In moments of great difficulty, we find ourselves turning to humor for comfort, distraction, and, in some cases, the opportunity to process the challenging times around us. And in our time of need, comedians and other entertainers are learning to adapt on the fly to this new normal of social distancing, finding different ways to provide us the laughter we so desperately need. Saturday Night Live has been on Zoom the past few weeks, The Daily Show is being done from Trevor Noah’s home, and nearly every person in comedy has resorted to some sort of social media-based content production. We’re all on TikTok now, it seems.
While it may be one of the easiest times for creating new content (seriously, our calendars are wide open), it’s certainly not the easiest time to actually be creative. We spoke with a few of the brightest comedy minds Houston has produced—Matthew Broussard, Ali Siddiq, Dusti Rhodes, and Jon Styles—about what they are doing to stay sharp during quarantine and what they think the future of comedy entails.
What’s the adjustment been like for you, going from constantly performing to staying at home?
Matthew Broussard, winner of Houston’s Funniest Person 2012, currently based in NYC: I miss standup, but when I’m not doing it I don’t write it, really, so I’m focusing on Twitter, editing my already taped clips. It’s a weird amount of work just sorting through those and adding subtitles. It’s the kind of work where you don’t feel any better after, you just get some likes and hopefully some follows but its very menial creatively.
What have you focused on instead?
MB: I’m trying to figure out who I am when I’m not a comedian. I’ve used it too long as an identifier, so I’ve been sculpting, and I got back into running. That’s really what this period has been good for.
Has performing less affected your writing output?
Dusti Rhodes, host of Houston’s The Moth StorySlams: A lot of my jokes come from a conversation with other people or comics, so it hasn’t really changed too much aside from obviously a lot less interaction with people right now. But yeah, my writing has been mostly unaffected.
How does an Improv group go digital?
Jon Myles, member of award-winning improv group Can’t Tell Us Nothing: We do a podcast on Zoom. It took a couple of shows to feel comfortable using that as a performance outlet, but I just keep thinking about what we would do if digital was our only option, and it makes me look at all the social media—people doing their thing and try to find the happy medium to be able to keep being funny. I have reached out to some social media comedians and offered to write for them as well.
You started live-streaming comedy early on in the crisis with your weekly Instagram Live show, Corona Comedy Club. What kind of energy does it take to put out this kind of product during a pandemic?
Ali Siddiq, Bring the Funny finalist: Almost the same thing as running an actual comedy club—getting a flyer done, reaching out to the audience, coordinating with talent. I started March 15th, actually, before people were even locked down. I have a very different skill set, and I’m very thoughtful in my product. I’m not just throwing something together because I see someone else doing it.
Does the negativity surrounding world events influence your current work?
JM: Our group is really good at finding the absurdity of what’s going on. At first, I didn’t see the humor in it—there was too much uncertainty and damage. But as long as there’s something that sticks out that I think is weird, my mind is going to grab it. I don’t look to say something just to cause a stir, but I don’t mind going to dark places as long as you’ve earned it.
How do you keep producing funny energy during this kind of a global event?
AS: Difficult situations tend to bring out who someone naturally is. I’m the type of person that copes through humor, so, it’s just being true to who you are. When I do the show, I want people to feel pretty natural when they’re talking to me.
Do you think audiences’ relationship with standup will be different in any way when standup comes back?
DR: It’s interesting because I think the first people who start going out again are going to be people who just want everything to be as close to normal as possible. If someone tells a joke about, “When I was quarantined” people will laugh at that because it will just be a part of this universal shared experience, but people aren’t going to want to be constantly reminded of it.
AS: When the quarantine is over, comedians are going to be focused mainly on getting back to work. No one’s gonna be focused on live-streaming, but I definitely hope this spins off into something with me on a network.