Projecting two billion active users by the end of 2024, it’s no surprise TikTok has been a digital launchpad for comedians worldwide. Even classic stand-up comedians have flocked to the app (and Instagram Reels) – reaching new audiences, honing their jokes, and exploring new forms of character and short-form comedy.
Christopher Hall, like many young TikTok superstars, started during the Covid lockdown in 2020. “I came from a musical theatre background so I always thought that making people laugh was going to be reserved to cast-mates, colleagues or friends,” he says. “During lockdown, after years of wishing I was brave enough to post comedy content online, I figured it was now or never to start, plus if anyone thought negatively of it, I wouldn’t be seeing anyone face to face for a while.”
Conversely, Mel Buttle started in a more traditional stand-up style, piquing her interest with late night 90s sketch comedy as a kid. “Dad used to go to TAFE on Thursday nights, in his absence I was allowed to watch Full Frontal, and it blew my mind. This is where I first got excited about comedy,” she says.
Mel Buttle image courtesy of Token
After a brief stint as a “not-all-that-engaged high school drama teacher”, Buttle dabbled in the Melbourne comedy scene at 24. “I did some open mics and wasn’t the worst person on the line-up, what a win,” she says. “This swell of self-esteem led me to eventually enter the Raw Comedy competition,” in which she reached the national final. More recently, Buttle has taken the online world by storm with her Aussie mum character Lyn.
Jenny Tian started similarly to Buttle, but went from small time gigs to internet fame in just 12 months due to the timing of lockdowns. “I'm mostly known for my TikTok, Insta and YouTube following which total over 600,000 fans,” she says. Tian now sells out her live shows across the country and features on national television and radio programmes.
The reach and accessibility of the online sphere has allowed co-creation to flourish between comedians and when you don’t have comedy clubs to mingle in, it’s a refreshing way to support one another. ”The tricky thing is there's so many creators and only a few events per year so we don't see each other too frequently,” says Tian.
“It’s really fun to work with like minded, creative people, as that is something I miss from being in theatre casts,” Hall says.
Tian has also related to other content creators through her online platforms. “The online culture is quite supportive because we all understand how hard it is to churn out content, receive hate comments and be at the mercy of ~ the algorithm ~.”
Buttle has had a similarly supportive experience. “As soon as I started making online content, Tanya Hennessy, who’s an online OG, reached out to encourage me,” she states. “I really appreciated her support, as I’m such a fan of her character Tracey.”
Writing for a tight time limit for platforms such as TikTok is a very different ballgame from stand-up style comedy and isn’t without its challenges. “I get to explore niche concepts I couldn't in stand-up comedy like monolid make-up – that would totally alienate an audience at an RSL,” Tian says.
“I feel it’s an amazing way to keep your creative muscles flexed,” Hall adds. “Not every video has to be perfect, or the funniest, but it keeps my brain active and keeps my inspiration bubbling for longer form or bigger ideas.”
Buttle echoes this statement of quantity: “I’ve learned that volume is more important than perfection,” she says. “Just whack it up. Have a thought? Film it, put it online. If you don’t like it, you can always take it down. I’ve learned to be less protective about ideas.”
Getting to the point, however, is the key. “The challenges are of course keeping the audience's attention span,” says Tian. “If the subject matter isn't interesting or you haven't hooked the audience in the first few seconds, they're gonna give you a big ol' scroll.”
Christopher Hall image courtesy of Sassafras PR
Hall has faced the same obstacles in his writing. “It can be challenging sometimes to try and keep the comedy concise and getting the joke and story across in 60 seconds,” he says. “Also, it can sometimes be stressful to try and keep the volume of content high and ideas fresh.”
“The challenge is not watching your phone all day to see how your content’s going,” Buttle says. “I fall into that trap often. The upside though is from all my scrolling, my thumbs are now stronger than my biceps.”
Rather than a double tap or a comment from an online audience, performing live brings a very different type of immediacy and intimacy – it’s obvious (and often awkward) if a joke doesn’t land at a gig. “Stand-up means the jokes have to literally be laugh-out-loud funny,” Tian says. “With [online] sketches, I can make observations and the jokes may not be as strong but the subject matter must be interesting.”
Now that borders are open and touring is once again possible, these artists are planning how to blend their online work with their live stand-up. “I love doing live stand-up so much, long may it continue, and am so excited to be abroad performing for Australian audiences, hopefully more travel is in the future plan,” Hall states.
Tian is equally excited to be touring. “This year, I plan to do the Edinburgh Fringe which will be my first time properly touring overseas,” she says.
And what about the comedy scene in general? “I have no idea what the next step in terms of the comedy industry is, probably something to do with TikTok and robots,” says Buttle.
Mel Buttle – Not Here To Put Socks On Centipedes, The Garden of Unearthly Delights, until 22 February
Christopher Hall: Self Helpless, Gluttony, until 17 March
Jenny Tian – Chinese Australian: A Tale of Internet Fame, The Garden of Unearthly Delights, until 25 February