What the Hell is VR Comedy?

November 2, 2023
Willa Barnett

Putting on a Virtual Reality headset and flailing about in your living room is embarrassing enough. Try doing a standup routine at the same time. As ridiculous as that may sound, stand-up comedy has grown to be one of the more popular activities within the metaverse. 

What is the metaverse? Glad you asked, because it’s super simple to explain! Just kidding; it is an ever-growing amalgamation of virtual worlds and experiences that we are just beginning to be able to describe. VR headsets are the most common way to access some part of the metaverse. The most popular of these headsets are Meta’s Quest 2 and Quest 3 models, which allow you to play some of the leading VR games like BeatSaber, Skyrim VR, or Superhot. 

However Meta doesn’t want users to just play games, but to also spend time in the metaverse. They want it to feel akin to what sociologist Ray Oldenburg describes as a “Third Place”—somewhere away from work or home that people communicate, share, and create. And no, the metaverse isn’t the same thing as Meta the company, just to make things even easier. Meta’s own “Third Place” has a different name: Meta Horizons, a platform where users can create virtual worlds from arcades to … comedy clubs. Aha! Finally, we return to comedy. 

The emergence of virtual comedy clubs where people can see live stand up, sketch, and improv spouted through the mouths of smooth, humanoid avatars is a peculiar thing *shiver*. Nevertheless, these clubs are filled every night with comics and audience members that are eager to take part. Clubs like The Soapstone, which got a shoutout from Mark Zuckerberg (Mr. Sweet Baby Rays himself) on The Joe Rogan Experience. Or Simon Says Laughs. Or Failed To Render, which is actually found on a competing application called VRChat, but we don’t have to get into that. After hearing about these places, I couldn’t help but wonder what was driving people to ignore all of the technological boundaries of doing comedy in VR to keep these clubs going. So I decided to try it out. 

A VR selfie within The Soapstone– friend me on Horizons!

Entering The Soapstone’s venue, you are met with a large modern complex full of glass and wood. Virtual glass and wood, that is. An indoor balcony overlooks the stage, which is backed by a massive screen that holds a leaderboard of who is the most entertaining comic of the night. To the right of the stage, a sign declares that you can press a big red button to add your name to a list and you will get 3 minutes to work on your material. I pressed the big red button and waited my turn. Users mingle around virtual tables with their virtual bodies making real conversation. Butting into a VR conversation is about as awkward as approaching a random group at a party—your avatar blankly stares at the strangers until a lull in the conversation where you can introduce yourself or until one of them inevitably says, “What are you looking at”. (Yeah, that’s usually how my real life party experiences go.)

When it’s my turn to perform, I approach the stage and “grab” the mic. My voice is automatically projected to every user in the room, as opposed to the typical radius of only a few feet. Avatars stare back at me expectantly (or at least I think they’re expectant; again: no expressions). Immediately, I feel the constraints of this medium. My instincts to lean on physicality and body language are useless. But after some adjusting, people begin to laugh! Or, more accurately, they hit the buttons on each table that say “APPLAUSE” and that’s good enough for me.

Some quick and easy jokes for the metaverse beginner: 

“Everyone looks great tonight I’m assuming.”

 “I’ve been around since before we had legs!”

“Is that a Quest 2™ controller in your virtual pants or are you just happy to see me?”

I am unceremoniously transported off the stage when my three minutes are up. Now others come up to me and discuss my set, and I begin to feel a bit of what this community can provide. 

Comedy isn’t new to VR; Meta has created larger branded events with big name comics like Nikki Glaser, Nicole Byer, and Pete Holmes. But these are glorified live streams of pre-recorded content that you can “experience” in VR (AKA stand alone in a virtual room where the screen wraps around you). There is no camaraderie, no attempt to imitate the feeling of a real comedy club. That is what makes these user-created spaces so heartening: the genuine love of comedy and push to make it work despite the technological hurdles. Regardless of individual reasons for attending a virtual comedy club—whether it's a geographical issue, social anxiety, a disability, sheer curiosity, or a deep desire for connection—it's the repeated presence and performances of its patrons that truly bring the club to life and make it 'real'.

The back wall of The Soapstone comedy club in Meta Horizons.

So go ahead! Buy yourself a $399 VR headset to go bomb in front of strangers instead of doing it at your local open mic—at least this way you can call yourself something like “BigDaddy475” and make your avatar really hot. 

Not appealing? Well then continue to keep up with Hello SciCom and we’ll report back on these sorts of communities you didn’t even know existed. We live at the nexus of comedy and tech, where nerds can let loose.