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British ‘Netflix of comedy’ gives acts live lifeline as income falls

A London start-up aiming to become the ‘Netflix of comedy’ has begun streaming live shows from housebound comics as it looks to replace some of the income lost by Britain’s comedians.

The industry has been decimated as the lockdown has shut down the comedy circuit: hitting the pockets of comedians, promoters and venues. Most comedians are self-employed and are attempting to bridge the gap until Government’s financial support comes in in June.

East London firm NextUp – backed by the former head of comedy at BBC Worldwide, Stuart Snaith, and former MGM worldwide boss Bruce Tuchman – is streaming stand-up shows and interviews with comedians on platforms including Twitch, YouTube and Facebook.

Fans are able to ‘tip’ comedians and get a share of proceeds if their show leads to a NextUp subscriber sign up.

NextUp was founded three years ago to give comedians an extra revenue stream – the service shares 50% of its subscriber fees with artists and has 200 live shows on its video on demand platform including shows from the likes of Miles Jupp and Shappi Khorsandi.

Co-founder and chief executive Daniel Berg told the Standard: “There is currently no way for comedy clubs to operate. It has left a huge vacuum for comedians who can’t earn revenue or practice material. It has left venues and promoters with no shows and comedy fans without live shows.

“We are comedy fans and set up NextUp to support comedians. We are trying to keep the live environment going without people leaving their houses. It means comedians still get virtual stage time and get paid.”

The crisis has led to NextUp creating new formats for its live shows, which stream three to five times a week. These include live streamed stand-up shows, comedians playing games with other comedians and commentaries on existing shows.

Berg said shows such as Anna Mann’s Cheese, Sex and Self-Isolation Party, hosted by character comedian Colin Hoult, had proved popular. A planned live show, Pope’s Addiction Clinic, has shifted online with comedian’s discussing the theme of addiction.

Berg said a strong start to the year in subscriber sign ups had accelerated during the crisis. The company had planned to raise investment this year and Berg now expects to launch a crowdfunding effort this summer as the landscape for institutional investors is uncertain.

“People who probably would have invested in supporting comedy will probably still do so and want to support something like NextUp which has shown continual growth.”

Last year NextUp raised £510,000 through Crowdcube, outstripping an original £300,000 target.

Separately, NextUp is raising money for comedians via a Just Giving campaign. The fundraiser is nearing £100,000 after promotion by the likes of established comedians Richard Herring and Dawn French.