus dominating news outlets.
“The issue is corona and who has it and who’s going to get it,” Wood said. “And the news follows two or three threads from the story. We have the ability to go, ‘OK, corona, who has it? But what about who’s not getting tested? What about the fact that criminals are going to start getting it in jail? What if cops start catching it? How is that going to affect society?’ There’s so much underneath.”
Wood recently teamed with comedian Mike Birbiglia for the Tip Your Waitstaff initiative, which is a series of videos in which Birbiglia teams with a different comedian each time to raise money for the servers and other employees at comedy clubs that have shut during the pandemic. Wood said he expects to see similar projects take off as the crisis continues.
“I think the next focus will be on how to help comedians themselves, and there’s some stuff coming down the pipeline that I can’t discuss just yet because it’s not public, but there’s more coming, definitely,” he said.
Wood said some direct ways to help exist for fans who still have disposable income during the crisis to show support for entertainers whose careers have been affected.
“I think that if anyone wants to support any entertainer of any kind, the easiest way is just to buy their stuff,” he said. “If they have an album, purchase it. If they have merch and things of that nature, grab it. That’s the most efficient way, but I think a lot of comedians, a lot of entertainers would tell you to just give to charity as best you can.”