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  • Writer's picturePrudence Joy Thornton

Digital Stages: How to Navigate Comedy on Social Media

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

(photo credit: Unsplash)

Social media has played a bigger role in our lives in the past two years. Comedians who do stand-up had to adapt and find new ways to entertain audiences remotely. The internet played a big role in this as more personalities uploaded recordings of their sets online. Others have even used social media to connect to audiences, whether it’s through posting snippets of jokes or going on an impromptu stand-up set while livestreaming.

One thing remains consistent for all comedians – there is a huge difference between performing in front of a live audience and creating skits from home. Many have struggled to adjust to change because of the difficulty the situation presents. Going from being able to stand on a stage to standing in front of a camera is a big shift and nothing really prepares them for that. But why is it so hard for comedians to adapt?

The Difference Between Comedy in Person and LOLs in Social Media

Of course, being funny in person and being funny on social media are two different things. Social media enables fans to discover new comedy, connect with comedians, and even develop new forms of comedy; we’ve seen sketch comedy, accidentally capture hilarious moments, and funny stories explode online and go viral in recent years. However, this can be a double-edged sword. Some experts have observed self-censorship among comedians because of online perceptions about their material. When you watch stand-up comedy, performers and audience members reach an agreement that offense is temporarily suspended as the nature of stand-up is rooted in offense and political incorrectness. People in online spaces don’t have this context. Social media is an impersonal, limitless, and diverse area where just one person’s dissent can be amplified. As such, being a comedian online often means preparing to have more people critique your work when compared to doing in-person comedy. Case in point, brands and celebrities spend a ton of money to avoid this rocky road of intense online scrutiny, which is why modern communication training often covers public relations (PR) with a focus on creating and maintaining a favorable public image. In fact, so many people are needed to edit and manage content on social media that these careers are expected to increase by 7% from 2019 to 2029. Comedians often do not have a similar background in communication, resulting in them having to blindly navigate the online space. Though many are already familiar with what their general audience wants, the communication constraints that the digital landscape brings make it difficult to properly convey their message. Without the non-verbal cues such as gestures and intonations, jokes can come across poorly on social media – especially when it comes to written comedy, as seen on Twitter. Across video-sharing platforms like Instagram and TikTok, however, it is much easier to convey the timing and atmosphere needed for each set-up. The livestreaming function is also the closest thing a comedian has to an in-person audience, making it perfect for improv comics who rely on feedback. Those that perform sketch comedy can also find a new audience for their material, since they can film and edit videos to perfectly match what is needed to make the sketch funny. While you don’t necessarily need a PR expert by your side when you Tweet or post a clip on Instagram, it’s important to recognize how comedy shifts with the platform. Humor is a powerful tool where you can point out the absurdity of everyday life, but you need to choose your targets carefully.

How to Make People ROFL Online

So what are some tips to make people laugh out loud from behind a screen? Here are three to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t be a copycat While this is already a given for many seasoned stand-up and sketch comics, it’s acknowledged that originality is difficult to find on the World Wide Web. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re free to copy someone else’s material. Savvy social media users can easily detect whether or not you’re presenting something original — or trace it back to the real source. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t participate in viral challenges, memes, or parodies over TikTok. As long as you have a unique, subversive take on the goings-on around the world, you can find success in your humor.

  2. Develop your social media voice As a comedian, you’ve probably already found your ‘voice’ for gigs onstage — but that’s often coupled with your stage presence, gestures, and other physical factors that are difficult to replicate online. This means you really need to develop a solid social media voice. Are you looking at dry wit? Exaggerated language? These are all things you should consider when establishing your voice on social media, and it shouldn’t be too distant from your IRL one.

  3. Follow the art of KISS KISS or “Keep It Short and Sweet” is the backbone of witty and funny social media posts. Sometimes, our best work with language comes when we’re forced to compress it with the 280-character limit on Twitter. One study even found that certainty in language by using words like “always” or “everything” actually keeps consumers engaged for plenty of likes, comments, and shares/retweets — so don’t be afraid to be more direct in what you say. Cut down on the words, trust your audience, and let the cleverness come out on its own.

Post prepared by Prudence Joy Thornton


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