Entertainment

Nore Davis's Zoom Comedy Special Is a Time Capsule of a Nation in Quarantine

The comedian told VICE about how online standup scratches the itch to perform, what it's like to bomb virtually, and his optimism for the future.
July 8, 2020, 6:09pm
Nore Davis LIVE From Comedy Trap House
Photo by Marcus Russell Price

On July 3, Nore Davis released LIVE from the Comedy Trap House, following a spate of Zoom shows he'd started performing in March. The New York comedian is in no delusion that a Zoom comedy album can't be as good as the real deal, but he wanted to make a "time capsule album" to capture a nation in quarantine, to honor Black Lives Matter, and to scratch his itch to perform live comedy. And to be clear, Davis gets laughs. When asked how he managed to perform for an unmuted Zoom audience without getting heckled, he said, "I'm not performing for animals!" He explained that he took care to make sure his audience knew the deal, with transition music between performers, and an opening DJ. It was largely successful, though he recalls one show in which a woman tuned in from a car, and the entire audience heard her turn signal.

VICE spoke with Davis about his new special, his optimism for the future, and the difference between bombing on Zoom versus in-person.

You've been doing Zoom comedy shows since March. Were there any big differences as you got more of these under your belt, where you realized certain bits weren't hitting, or you needed to change your delivery for it to hit?
Definitely. There were shows I bombed. So I was like, "Ok, this is actually true standup. I'm actually bombing." [laughs] When you throw a joke out there and you hear silence, you're like, "Oh, shit." I was shaving off a lot of fat because I wanted to make sure I had solid bits. Actual comedy albums and specials, they take about a year to produce to make sure it's right. I knew I was working at a fast pace and I knew what the joke was, and what people were responding to, and then added to that, and just went balls-to-the-wall to the next show to hammer it out. It came together, man.

It must've felt like a different skill on Zoom. One of your signature moves is that thing where you look like you're gonna cry but you don't, which unless you have a great video connection, that's not going to translate.
[laughs] Exactly. That's my signature, baby. It's all in the inflection of the voice. It's all being expressive in the voice.

What does it feel like bombing on Zoom versus real life?
The only difference is the type of medium. But a bomb is a bomb, man. It just hurts. When you see people being silent on a stage, versus Zoom where you can see them, or maybe you can just see a name, and you don't hear anything? It hurts just the same. Now you know, 'Alright, let me straighten this joke out.' And the thing that separates comedians from other people, when we bomb, take that as a teaching lesson. Not as in "Oh I suck, personally." It's just like, "What I just did was not good."

Are there things you miss about performing in front of a live audience without technology?
The whole interaction. Feeling their energy. In Zoom I can sense it, "sensing" meaning taking an educated guess. You can kind of feel it. With performing live, you can actually feel their energy. You can see their facial expressions right there in 4K HD. I miss that. That's the main thing I miss, feeling the people's energy and actual physical laughter from the audience. That wave, rush of laughter, I miss that. But I was able to get a bootleg version of it on Zoom. It ain't Coca-Cola, but I'll take cola. It does the same job.

We'll take it, because right now a comedy special filmed in front of a live audience would be like something you could only get on the dark web.
Exactly. Hell yeah. Even when you see [old specials] now, you're kind of jealous, like, "What the fuck is this, man." Just like I did in my Walking Dead joke. I envy it.

How do you feel about comedians who are already starting to tour again?
I personally feel like they should wait. But it's subjective. If that's what they want to do, that's what they want to do. Because those are the type of comedians to not take advantage of Zoom and the other tools we do have. I think we can wait. Our safety is much more important than actually getting out there to perform. I'm a comedian, I'm selfish and narcissistic as fuck, like, "Fuck all that, I'm trying to get my jokes off!" But also, you gotta think about people's safety. I understand the comic's itch of wanting to get out and wanting to perform, because three months in quarantine does feel like three years. Think about it. Kobe passed away in February. That happened this year. It's been such a heavy, heavy year, you forget what things happened and what didn't happen. So I feel like comics should take advantage of the tools that they got, but if they want to go out there, that's good for them, man. But for me personally, I'm going to sit back in the cut and see how this plays out.

What does it feel like to be a Black comic in 2020, and there's this reckoning that seems like it could've happened much earlier, and Black Lives Matter is staying in the news?
And it's gonna stay in there forever. I feel great. Even my dad and his whole generation is shocked about it. George Floyd's funeral was on national TV after Judge Judy. He hasn't seen that coverage since probably, O.J. This is a great awakening and I just tell all the new white people, "Welcome to the party. Pop Smoke. Welcome, baby. Get yourself educated, and help us fight." Because the reality of it, I've been saying this ever since I've been able to talk and my mom and my dad teach me about it and that's always been our approach. The only difference is now we got the white babies in the street now, screaming "Black lives matter." And that's what needed to happen. So now, older white people—or even younger white people!— have to listen to somebody who looks just like them say "Black lives matter." I'm happy it's here. Happy to see it at 37 years, and hopefully it will keep ringing on until I'm an old man. And hopefully there's a lot of change because these wrongdoings can't keep going on unchecked. That's just not how the universe works. There has to be balance. And my job is bringing joy and laughter during these hard times because being Black, that's how it goes.

We always have to experience pain and go to work. Or see these police killings and then your boss is like, "Why were you late?" and it's like, "I was in my car fuckin' crying over Trayvon Martin." But you can't say that. So it's just like, "Sorry I'm late, boss. I'm here." And keep going on with our day. So now we don't have to do that. Now we can actually tell our boss what was happening, they can see our feelings, and they have the same emotional attachment as we do, and now we have a common understanding, like, this hurts, man. This is emotional trauma and we don't want to go through this anymore, and now you know this is happening! I think it's great, I'm all for it, I'm all for everybody educating themselves, getting onto it, and I'm all for burning it all down. You let me know how you feel, but that's how I feel.

It's a little frustrating, it proves the point that if you didn't have to learn about it, you wouldn't. Like I don't know the rules of golf because it never affected me and I don't care about it.
So if I was playing golf this whole time, and you just learned about the shit, I'm not gonna be mad at you. The person who is mad at you for learning golf is just like, 'they should've learned,' but it's like, look: at least you're here right now, you're willing to learn, so come on, let's get on this fuckin' 9-hole and let's have fun. Same thing with racism. There are other Black people that get frustrated, and I get that. Understand that they've been going at this for years. I tell white allies and non-black people, let them be frustrated, but also know where it's coming from. Understand why they're frustrated, listen to it, and get to work. That's it. Don't ever get discouraged by that. People are starting to see other people, all people want to do is be heard. Black people just want to be heard, and we want to be listened to, and we want to be left the fuck alone. Definitely by the cops. Stop killing us. That's it. Very simple.

[On your website] you said, 'Enjoy this special for 51 minutes and then go back to fighting racism in the United States.' If a non-Black fan were to ask you, how do they continue this fight?
Signing all the petitions, donating to bail funds, and also amplifying a lot of Black voices. So if they listened to my album, go listen to another Black comedian's album. And if you're tired of comedy and want to listen to some music, listen to a Black artist, because even those streams, that's still revenue for a person. Or watch a Black person's YouTube video! Supporting small little businesses like that. Read their book. That's also a way to help fight systematic racism and get economics back on our side. Because we were never set up to win. The world is playing Monopoly but Black people, we're playing SORRY! We're playing the game, and then we get to a place like, 'Sorry!' and then right back home.

Shit.
It's real, bro. I think that's a way for allies to continue to support Black voices, the ones that are alive. Definitely amplify their voices and help them in any way you can. And also, the ones that have died, definitely sign the petitions, and donate to the bail funds for the people protesting, and also get out there yourself! Be a white face out there screaming "Black lives matter: and marching so cops get the message that people that look like you under that helmet and that mask, behind that baton, feel opposite to you, but they look just like you! That representation is needed.

Nore Davis's fourth comedy album, LIVE from the Comedy Trap House is now streaming on major platforms, on Blonde Medicine.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.