Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? So wondered Freddie Mercury way back in 1975 and most of us can relate right now, as lockdown life gets increasingly surreal, if not hugely bohemian. Remember crowds, hugs and the concept of time? Heady days.
Still, certain comedians are embracing the fantasy, and even turning it into a spectator sport. Chris Purchase already has popular lockdown projects going on: he's one of the rare comics to make live-streamed stand-up work, with the Sunday-night Live From His Dining Room. And now he's getting into online video-gaming too, having kicked it off with a new-to-us game called Dark Souls 3.
That may sound a bit random, but then dark souls are hardly rare in the stand-up world, onstage and off; indeed, Purchase has endured a genuinely traumatic few weeks, as alluded to below. He's a resilient soul though, and live gigs - and gaming - clearly do both him and the audience good.
Actually since our chat that format has evolved slightly, and now twice-weekly he'll also dabble in "book, comic and film reviews, live chats, roleplay - just geeky stuff so we can have a bit of fun like a community." He's going for that drop-in comic/game shop vibe, for folks who miss it. And this way you won't impulsively buy armfuls of gear - but do feel free to tip Purchase a coffee, or two.
Right, let's hit 'Play'.
Video gaming on Twitch - what's made you suddenly decide to do that?
I love console gaming. I've always had consoles but due to comedy haven't had much time to do it. During the lockdown I've got back into it in a huge way, rediscovering my love for it all over again.
It's been awesome as I've essentially had this huge gap between my old Xbox 360 and newer PS4 so playing games now is like a caveman seeing an iPhone. I kept up with the news and tech, just didn't have time to play myself, so now I'm constantly in awe of how big and beautiful games are.
I'll be honest, the reason I'm going to stream me playing is because I can, and I miss having real audiences. I've been streaming a weekly topical comedy show every Sunday which is a mix of news and jokes about the news, but a friend suggested that I stream my gaming and I thought "Why not? It's free and I'm doing it anyway."
What do you reckon the teenage you would make of it all?
My teenage self would love my life now. When I was a teen I was bullied, a bit of an outsider with really low self-esteem: now I have my own weekly show, I've got an incredible family and I can play video games with anyone who wants a game. Isn't that every kid's dream?
To just shout out into the void "Who wants to play a game?" and thousands of people shout back "ME!" Isn't that just incredible to think about? Every single person with a gaming console can plug a headset into it and talk to someone else on the other side of the world with the same interests while they do something they love together. It's a beautiful thing.
You're a self-confessed Dungeon Master too - is Dungeons & Dragons common among comedians?
D&D is seeing a huge resurgence due to Stranger Things and [US series] Critical Role, plus it's all about being yourself rather than trying to conform to a certain group, so people are discovering things they didn't even realise they loved.
Any comedians play D&D?
There's a few and I know loads have tried it, because that's what we do if there's a new thing. I've helped comics make characters for their upcoming campaigns so I reckon that this lockdown has encouraged a bunch who were interested to give it a go.
But more importantly there are incredible players becoming celebrities because of their love for D&D, people like Matt Mercer, Sam Riegel, Laura Bailey, Marisha Ray, Travis Willingham and everyone from Critical Role. I think that's more important than the celebs that play. Those people actually love the hobby and their passion has made them into huge stars.
Have you worked out a plan to combine D&D and comedy onstage?
Yes, indeed - I did a sell-out tour of my show 20-Sided Dice over November, December and January to sell-out audiences. It was at Leicester and was going to be at a few other festivals but now that's not happening so I'll be touring it again once we're back out there!
How have you found the lockdown generally, from a creative point of view?
Well I obviously miss performing but I'd started to move towards more solo stuff. I've a reasonably large online audience across Facebook, Twitter and Insta who come to live shows. I love having that connection with a group rather than just showing up and people not knowing if they'll like my stuff, they trust me to try new things and be honest with my comedy, rather than me tailoring it for weekend audiences.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love gigging in clubs but my favourite gigs are 25 people in a coffee shop who know I'm about to do an hour show on mental health or Dungeons and Dragons or both. That connection is what I've been trying to have with my online followers during this lockdown, giving them a free show every Sunday plus jokes, sketches, sharing my life openly and honestly, even when it's been incredibly tragic the last couple of weeks [Chris talks about that here].
Looking ahead then, have you got an adjusted long-term plan, or just seeing how it goes?
This whole lockdown is going to have huge ramifications for live comedy stretching into the next year, so I'm trying to stretch into online stuff as much as possible, and so far it's working: people 'buy' tickets to the show through my ko-fi, and it's not as much as live work but then I'm not driving hundreds of miles every weekend, so it balances out.
I don't really have a long-term plan, I've had to force myself to relax about it and just do what I want to do. As long as people want to see me do stuff I'll still do stuff. There's so much to choose from now that you really have to work hard to make it good - viewers can just watch something else.