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If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that content is the undisputed king of our collective free time. As lockdown sent us scrabbling for the next must-watch TV shows and movies fronted by the hottest new stars, streaming services likewise searched for fresh talent to populate their features and retain subscribers. But where can you go to find tomorrow’s biggest stars today? Jon Jayson, co-founder of Creative Enterprise cohort team Grassroutes Entertainment Ltd and its comedian-led community platform The Comedy Crowd may have just the thing.
“I’m a qualified chartered accountant, former astrophysicist and I worked for Ernst & Young for ten years, so the move into comedy was a natural step,” laughs Jayson, talking us through his varied career so far. “We started building The Comedy Crowd community in 2016 with the ultimate aim of showcasing the fantastic talent of undiscovered creators and using the power of the crowd to make original content,” he continues, detailing the ins-and-outs of his user-led platform. “We crowdsource undiscovered comedy talent and ideas from the world’s largest community of over 9000 creators and work with the best to produce engaging comedy content for our channels and media partners.”
Jayson’s concept is very much in sync with the current trends rippling through the live comedy sector. With clubs and bars indefinitely closed, many comedians have taken the distribution of their work into their own hands. In fact, you may even have already crossed paths with comics who have harnessed social media platforms to share their work with new audiences. Throughout 2020, Alistair Green transformed his Twitter feed into his own personal sketch show, displaying a selection of all-too-relatable characters, each a wry dissection of society at its worst. This Country star Daisy May Cooper took to TikTok to entertain audiences with low-fi comedy bits while lockdown lingered – and Michael Spicer’s perpetually perplexed secret political advisor shot him to viral fame earlier this year, ultimately earning him his own series on Radio 4.
By running regular competitions which place sketches, characters and shorts in front of industry judges and sharing opportunities, tips and trends via a free weekly newsletter, The Comedy Crowd has quickly gained the trust of a vast community of untapped talent. Its success led to the creation of Comedy Crowd TV; a channel that showcases fresh content created by new faces. For Jayson and his co-founders Omar Nasar and Peter Wright, their service answers a very clear need; facilitating much-needed connections between broadcasters and emerging talent. “Major channels want to appeal to young audiences who watch content online, and brands want to engage and activate their target audiences,” Jasyons tells us. “Humour is the most engaging form of content online – but it’s hard to get right. Businesses don’t know who the next big hit will be and one comedian won’t appeal to all of their diverse audiences.” It’s here where The Comedy Crowd aims to help: “We engage a whole crowd of creators with diverse perspectives and stories to tell. We generate a huge amount of original content and select the gems for production and distribution.”
So far, their model has proven to be a huge success. In addition to securing placement on an Indian content app which boasts over 350 million users, The Comedy Crowd has already begun disrupting the entertainment sector closer to home. “We’ve been publicly recognised by the Head of BBC Comedy as the place to go for new talent,” says Jayson. “We’ve also recently entered a partnership to produce exclusive comedy sketches for one of the largest mobile phone operators in the UK. We want to become the ‘go-to’ brand for businesses, channels and fans looking for original comedy content,” he adds, detailing the company’s ultimate end-goal. “This means entering into high-profile partnerships and developing recognized IP in content, formats and characters.”
To achieve this, Grassroutes Entertainment and The Comedy Crowd have become part of our Creative Enterprise Evolve cohort in order to collaborate with industry mentors and catalyse their success. “We decided to take part in Creative Enterprise to help raise funding for the business, to work more closely with Creative England and to learn from mentors who have successfully helped to grow similar businesses,” reveals Jayson. “Having access to introductions from people with the right connections is essential for building partnerships. We’re looking forward to learning how to structure and communicate our business growth potential to attract the right investment. We’re also keen to hear feedback from experienced mentors and meet and learn from other media business founders.”
The past twelve months have posed a considerable challenge to most creative businesses – The Comedy Crowd included. However unlike other sectors, the comedy and content industry has found a wealth of innovative ways to stay afloat during this turbulent time. “The biggest challenge we have faced is fundraising because of a reduction in the number of investors looking for new businesses in the current climate,” says Jayson. “However from a content perspective, this has been a good year. The number of creators in our community making short comedy sketches has increased in a climate where they have had to focus on things that can be done in restricted conditions,” he says, commenting on the resilience and investability of new creators. “It’s a natural human trait and something there’s always going to be demand for. It’s certainly not something that’s going to go away – it’s only going to increase.”
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