The stand-up comedy landscape is crowded these days. Big expansions, like the “Netflix Is a Joke” campaign (which is pushing the streaming giant’s current and upcoming work with Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres and Jerry Seinfeld), are happening by the hour. Meanwhile significant reductions, like Saturday Night Live‘s decision to bar freelancers from Weekend Update, are effectively cutting comics off from previously reliable methods of getting their jokes — and their names — out there. And to make matters worse, even newer outlets like Seeso are already getting pushed out.
Enter Tony Hinchcliffe, the 33-year-old comic best known for writing some of the Comedy Central Roasts‘ best jokes, and for hosting his popular Kill Tony podcast at the world-famous Comedy Story venue in Los Angeles. Since 2013, Hinchcliffe and his comedian friends have presented audiences with an hour and a half of uninterrupted comedy that, among other things, includes giving random amateurs a chance to impress them and the room with their best jokes. To liven things up, Kill Tony began live streaming its tapings via YouTube, an element that now includes the use of virtual reality (VR) — thereby affording viewers the chance to experience the entire show in 360 degrees.
The use of VR in stand-up comedy isn’t all that new. Comedy Bang! Bang!-alum-turned The Late Late Show bandleader Reggie Watts performed a virtual stand-up set in a Second Life-like virtual environment last year. Other projects, like the “Comedy Living Room,” have made use of AltspaceVR to create digital environments in which comedians (via their avatars) can try out their material on an audience of fellow VR users. Kill Tony, however, doesn’t go quite as far for the artist as these endeavors — and that’s because Hinchcliffe is more concerned with making his show more accessible to those viewers who just can’t make it to the Comedy Store that night. The Ohio native explained this and more in a recent chat.