Comedy and the effects of the Digital Revolution (KCB206) Ryan Jenkins - n9494855

Comedy and the effects of the Digital Revolution (KCB206)

Since the birth of the World Wide Web in 1991 (Van Dijck, 2013, Ch. 1.2) there has been a continuous and dynamic development of internet based software. A major development was the eventuation of what is called Web 2.0. This is the evolution of the internet characterised by user-generated content and social media (Cassidy, 2017). This led to the creation of what Boyd and Ellison called “Social Network Sites” (2007, 210-230) later known as social media. The usage of Social Media platforms has forced many workers across a multitude of professions to adapt to ensure they are successful and dynamic in their jobs. This forceful change is known as digital disruption and it is not only represented by social media but also by the development of new media platforms. These professional hurdles or opportunities must be overcome to remain relevant and successful in todays networked society. One industry that has evolved to overcome these issues incurred by digital disruption is the comedic industry which has evolved significantly due to digital progression.

A major contributor to the current comedic landscape is social media. Social media at its inception was a form of digital disruption and as such comedians had to adapt to ensure the survival and the monetisation of their services (LaBerge, Willmott, Schwartz. 2017) … stand-up comedy. Because of this, comedians have employed the use of a range of popular social media platforms eventuating from in 1997. These include Myspace (2003), Facebook (2005), Twitter (2006) and Instagram (2010) (Boyd, Ellison. 2007, 210-230). For comedians, this is a necessity as there are over 2.5 billion users across all forms of social media (Chaffey, 2017). This allows all comedians whether it be those with over 12 million Twitter followers like Ricky Gervais (2017). Or local up-and-comings like Demi Lardner with 3,500 followers (2017) to communicate on a larger scale. A comedian Rhys James wrote for The Guardian stating that “Being funny on social media isn’t a comedian’s job, it’s their duty” (2016). This is indicative of the current requirement for comedians on social media. They are comedians and in its essence that means being funny. Rhys also states that “Retweets are the only currency,” in that there is no direct financial value for comedians using social media. This is based off the nature in which consumers are both appraisers through comments and rating systems, whilst also being distributors through the share or retweet function (Cassidy, 2017). The fact is that this social comedy must be routinely and consistent, which without doing this, one may fail. This is indicative of what Manuell Castells calls the “Network Society” which as part of the informational age requires comedians to be flexible, dynamic and timeless (1997, 15). This is something that has stemmed from the development of Web 2.0 and puts pressure on comedians to consistently remain humorous. However, this requirement to be funny is not the only significant aspect of social media. There are many ways to interpret how a comedian utilises social media. It is used to market themselves, like brands … to their audience or social fanbase (Marwick, 2013) and provides a platform for social discourse. Wil Anderson sums it up perfectly in his Twitter bio, “I try to do more jokes than plugs. It doesn’t always work out” (2017).

Wil Anderson's plug for his latest show - “Wil Anderson (@Wil_Anderson) Twitter Feed" 2017

One major influence of the networked society on comedians is the fragmentation of media. This means that there is not a limited source of content for users where traditionally there was one which was seeing a live standup show. The accessibility of content has risen to the point where there is almost unlimited sources and platforms (Laughren, n.d.). This does allow users to have a dynamic and flexible relationship with the content. However, this ease of access led to some difficulties earlier in the development of Web 2.0. Comedian Dane Cook has spoken about the dilemma of fighting off digital piracy (Yee, 2016). As one of the early comedic successes in social media Cook understood the opportunities for distribution provided by the new forms of digital media. And Cook, among many other comedians was confronted with the threat of piracy and file-sharing. This threat was also felt by many other creative industries such as the film and music industries. Unlike the film and music industries who tackled piracy head on through court, many comedians, Cook included, used file-sharing sites such as Napster and LimeWire to distribute their content. This free content leads to the sale of tickets to stand-up shows. This shows the comedians willingness to give away or ‘share’ his or her content. This is evidence of what is known as a hybrid economy as content is released freely but the ultimate desire is monetary (Cassidy, 2017). This form of promotion and distribution isn’t as explicit as a television commercial as the consumer benefits from it or receives something in return. This helps maintain what Lessig refers to as “maintaining the loyalty of the community” (2008). The fact that this stemmed from a negative aspect of the sharing generation is more astounding due to where the comedy industry is now. This paved the way for comedy today as comedians used file-sharing as a form of free promotion and free content leading to future developments such as YouTube and podcasts.

File-sharing sites were commonplace in the development of Web 2.0. The most prevalent platforms are shown above, this includes Napster and LimeWire - "P2P File Sharing Program Monitoring Software" 2017

The development of new media platforms and formats such as YouTube and podcasts have provided a multitude of opportunities for comedians across the industry. YouTube channels have been created as an alternate to mainstream television and film mediums whilst podcasting as an alternate radio broadcasts. YouTube content is free to viewers but provides income through advertising prompting many comedians to start using the platform which maintains an importance balance in the hybrid economy. Established comedians such as Troy Kinne have been successful in the YouTube expansion as well as a whole new generation of comedians who have been given the opportunity through the ease of distribution provided. This is similar to what Henry Jenkins refers to as participatory culture and participatory fandom (2010) where all have an equal opportunity for contribution provided by the medium. This releasing of free content is also shown through podcasting. Many comedians who have and promote their own podcasts use crowdsourcing as a source of funding. This is the voluntary committing of money to support projects and is beneficial to both the comedian and the listeners (Cassidy, 2017). A popular crowdsourcing platform for podcasts is Patreon which is in the form of a subscription based service. This crowdsourcing platform for podcasts is different to that of traditional crowdsourcing. This is because the ‘product’ is already created and the donations of listeners is to support the continuation of the podcast that they enjoy. There are usually added incentives to Patreon subscribers or to those who donate a certain amount a month. This is sometimes used to fund the podcast rather than providing a main source of income for the comedian(s). This empowers listeners to a form of egalitarianism through voluntary donations showing the benefits of New Media Labour to comedians and their creative content (Cassidy, 2017).

iTunes popular app for Podcasts - "About the Podcasts App" 2017
Popular podcast support platform Patreon - "Voiceplay is on Patreon" 2017

Comedians have always capitalised on the redistribution of power throughout media by feeding off social discourse. This has been enhanced by the development of Web 2.0 and the network society allowing for development, distribution and promotion of content with ease. It is through these reactions to both the threats and opportunities provided by the development of internet and social media that has allowed comedians a greater channel to communicate. It is debatable as to whether this growth of media has benefitted any other industry more than it has comedy. The sharing form in which communication in current society occurs hasn’t provided for comedic evolution, but more so … revolution.


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