TikTok helps aspiring comedians find a stage online as stand-up shutters

Shannon Fiedler was just getting her start in stand-up, and then the pandemic hit.

“I was going to clubs all the time, open mics, the whole grind,” Fielder said. “And then every place in the world shut down.”

With comedy venues and clubs closed during the pandemic, Fiedler found a new way to share her jokes: social media. And it’s a far bigger audience, too. Instead of connecting with a few dozen people in a club, the aspiring comedian started reaching millions online. One sketch, poking fun at the things a Connecticut woman might say on a first date, has garnered more than two million views on TikTok and has been shared by thousands.

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“It’s crazy,” Fiedler said. “With social, I’m reaching people across the country. I’m reaching people across the globe.”

Fiedler is among thousands of comic hopefuls using TikTok, Instagram and other social media platforms to keep their performing careers afloat amid widespread lockdowns. And like Fiedler, these comedians are finding the audiences online, and the pay, are even bigger. Some say it’s not just a pandemic fad, but the future of comedy.

For years, Taylor Wolfe worked the improv and stand up scene in Chicago, performing at major clubs and taking classes at the iconic The Second City. But it wasn’t a life that worked for her.

“I saw pretty quickly that I wasn’t cut out for that world,” Wolfe said. “I wish I was but a lot of the standups were like single dudes and out super late drinking beers with each other, and I had a husband and dog at home that I really wanted to get to.”

That’s what prompted Wolfe to take her act online even before the pandemic, sharing character-inspired sketches and short videos on Instagram to her roughly 50,000 followers. But in lockdown, her account exploded, jumping up to more than a quarter-million followers.

“My friends who are still in stand-up were like, ‘How do you do these videos? How did you get followers? What’s a hashtag?'” Wolfe said. “They’re not really asking about hashtags, but people who had no interest in it before are suddenly wondering how it all works.”

As more and more comedians use social media to share their sketches that could mean a gateway for more women to enter the field, says Wolfe. Life in standup often means enduring late-night sets and boozy colleagues. Comedians lucky enough to go on tour are typically stuck  in shared accommodations which can be uncomfortable for women on the road. Sexual harassment is reportedly rampant.

But with jokes online, Wolfe says, comics don’t need to endure that to break through. Wolfe pointed out she was pregnant and in lockdown for most of 2020, just as her career was taking off. In her entire career on stage, Wolfe made about $350. Now online, she says can earn in more in a few weeks than her annual salary of her first job out of school.

“In what other world do you excel when you’re pregnant in your career?” Wolfe said. “That doesn’t usually happen, you know, especially in comedy.”

Prior to the pandemic, Wolfe used to hide her online presence and skirt the question when people asked what she did for work. But now, she says, she’s embracing it and thinks it may be the future of the entertainment industry.

“There’s been a shift, people respect us a little bit more,” Wolfe said. “People are realizing there’s more than one way to break into the world of comedy.”

That’s been the case for Jack Martin. Right before the pandemic hit, Martin was trying to break into acting, auditioning for commercials and working with an acting coach. But as the country went into lockdown, the work dried up. Bored and antsy to work, Martin downloaded TikTok and started sharing jokes and quickly found an audience of half a million followers. His popular videos landed him a Hollywood agent and a role on an upcoming network drama.

“I would not be here if it wasn’t for social media,” Martin said.

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