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Culture in lockdown: 1. Dom Joly

Dom Joly performs at the Drive-In Club in north London, 3rd July 2020

This is the first part of a five-part series. See also our profiles of theatre director Matthew Xia, classical musician Yana Tsanova, Elvis impersonator Brendan Paul and indie-rock musician Elizabeth Stokes

Dom Joly, comedian
London, UK

Back in June 2020, after months of stasis, Dom Joly was starting to get cabin fever. The comedian and travel writer was in lockdown with his family at his Gloucestershire home. His Holiday Snaps tour – a one-man-and-a-laptop show in which he would regale his audiences with tales of trips to exotic places like North Korea and Cambodia – had been postponed.

It was, he says, the longest he had been in the same place for as far back as he can remember. “There was suddenly this moment, about four months [into the pandemic] when we started thinking, ‘What are we going to do? How are we going to do gigs?’” he recalls. Joly was, after all, a travel writer without any travel, and a performer without a stage.

But then he was offered the chance to be the opening act of a new Covid-secure comedy drive-in at Brent Cross, north London. He would perform his Holiday Snaps routine onstage, the audience would be safely bubbled in their vehicles and the show’s audio would be piped into their car radios. In theory it sounded like an elegant solution to Covid-induced boredom and a sudden change in Joly’s career options.

It didn’t work out like that, however. “You’re just looking out at lots of cars,” he says of the moment he went out on to the stage. “You don’t know if people are laughing or not. I said: ‘Can you flicker your headlights, or honk your horns?’ But when they honk their horns it sounds like they’re really angry. I thought: ‘We haven’t worked this whole thing out.’” A gale-force wind blew in under dark grey clouds and his screen, vital for the show, went blank.

Even though Joly, who became a household name on the back of his Trigger Happy TV sketch show which aired from 2000 to 2003, was glad to get out of the house, he wasn’t surprised when the organisers eventually canned the whole project. “It just didn’t work as a concept,” he says.

Joly was back to square one, trying to work out how to adapt his craft to the new normal. And then he was told about Twitch, a hugely popular online platform that was initially centred on people streaming themselves playing video games, but has grown to incorporate chat, music and comedy. Users subscribe to their favourite channels and donate money to their favourite Twitch streams. Joly was intrigued. “I spent the last five years shouting at my son for watching some nerds playing video games online,” he says. “But Twitch is massive. And they’re trying to move it from just gaming to more chat and social. So now people like AOC [US congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] just jump on to Twitch.”

Twitch also offered the promise of providing an income without leaving the house. Limmy, the nickname of cult comedian Brian Limond, was an early adopter who has reaped the financial rewards. His Twitch channel, which he launched two years ago, mixes absurdist comedy sketches with two-hour-long stream-of-consciousness videos of him playing truck-driving simulations. It has become so popular that in September 2020, the Bafta-award-winning comedian announced he was giving up touring and making television shows for the time being. “He’s literally stopped all stand-up, telly, everything, and has gone onto Twitch,” says Joly. “He has 200,000 followers and makes [a fortune] each month. It’s insane.”

Joly has been streaming on Twitch for a matter of weeks but has already started to build a following. His account is a mixture of sketches, curated playlists of music videos from bands he likes and wry commentary over computer games. His postponed tour is due to recommence at the end of August and he’s working on a new book about conspiracy theories, but his Twitch awakening has changed the way he thinks about his career and has allowed him to bypass the traditional broadcasters.

“I’ve been longing to make proper travel documentaries but [the people who make] telly still see me as the bloke with the big phone,” he says, referencing his most famous sketch from Trigger Happy TV. “I don’t have to ask them any more. I’m on tour later in the year. I’m just going to Twitch it. You are totally in control of your own brand. It’s total interactivity. I love it.”

We hope you enjoyed this sample feature from issue #41 of Delayed Gratification

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