The Comedy panel at Summer in the City 2014 took place on the Saturday and featured comedy duo Jack Howard and Dean Dobbs, Laura Bubble, Hazel Hayes, Tom Ridgewell, and Mark Douglas and Todd Womak from Barely Political. It was hosted by Jimmy Hill.
The panel began with a simple but difficult question: What makes a successful comedy video?
Jack Howard began the discussion. “For me, a good comedy video on YouTube is just, it needs to be funny. It doesn’t really matter to me if it’s long or short or whatever, if it makes me laugh I don’t really care,” he said.
The discussion revolved around how a comedy video should make an audience laugh, and Mark Douglas emphasised that YouTube is not a place for understated comedy. In fact the panel itself almost reflected this notion, being anything but understated. Continuous banter was hurled around the room and loud jokes were frequently being made.
Tom Ridgewell added to this sentiment. “There’s not really time for a slow build up to one punchline, because you want the sketch to be quotable, re-watchable, you want people to come back for more,” he said. Tom returned to this desire that a video be quotable later.
He explained how he would create “lunch-box jokes”, jokes revolving around food taken to school, where the jokes could be remembered and quoted by children upon seeing the particular lunch-box item in the playground.
The panel also talked about the difference between British and American comedy. Tom confessed his comedy is “Americanised” while Hazel Hayes noted the self-deprecating nature of British comedy.
Laura Bubble then spoke about the need for universality in content. YouTube channels reach a worldwide audience so appealing and relating to viewers in multiple countries is important.
The discussion then shifted to the ideas behind the jokes. Jack described how him and Dean Dobbs decide what to use through whether they themselves find it funny, a point Hazel would later re-iterate. ”If it doesn’t make you laugh to begin with, or while you’re filming you’re not having a bit of a laugh, or when you watch it back it doesn’t make you giggle, then it’s probably not funny,” she said.
As this led into how YouTube has changed, Jack noted that scripted content such as sketch comedy has almost died out on YouTube. The panel agreed it is partly down to the issue of production value, something which they then explored further beginning with Barely Political’s high production parodies.
Tom talked about YouTube’s current preference of content uploaded on a regular basis. This can make producing high production value tricky because of the time to write and the cost to produce the videos.
As another example of high production value, Jack and Dean’s song Consent was brought up. Hazel suggested it would not have worked if it had not been for the professional quality of the video, something the panel all agreed with.
Hazel then talked about about the “huge pressure on being funny”. She explained how she likes to mix it up every once in a while with more serious content, but even then has to keep it “really light and breezy and funny”.
Laura agreed that finding a balance can be difficult because you don’t want to make light of serious issues, but believed humour is still the best approach. “I always feel like if you wanna get a message across, the best way to win people over is to do it through comedy,” she said.
Tom went on to discuss how “the pressure to not fail” often intimidates him, frequently leaving him feeling overwhelmed and not posting videos for months at a time.
Turning the conversation to something more positive, Jimmy then asked the panellists to give their own advice to the audience.
Laura encouraged them to “keep to your own style” and “be yourself”. She reflected on how many women comedians act in a way that is “very, very laddy”, which she believes comes across as un-genuine.
Tom disagreed slightly. “Yes you should be yourself and not try to emulate someone else, but you also have to accept that you are just going to be ripping off other people,” he said. He went on to discuss how combining a whole load of different inspirations rather than just one or two is what stops content from feeling like a copy of someone else. He believes it’s this mixing of many influences which creates something new.
Tom and Laura discussed these ideas for some time until they realise they are essentially arguing the same point; content must be original whether it arises from lots of different influences or not.
Hazel suggested that some YouTubers adopt personas or characters, but that similarly it is important that these are not ones that an audience would have already seen.
Mark emphasised the importance in just getting started and creating content, and that practice is incredibly important. Jack continued this, reflecting that looking back at older videos he can see where him and Dean have not yet learned particular lessons which they discovered as they made more content.
A question was asked about animation and comedy. Tom discussed how the simplicity of animation focuses the audience on the joke itself, whereas in live action an audience might think about the camera quality or an actor’s appearance, detracting from the joke.
Finally, comments on videos were also discussed, although it was agreed these rarely give an indication of a video’s reception. The “vocal minority” seemed to pose little importance to Dean. He noted that hateful comments are always trivial and never something constructive like “This joke didn’t work”.
TenEighty spoke to some of the panellists afterwards and opinions of how the panel went were a little mixed.
Jimmy Hill thought it went quite well. “I felt like they all made some really interesting points,” he said. “I was especially interested in the chats about production values versus the original creative intent, and being led by the audience and doing what your audience want rather than just what you want to do.”
Hazel also thought it went well, especially in the range of topics covered. “I think it was good to have quite a good mix of people doing different types of comedy,” she said. “There were also two girls on the panel, which is nice to see.”
In contrast, Jack and Dean expressed a dissatisfaction with discussing comedy in a calculated manner. Jack also commented on being asked to give out advice. “There isn’t anything we can teach,” he said. Here at TenEighty, we can’t say the audience minded too much, everybody we saw leaving the panel left with a smile.
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