f you need a good laugh because the seemingly endless pandemic blues are really starting to get to you, you can catch a virtual comedy show by The Unknown Comedy Club.
Showrunners Daniel Woodrow and Rodney Ramsey, from Toronto and Montreal respectively, have created a professional, tight hour-and-a-half comedy show that you can watch from the comfort of your own home. Since January, the two comics have developed a virtual Zoom show that couldn’t be any closer to a live comedy show if they tried, and because it’s all online you get to see world class comedians from across the country.
Comedians from Edmonton to Montreal performed for their Mother’s Day show on Friday, May 7, including Crystal Ferrier, Celeste Lampa, Enoje Ozjam and veteran comedian and Toronto headliner Kate Davis. Their Mother’s Day material was smart, witty and sometimes raunchy, and it was all on Zoom for a pay-what-you-can donation.
If you can’t imagine what a Zoom comedy show looks like I’ll spell it out for you: the show starts at 9pm. You’re greeted by a DJ playing slick tunes while the audience slowly trickles in for about ten minutes. You’ve got time to turn on your sound and camera, grab a beer and get comfortable. Then at about 9:10pm Ramsey, who usually hosts the show but bowed out of the Mother’s Day event for obvious reasons, comes on screen with what he describes as his ‘avatar’: a little cartoon character that looks just like him, holds a microphone and moves around on a digital stage. It’s a nice, different touch that they’ve obviously put a lot of work into.
The rest of the show is just like you’d expect from live comedy. The host introduces the comics, they’re played on and off with upbeat music, they do their set, everyone laughs, and then it’s on to the next one. Sure, it’s different, and maybe a bit weird because we’re not used to watching comedy on Zoom, but it works. And its production value is high.
"We put a lot of work into having a tech person and having someone controlling the audio. We focus on having interactions with the audience,” Woodrow told me over a phone call earlier this week with he and Ramsey.
“We have someone controlling the mute and unmute settings, so if anyone's disruptive or there are loud noises in the background, it doesn't disrupt the show,” Ramsey said.
At the top of the show Ramsey asks everyone to turn their cameras and audio on because it makes the experience that much more like a live comedy show. Sure, we’re not all in the same room, but being able to hear other audience members and even see them in their own homes is a wild, communal feeling. We’ve heard “we’re all in this together” over and over through the pandemic, but watching the first Mother’s Day show on Friday was the first time I’d actually felt like, yeah, this experience does feel like we’re all in this together. After a year of not being able to go out and experience a comedy show—or any show for that matter—and be around strangers and laugh and forget about our woes, the Unknown Comedy Club provides a space that fills that gap.
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“How do we make it feel as close to possible as a real show? That was our goal,” Woodrow said. “Because it works for the audience, and it works for the comedians too, because they get to have that feeling of being on stage again.”
And that’s definitely the vibe.
The Unknown Comedy Club hosts a weekly open mic special that also features comedians across Canada, as well as comics in the US and the UK. For now, it’s all pay-what-you-can.
“We’re attempting to stimulate the comedy economy while making it as equitable as possible,” Woodrow said. “And the majority of the money also goes to comedians too,” which, according to Ramsey and Woodrow, most comedy clubs cannot do.
“They're actually giving comics work and giving comics a paycheck and allowing them to write new jokes,” Mother’s day headliner Kate Davis told me over a phone call on Saturday.
Davis is a 12 time nominee for the Canadian Comedy Award for Best Female Stand-up and has an hour long special on Comedy Now. When asked about what it’s like to perform on Zoom, Davis said: “Zoom is actually really nice, as long as I can see people I can sort of time my laughs and know what's going on. It's allowing us to keep going. When we sort of come out of our Zoom boxes and talk to people in other Zoom boxes and bug them, it can be a lot of fun. And I think everyone needs a little levity right now.”
“It hasn't really been the clubs or the bookers who've kept comedy going in this country through the pandemic,” Davis said. “It really has been the comics doing their own shows and negotiating this weird pandemic world that we're in.”
On May 16 Toronto comedians Aliya Kanani and Salma Hindy will perform with Ramsey on their Lockdown Tour show at 8:30pm.
The big question for Ramsey and Woodrow now is: will they continue producing the show after the pandemic?
They're not sure yet. But as Ramsey says, "50 thousand people will sit and watch some guy play a video game. People are even more used to streaming stuff now than they ever have been before. When stand-up clubs open back up, people will still be spending time at home.”