Anyone who has ever visited the Edinburgh Fringe, or keeps a keen eye on gig listings, or just visits this site regularly, will know that a lot of brilliant live comedy gets made each year. And much of it then disappears, forever. Comics write a show, perform it for a month, maybe a year, possibly two if all goes well. Then they move on, and that lovingly-honed live happening is consigned to history.
Thank the stars, then, for NextUp, the online platform that since 2016 has been the go-to place for quality live comedy. On their site you'll find full-length shows by well-known TV/radio names like Ed Byrne, Miles Jupp, Gina Yashere, and the late Sean Hughes and Bill Hicks; leftfield cult heroes - Simon Munnery, Tony Law, Bec Hill, Sam Simmons, Lou Sanders - and the widely-acclaimed next wave: Rachel Parris, Fern Brady, Jordan Brookes, Brennan Reece, Laura Lexx. Plus loads more besides, with new names added regularly (today: Tommy Tiernan).
NextUp has been described as a Netflix for the comedy-fixated, and in an ideal world they'd gradually become a sort of stand-up Smithsonian, too: a constantly updated archive of excellent live stuff. It's an intriguing position to be in. Stand-up's scope and popularity continues to grow massively, and streaming even more so: NextUp are right in the middle of that Venn diagram. Feel the potential.
Now, saving those newer shows for posterity is not easy: you need to set up a gig somewhere suitable and get a bunch of people who know what they're doing to film it, properly. Which takes time and funds. They've brought an admirable number of shows to the screen so far, but would like to do a lot more. So to that end, the company is now moving onto the next stage: inviting others to get seriously involved.
NextUp are currently running a campaign on Seedrs, an online investment platform that lets everyone become a shareholder in up-and-coming companies. At the time of writing they've already sailed past the campaign's original target, and you can see the attraction: NextUp is already on Amazon Prime; they've done a deal with Virgin Atlantic to showcase six of their originals with the airline's 500,000 monthly passengers; and were featured on 1 million whisky bottles as part of a partnership with Whyte & Mackay. They have some more exciting news to announce very soon too.
For newcomers to investing, this is clearly a fair bit more involved than regular crowdfunding: you're buying equity in a company, rather than just rewards. So it isn't something to jump into if being a shareholder doesn't appeal - do read the Seedrs terms and conditions first. But opening an account is free, and you can invest anything from £10 upwards. It's an appealing project to be part of.
NextUp has certainly been a positive force since launching, two years ago. They split revenues 50/50 with the featured comedians, and have also set up The Comic's Fund, which helps with community-based projects. Last year that fund supported The Care Home Tour, a splendid (and now ongoing) project in which a carefully-curated selection of comedians perform for people living with dementia, which yours truly wrote about in The Guardian
And the company actively supports and promotes comedians doing interesting work, from rehearsal space and gig-plugging to the on-screen promotion of cool new stuff. A random click through the site can change your whole perception of live comedy, in truth. Check out Discover Ben Target, in which the brilliantly cerebral comic (who went on to co-found The Care Home Tour) takes all sorts of liberties with live comedy norms - a whole different act takes over the stage at one point - and finishes up outside the venue. Props for the film crew for managing to capture it all.
On a personal note, the preservation of great comedy has been one of my pet subjects for many years: there are so many great shows I'd love to see again. Now, a lot of good stuff is suddenly saved. For example, one of my favourite shows at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe was (deep breath) The Incredible Joz Norris Locks Himself Inside His Own Show, Then Escapes, Against All the Odds!!. It involved the innovative comic doing just that, with string, while also dressing as a scary baby. It wasn't overtly commercial. But it was great, and it's now on NextUp. Which Norris is pretty chuffed about.
"Being able to capture and preserve the work we do feels really important to me," he says. "You hear so many stories about what some of the most unforgettable, electric, brilliant live experiences of comedy history were from 10-20 years ago or so, and it's always a shame that more snapshots of those experiences don't exist."
There are currently 90 shows on NextUp, across a range of styles, and Norris is particularly appreciative that the platform "showcases the work that the stranger, more independent comedians are doing and then gives it to the world," he says, "because it means comedians don't need to dilute their ideas for the widest possible audience. They can make shows they truly believe in and then have a platform that gets it directly to people who love comedy."
Long may their curation of quality comedy continue.