- Comedy clubs up and down the UK have been forced to close down as the country goes into full lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
- The UK has so far recorded 6,650 cases of coronavirus and 335 deaths, with a nationwide lockdown coming into effect from Tuesday.
- The Stand Comedy Club drew 33,000 viewers to its YouTube livestream on Saturday night, with sets from well-known comedians like Phil Jupitus and Jo Caulfield.
- Streaming startup NextUp Comedy launched a JustGiving campaign to provide financial support to struggling comedians over the next few months.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Last Friday, pubs, clubs, and restaurants across the UK were shut down as Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The UK has so far recorded 6,650 cases of the coronavirus and 335 deaths, with a nationwide lockdown coming into effect from Tuesday.
For venues affected by the initial ban, the writing was already on the wall a week earlier, when Johnson advised — but did not order — the British public to avoid theatres, bars, and restaurants.
“We thought it would be remiss of us not to close,” says Barry Ferns, founder of Angel Comedy, which runs comedy gigs every night of the week at two pubs in north London.
“It was a bit of a catch-22 because – of course we didn’t want to shut up shop – but we didn’t want to put any of our acts, our staff, or our visitors at risk.”
Angel is one of the best-known spots for comedy in the UK capital, with gigs at The Camden Head and The Bill Murray pubs offering open mic spots for up-and-coming comics, and discounted work-in-progress shows with more established performers.
The vast majority of Angel Comedy’s shows work on a “pay what you want” model, with visitors asked to deposit a sum of their choice in a collection bucket at the end of the night – a model that has kept it going since 2010.
In an effort to help the business –and dozens of comedians – survive, Angel Comedy plans to launch a livestream service starting on April Fool’s Day. Ferns said the firm will maintain its “pay what you want” model for their nightly broadcasts.
“We thought we could keep the club going by drawing on the goodness of people’s hearts,” he said. “And it turned out we were right. Hopefully, we can do the same here.”
Further north The Stand, which runs comedy nights in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle, drew around 33,000 viewers to its YouTube livestream on Saturday night, with sets from well-known comedians like Phil Jupitus and Jo Caulfield.
Fellow performer Gareth Waugh wrote on Twitter: “If you’d have told me the best night of my career would be in a room with an audience of five, in one of the most difficult gigs of my life, I’d have told you you were nuts.
“When this is all over, I’ll never forget this night.”
The Stand will broadcast another free comedy show at 8.30pm on Saturday, March 28.
Elsewhere, comedy streaming startup NextUp Comedy has launched its own #HeckleTheVirus campaign, and is working hard to keep the scene from going under.
Founded in 2016, NextUp charges subscribers either a monthly or annual fee, the proceeds of which are then split down the middle. Half goes to NextUp, while the other half is divided up among acts on its platform, based on the number of views they have received.
“We had a lot of links in the London comedy scene, but we’ve suddenly been thrust into the spotlight in the past week or so,” said Daniel Berg, cofounder of NextUp.
“Luckily, because we’re so small, we’ve been able to move relatively quickly. We’re currently in talks with around 20 different venue and festival partners about how we can help support them through this period.”
The firm has set up a JustGiving campaign, which has so far raised around $93,000 (£81,000), to help comedians “stay afloat” during the pandemic. The firm has issued an open form for comedians to fill in and apply for financial support.
NextUp has already announced a partnership with London’s Soho Theatre, one of the best-known performance spaces in the city, to bring standup sets from acts like Shappi Khorsandi to its platform.
The theatre also launched its own on-demand service, where the same shows were available for 48 hours.
“At times like this, I think it’s more important than ever to make people laugh,” said Berg.
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