He is used to performing in front of noisy crowds across several bars and clubs at Boat Quay so when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of such entertainment venues across the island, local stand-up comedian Jacky Ng found himself in an unfamiliar position.
“My biggest fear at the start was about staying relevant to the audiences. I was worried that if we were to go through the circuit breaker for too long, people will start to forget about me. And when I resume doing live shows after this pandemic, people might not want to come down to watch anymore,” the 26-year-old explained.
This was why Mr Ng, like many other local stand-up comedians, have turned towards trying to create a stronger online presence to stay relevant. To date, he has collaborated with other fellow comedians in an online stand-up comedy show organised by Circles.Life and has also started his own Instagram live show titled “Painting with Jacky” where he regularly invites guests to do some painting with him over a live stream.
But while the amount of online content that Mr Ng puts out for his followers has risen significantly during this period, he admitted that the transition from doing live shows to creating online material has not been easy.
He said: “I feel that the comedians like myself are thrown into a very bad situation. There are many people out there today who would already have some experience in creating online content. If you are a TV actor, you would know how to produce videos and can make them at home easily. If you are a radio DJ, you would have the equipment and know-how to produce podcasts.
“So, I would think that they would have a fairly easier transition as compared to the comedians. In a way, a lot of us are forced to do all these things, such as buying equipment like mic and lights for creating content. But I guess the silver lining would be that we get to learn to do many more things and improve ourselves in the process.”
However, while the audiences have so far been rather receptive to this new format of watching comedy, Mr Ng acknowledged that there are still many differences and challenges as compared to performing in a live show.
“Personally, I’m not 100% behind the idea of doing stand-up comedy via a live stream and it’s just very different from performing live. You do not get the immediate reaction from the audience and it’s also very hard to grasp the timing when there is no laughter to space your jokes out. It’s also hard to tell if your jokes actually work and how it can be improved,” explained Mr Ng, one of Singapore’s youngest professional comedians.
“I think the main advantage of doing online shows is for the audiences as it’s easier and cheaper for them to watch a comedy show sitting at home. When you go out to a comedy club, you could end up spending a lot of money on drinks and all that. But if you watch at home, you can simply just go to your fridge and grab a beer.”
With over 120 people paying to watch Mr Ng and his fellow comedians in that recent online stand-up comedy show organised by Circles.Life, it is clear that there is a demand for such content during this period. But according to him, while interest has been keen, the revenue has not been as forthcoming.
“There are people who have asked me to do online shows for their companies but are not willing to pay. I understand that it’s a hard time for everyone in the economy and money is tight. But companies should also be able to feel the same way for artistes as well,” he explained wistfully.
“While companies might not value our work and think that sitting and talking is not as much work as what they might be doing in their offices, people do not realise that jokes are not something that just comes naturally. Comedians still need to put in effort to write these jokes and perform them in a way that works.
“I feel that if you want someone to do something, a token amount is still better than asking him to do it for free. At the end of the day, work is still work, and when someone puts in work, they deserve to be paid.”
With the uncertainty over his income coupled with the vast difference between live shows and online streaming, it is no surprise to find Mr Ng eagerly awaiting a return to live performances at the clubs.
“I think if you ask any comedian, the first thing they would want to do is to go out to a club to perform. As good as watching a live stream is, it really does not match up to a live show. The sound of laughter or the sound of ppl jeering together is a big part of comedy,” he added.
“And I really hope this sense of community will not disappear. From the audiences and fans that I have spoken to, I can tell that they also miss going to the comedy clubs. So, once we are allowed to go out safely again, I hope that everyone will start coming back to the clubs again.”
This article is part of a new series, Coping during COVID, where danamic. features people from different walks of life to find out more about how they have been coping since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the shores of Singapore. Have a specific person or demographic you’d like us to feature? Write in: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of Jacky Ng and KC Eng.