As a kid I loved Pro Evolution Soccer 5 – now it’s won me a new comedy audience | Bilal Zafar | Stage

0
9

I began 2020 full of optimism, excited about returning to the Edinburgh fringe in August with a new show and feeling quite good about my standup. Then the pandemic arrived. As well as worrying about the health of family and friends, all my work disappeared overnight. The majority of my income is from performing standup in clubs around the country. On 1 April, it was announced that the Edinburgh fringe was cancelled. (Yes, they did it on April Fools’ Day.) Everything I had been carefully planning and working towards vanished.

Lots of comedians perform live on social media. I’ve live-streamed on Facebook, which only reached my cousins and a bunch of strangers, and I tried Instagram Live, where people would join by accident and immediately leave. Since lockdown began, I’ve been asked to do a few online gigs. They’re quite nice but doing my standup material to complete silence is what happens in my anxiety dreams.

I had been a casual Twitch viewer for about a year, mainly watching my friend Limmy, who has made a career out of it. He told me to forget everything else and “dive into Twitch heid first”. I would get the words “heid first” tattooed on me if I was into tattoos because this might be the best advice I’ve been given in years.

Going ‘heid first’ … Bilal Zafar



Going ‘heid first’ … Bilal Zafar

On Twitch people usually live-stream themselves playing a video game, chatting as they do it, and viewers can join a chat bar along the side of the screen. I dipped my toe in by playing some standard games that worked on my PC and spoke to an audience of about five as I did it. I’m a big football fan and decided to get the latest edition of Fifa to stream but my attempt failed because my PC is nowhere near fast enough to handle a new game like that. In the meantime, a green screen and ring light that I ordered fairly cheaply arrived. I decided a more retro approach to gaming might be more fun and I got hold of Pro Evolution Soccer 5, the first game I really got into as a 13-year-old.

When people play the career mode on a football game, they usually imagine they are the manager. I decided I would wear my suit to be the manager, and use my green screen to add backgrounds so I could give half-time team talks, have post-match interviews and do a press conference. My audience began to grow and so did my confidence. I gave players their own voices and storylines and began to develop it to the point where my football manager character got addicted to Bonjela, drove a golf cart on the motorway and got into a fight with a player. I now have an average of 600 people watching me three times a week. As a performer, I’ve never had the opportunity to be this creative. The audience who join me in the chat automatically become my “assistant managers” and have a say in tactics, how players should be disciplined and much more.

Most people stream on Twitch casually but for me, each stream is a show that takes preparation. I work hard to make it entertaining. I even get the same feelings as when I’m doing standup: I get very nervous beforehand, have loads of fun when it’s going well and feel the adrenaline when it ends.

I can’t say what will happen to standup comedy. I have friends in the industry who have been made redundant, arts centres are already having to close and the live comedy world could be a very different place when it finally returns. My plan was to go to the Edinburgh fringe where I would have been very lucky to break even and most likely would have had some meetings with production companies that led nowhere. But now I’m able to make some money, do exactly what I want and push myself creatively to a growing audience.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here