The pandemic has been weird for comedy, y’all.

Zoom stand-up became a thing during Covid, with established names like Maria Bamford performing for thousands over a glorified video conference call. If bad meeting flashbacks or the lack of actual laughs made the whole thing feel off-kilter, you could turn to outfits like Nowhere Comedy Club, which attempted to provide a club-like atmosphere with audible audience reactions.

But for a real glimpse into the future, look no further than Austin, Texas (although hey, you could be anywhere), where Failed to Render has started virtual reality comedy shows, complete with cartoon comics and avatar audiences.

Failed to Render

Comedy bits take on a whole new meaning.  As do stand-up gigs. Thank you, don't forget to tip your virtual waitress.

The idea came about when stand-up comic Kyle Render (you can’t make this stuff up) got bummed out about not being able to get on stage during the pandemic.

“I didn't have anywhere to perform,” Render told the Austin American-Statesman. “Some comedians were performing on Zoom, and it was missing so much. On the 2D screen, it was just like looking at a TV screen.” 

So he partnered with some local techies to create a virtual comedy club that included an actual audience, a full line-up of comics, a VIP lounge and a green room for funny avatars to complain about the lack of free drinks.

What’s it like performing in a metaverse comedy club? Comic Adam Ruben described his experience to The Washington Post:

“I took the stage, looking out on the crowd of about 50 avatars. I started one of my standard introductory bits about being raised in Delaware. The joke usually includes crowd work, a variation on “Where’s everyone from?” But in VR, if the audience was yelling in response, I couldn’t hear it. It was hard to hear laughter from the stage." (In this virtual club, sound is based on proximity, so you can only hear people if their avatars are lingering close to the “stage.”) 

Failed to Render

The three-quarters-there audience members make every show standing room only.

The audience, said Ruben, “hovered in the club” and seemed more or less respectful, actually there to enjoy some comedy. The nature of allowing avatars in from all over the world makes rushing the virtual stage a possibility, although Failed to Render’s club does have digital bouncers.

But did performing in the metaverse have the same rush as actually working a live crowd? Ruben admits, “I simply couldn’t trick my brain into thinking I was anywhere other than a basement.”

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But Ruben might be missing the point, says comic “Big Al” Gonzales. Just like performing stand-up on TV or over Zoom requires different dynamics, virtual comedy requires a new mindset. After some practice, Gonzales adjusted his set, tightening up his routines while making his voice more, well, animated.  “You adjust for the medium.” 

Failed to Render appears to be a pioneer, but they won’t have the stage to themselves for long. Oculus has a Gotham Comedy Live event scheduled for this spring, signaling Facebook’s … er, Meta’s presence in the virtual comedy scene. 

“It's a whole new world and (comics) love it, especially since they don't even have to leave their house to do it,” claims Render. “They can stay at home and make money doing comedy in their headset.” 

It appears to be only a matter of time before we see Mark Zuckerberg’s avatar trying out some new material. 

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Top image: Failed to Render

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