Podculture: What Happens When Your Virtual Event Gets ‘Zoom-bombed’?

Clay Lawhead, Reporter

Northwestern students perform comedy virtually through Flipside’s Zoom event, rolling with the punches — including an unexpected “Zoom-bombing.”

CLAY LAWHEAD: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Clay Lawhead, and this is Podculture, a podcast covering arts and entertainment on and around Northwestern’s campus. This past Saturday, Northwestern Flipside — a campus satire publication similar to The Onion — hosted its quarterly stand-up comedy show, only this time the comedians performed to their computer screens. Flipside decided to host its spring stand-up night over Zoom and extended admittance to anyone who RSVP’d to the event on their Facebook page, including non-Northwestern students.

SHREYA SRIRAM: I sit on my childhood couch every night, close my eyes, change my Tinder location to Paris and just start swiping.
BEN MOSKOW: Let me see if the girl I Twitter DM’ed is here… oh yeah, hey Aunt Peggy, yeah, nice. Sweet.
SHREYA SRIRAM: I just have one really glaring question that – I’m thinking about it, it’s something to do with my experience. People with Zoom backgrounds, what are you hiding? I just want to know.
BEN MOSKOW: Hey girl, what do you say we get out of here? I’ll ask the host of this meeting to put us in a breakout room together.
SHREYA SRIRAM: There’s just one thing about Zoom that I can’t… I can’t really get over the fact that it’s the webcam, I spend all of class just kind of looking there feeling myself — 72k a year for this beautiful face.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Communication sophomore Shreya Sriram, one of Flipside’s returning performers who was featured in the spring show, explains that stand-up as an art form takes a big hit when it’s virtual.

SHREYA SRIRAM: It’s probably one of the most unique things you can do. Because with dance and singing and art, you’re not really relying on constant validation from the audience. But for stand-up, you really need that reinforcement as you go through your set, or else it’s just so depressing being up there. A lot of people are scared of unmuting themselves on Zoom, so you were telling jokes to like 10 people, so it was like five scattered laughs every time you tell a joke and just a bunch of people on each screen, gray, no face cam, just looking. You need that audience interaction.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Many comedians who signed up to perform were glad to have a way to show off their set during quarantine and were enjoying themselves in the Zoom call — before getting hit by a ‘Zoom-bomber’ in the middle of the event. Zoom-bombing, a term that arose from the explosion in use of the video-calling platform Zoom, refers to when someone gets the password to a Zoom call to which they weren’t invited and starts saying verbally abusive, profane or racist things to the people in the call.

SHREYA SRIRAM: I was a Zoom-bomb virgin before this. I really didn’t think this was true because this was something my dad learned from WhatsApp. But it actually happened. I was very shaken. They started saying racist things, anti-Semitic things. They started playing porn on their webcam. But I think that Flipside did a really great job of brushing it off and keeping the event going and that was what the rest of the performance deserved because they did work hard to put a set together.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Communication senior Meredith McHale, another returning performer, appreciated Flipside’s event for giving her a moment of relief in times of quarantine.

MEREDITH MCHALE: I think that anything that can be done right now to create a community or harbor some kind of comedy or entertainment or relief in the pandemic is a really special thing. I mean, it’s my senior spring, and not being able to perform on campus has been devastating. So having that opportunity has been great. It’s almost a sense of normalcy again. We’re hundreds of miles apart, if not thousands, but we can all appreciate this silly moment and enjoy something more lighthearted, something that takes our mind off of it.

CLAY LAWHEAD: While Meredith was not present for the ‘Zoom-bombing,’ she says that similar interruptions happen all the time in-person to stand-up comedians.

MEREDITH MCHALE: I think that if there’s any group of people who are prepared for it, I think it is stand-up comedians because these are people who deal with interruptions all the time. That’s just part of the profession itself. The more we talk about it, the more it’s almost giving exposure. If you’re doing that to a college virtual stand-up event, I feel bad for you.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Medill sophomore Ben Moskow, a Flipside editor and returning performer, mentions that as someone who doesn’t memorize very well, performing virtually was a plus.

BEN MOSKOW: I had basically the whole text written out of what I was going to say, and that eased a little bit of the uncertainty. It’s so much different than when you’re on stage. If you’re just reading off your phone, that’s not the same thing. That’s like taking a little bit of the easy way out. Reading off of a laptop screen, you’re not even going to know. That actually made things a little easier.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Ben is the social media editor for Flipside and took charge on promoting the event. He said that the ‘Zoom-bombing’ was a complete blindside, especially for the performer at the time.

BEN MOSKOW: We had heard this type of thing was going to happen, but it was never really at the top of people’s minds. This guy’s saying these anti-Semitic slurs, obviously you hate to see that, when this is supposed to be such an uplifting event. I think we could have implemented a little better security, but I really don’t think we were expecting anything like that. Shelby just cut her set in the middle, which sucks. I had to perform afterwards, so I was acting as if nothing happened. I was just like, you know what, I’m just going to make people laugh anyways.

CLAY LAWHEAD: Thanks for listening, tune in next week for another episode of Podculture.

CLAY LAWHEAD: This episode was reported and produced by me, Clay Lawhead. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Molly Lubbers, the digital managing editors are Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava, and the editor-in-chief is Marissa Martinez.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @omqclaydoh


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