By Michael Varrati
Famed comedian Yakov Smirnoff once stated that laughter was the “universal connection,” and this past Friday at YouTube Space LA, improv superstar Lloyd Ahlquist (aka EpicLloyd) proved this assertion in a most grand fashion.
With the launch of his new show, “Off the Top,” Ahlquist and a band of comedians made YouTube history by hosting the first ever live-stream to connect Space LA with its counterparts in Tokyo and London. The series, which seeks to bring audiences together with creators from around the world for an interactive show, is the first of its kind, and a certainly a test of meddle for comedians who now have a whole globe watching.
Conceptualized by Ahlquist after a call for submissions from YouTube Space LA, “Off the Top” treats the whole internet as if it were the crowd in a brick-and-mortar comedy club, and encourages them to engage as such.
“’Off the Top’ is an improv show, so we’ll be doing games similar to what you’d see on ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?,’ except we’ll be taking suggestions from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube comments,” says Ahlquist. “It’s something improvisers all over the world are getting excited about, and I’m happy to be the one making it happen.”
…and make it happen he did. When YouTube Space LA put out a call-to-action to the creative community for projects that showcased new and innovative ways to use the internet, live-streaming technology, and the Space itself, Ahlquist felt the summons was tailor-made for his abilities.
“I felt like that pitch was made for me, because improv is one of those things that is so interactive,” he says. “As the internet becomes more vast and commonplace, you can use those elements to capture that same kind of magic. I pitched them the show, and they loved it.”
Check out our profile (HERE) of “Epic Rap Battles of History,” for which we spoke with Ahlquist and his partner-in-crime, Peter Shukoff, on their seminal YouTube program.
The comedian, whose work with “Epic Rap Battles of History” has already cemented a fervent audience, was suddenly given the greenlight to take his brand of hilarity to the next level. However, Ahlquist admits that the path was not without its challenges. The ambitious premise of connecting the world through laughter is easier said than done, and even as Lloyd and his in-house team have the luxury of shooting live from YouTube Space LA, the practical issues of connecting them with their counterparts across the world has proven to be tricky.
“It’s been interesting,” he says. “The fact that we’re streaming to Tokyo and have that time difference…they have to start at three in the morning, and do comedy until 10 in the morning. Scheduling the crews has been a trick. The subway system doesn’t run past 10 at night in Tokyo, so we have to figure out how to get talent there. London isn’t quite as far ahead of us, so that’s a little more manageable, but it still presents issues.”
However, Ahlquist asserts, managing hiccups is part of taking on a project this ambitious, and it’s a process he wants to share with the audiences every step of the way.
“We’ve been doing tech rehearsals, and to get a TV-savvy crew to come in and work on an internet-structured show has been challenging, as well. I’m sure we’re going to hit a bunch of bumps during the live stream, but the way we’re setting this up is that it’s a live show, but we also want to show people what happens behind the movie magic.”
It’s a fact I get to witness for myself as a member of the studio audience for the first round of shooting on Friday, August 1. Between improvised games involving clothes pins being affixed to body parts, freestyle rap battles, and stumping the foreign talent with American slang, there is a raw honesty present. The nuts and bolts of production are very much on display, and Ahlquist himself makes a point to walk the audience, both at home and in-house, through the process. In its way, it makes the viewer not just an active participant in the comedy, but in the production as well. Furthermore, it adds to the notion that the internet is one big brick-and-mortar comedy club, as anyone who has ever been to an improv show knows that watching the performers reset the scene is all part of the schtick.
More so, it allows the audience to be privy to two sides of a coin. As the live-stream connects viewers around the world to comedy in process, they get to see the effort that such an endeavor entails. For those looking simply duck in for a quick laugh, Ahlquist reveals that the end-game of the global hilarity will be a lot more concise.
“We’re going to take all the footage from the live-stream, and then edit that down to tight 10-minute episodes of the show,” he says. “The people who watch both will be able to see how we go from chaos with cameras everywhere, reshoots, etc. to the finished product in a few weeks, which I think will be pretty cool.”
It’s certainly a project with a lot of ambition, and as we part ways, I ask Ahlquist what he feels, above all else, the audience ought to know about his new global endeavor.
“Most live-streams are still pretty presentational, but this one is going to be interactive,” he says. “I want people to leave comments, I want them to get involved, I want them to tell their friends…I want them to know it’s going to be funny, interactive, and an experience that they won’t have had before.”