Many moons ago, before the newfangled Internet, if you wanted to do sketch comedy, or see sketch comedy, you actually had to go to a theater or a club where a sketch show was happening. Now, you can just go on Funny or Die or YouTube and just see what some dudes with a camera put together.
There certainly are a lot of advantages to doing online short sketches—wider audience, more people get the opportunity to produce it, it’s usually free for the audience and cheap for the comedians—but it detracts from what’s special about live comedy, and that’s ephemeralness. Live sketch shows, and comedy shows in general, only persist in memory, while online comedy exists anywhere you get 4G coverage. That may sound like online comedy has live comedy beat again, but does it really?
I was lucky enough to see a revue at The Second City in Chicago last summer called We’re All in This Room Together. I realized before I saw the show that I was changing the title in my mind to We’re All Trapped in This Room Together, but then the show opened with a shared monologue between the six actors explaining that not only were we not trapped, but we were supposed to be experiencing something special. We were supposed to focus only on the now, and not what was happening outside or on Facebook or who was texting us. And that focus should continue after the show was over.
I find myself wanting to see that show again at times, but I’m glad there isn’t a recording of it. It would defeat the purpose. The persistence of it in my memory has enriched my life more than any episode of SNL I’ve ever seen.
That’s why the ephemeral nature of live comedy has an advantage over online videos or televised sketch—when you’re experiencing it, you know it’s only for that moment. You can’t pause it, you can’t go back and watch it again, and you can’t show it to your friends; you have to be engaged in the present to appreciate it.
Live comedy reminds me that life is not lived in the past. Certainly, memory enhances our present, but good memories are formed by transitory experiences, not omnipresent ones—ones that may be experienced at any time. Our society has become so camera-heavy that we feel like we need to Instagram our food to remember we’ve eaten. Let’s not live with the people we’ll be in a room with tomorrow or who we were with yesterday, but the people we’re in the room with right effing now.