Interview: Claude Shires – Stand-up Comedian & Media Entrepreneur

June 1, 2014
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Claude Shires is more than just your average stand-up comedian. He’s a super-smart guy… and he’s applied those smarts not only to making people laugh but also to creating a platform that allows other comics to ply their trade and helping to set up an innovative new crowdfunding initiative called tubestart. Claude took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to BaDoink. Here are the highlights of that conversation…

On your mini TubeStart profile, you say that you’re a molecular biologist by education and a stand-up technologist by trade. How do you make the transition from molecular biology to comedy and what the hell is a stand-up technologist?

I started out on the biology track because my brother’s a doctor, my sister’s a doctor, my dad is a doctor… and I thought for a long time that that’s what I wanted to do. And I loved biology, I thought it was fantastic, but in my junior year at college I started doing stand-up, just because I worked the door at a comedy club and I just really fell in love with it.

[The stand-up technologist] is a kind of merger… Being a comedian you have a lot of time on your hands… I quickly learned I didn’t want to put my entire act up online. I wanted to edit out the parts I really liked, the stuff I wanted to work on… that quickly transitioned into editing for other people. Before I knew it I was editing stand-up comedy specials for Comedy Central and Showtime.

So it was basically a merger of the love of using computers and statistics and comedy together to learn how to do video editing.

Did that happen quickly?

Well I started editing my stuff in about 1999 or 2000 and before I knew it I was editing a ton of people’s stuff; so I quickly developed a reputation as not only a comedian but a comedian who could edit other comedians’ stuff. So I started a little side business editing other people’s stand-up.

It happened over a three-year period where I’d be editing multiple shows… and that turned into multiple camera angles. In order to do that I had to apply some of the principles of problem-solving that I had learned from biology into figuring out how to do the digital plumbing of building a non-linear editing system.

Before I knew it I had built three or four editing systems, which turned into a full post-production house. If there was a problem, I didn’t want to have to pay someone else $250 an hour to come fix it. I should just learn how to do it. That quickly transitioned into learning how to clip together a storage area network.

It’s like rabbit hole, you know, you just keep on going down deeper in there…

That all sounds very serious. Was it difficult not to get sidetracked by the intricacies of all the engineering from doing the comedy?

Well it is but at the end of the day work still has to get done. As an editor there’s nothing more frustrating than when your system goes down and you have to rely on somebody else to fix it… For me I found it was faster if I learned to do everything myself. So it took about a year and half to learn to handle all that plumbing…

How much time to do you dedicate to the editing?

Now I dedicate very little time to it because I’m so involved with tubestart… I have two or three people that work and just run Unreel Media (URM) so I can focus on tubestart most of the time.

Do you still do the stand-up?

Yes I do. In fact I’ve been offered a performance on a Showtime special in September. It’s ironic that now that I’ve been offered that, I really almost don’t have time for it.

How do you decide what makes it into a routine? What’s your process? Do you consider yourself an observational comic?

I look at anything that pretty much makes me frustrated or angry, anything that’s a point of contention in a relationship… If you’re really honest with yourself, the type of comedy that you want to do and the type of comedy that you’re doing aren’t always the same thing. Ultimately, good stand-up should be a product of your experience.

Do you think there is a function for a stand-up comic in modern society? Is there a didactic element to what you do? Or are you just preaching or ranting while lucky enough to have been born into a world that loves spectacle?

I would say all of those things play a part. People always tell me they think stand-up would be the scariest thing in the world. My response is, once you give up dignity and self-respect, you’d be amazed at what you can do.

It must be daunting… it’s an intimate sort of exposure. Not only that, you’re also asking people to judge you on the manner of that exposure, because you’re trying to make people laugh…

The interesting thing about the process of learning to do stand-up is that you have to put yourself in a situation where you know that part of the likely outcome is that you’re going to look bad, but the only way to get from A to B and to learn how to excel in that situation is to be willing to take that risk and put yourself out there.

Is the subjectivity of taste a barrier?

It is. Ultimately, the truest, best comedians are ones that stick to what their point of view is rather than catering to what the audience wants you to be. They’ll come around if they can see the funny in what you’re doing as opposed to trying to people-please.

The first time I got a taste of truth and funny was when I had to perform at the Comedy Store and I had just found out that the girl that I was dating – literally, that night – was cheating on me with three different guys. I remember not wanting to perform but being booked on the show… I just got an onstage and I’d had enough of telling people jokes and finally decided to just tell the truth. I said ‘I really don’t want to be here tonight, you guys… I just broke up with this girl because apparently we’re into different things… I’m into comedy and biology and she’s really into fucking other guys,’ and that got a laugh. I remember thinking, oh okay, here this is; I’ve been doing this a year and here’s the real kernel of truth that has the pain and the funny wrapped into one. I thought, okay, there’s a quality to truth that just can’t be faked and resonates with people… If it’s true, people will get it.

What makes YOU laugh?

It’s funny but there’s a saying, if you want to get a group or regular people to laugh then you can dress a guy up as an old lady and then push him down the stairs… but for comedians to laugh it actually has to be an old lady.

So, in August 2013, you set up a crowdfunding project for your stand-up comedy YouTube channel, StandUpBits – which is a separate project from tubestart. What was the thinking, the motivation behind SUB? Did you see yourself as providing an opportunity for aspiring comedians? What was it about?

StandUpBits was kind of the genesis of our frustration with the lack of direct connection between comedians that are really funny and having access to an audience that television has held the gate-key to for so long. If you watch Comedy Central or any other of these predominantly comedy-based distribution networks, you don’t really see a fair representation of the funny that’s out there. To me that was really frustrating. Ultimately I wanted to do StandUpBits (SUB) on television. There are a lot of comedians out there who might have an eight-minute set that’s hilarious or a five-minute set or a 10-minute set… but there’s no home for those comedians on TV. There’s no way just to insert a three-minute piece her between other acts… nobody was doing it.

I met my tubestart business partner Josef and said, well, YouTube would be a fantastic outlet and maybe we can figure out a way to do this there.

So what was the idea behind tubestart, which started around the same time?

Tubestart is a function of being frustrated at the amount of views we got on our channel and the lack of revenue. My business partner, Josef Holm, and I put up all these videos. Josef helped write the descriptions and came up with an SEO strategy. He comes from a web development background. Once we built the channel and put up some clips and had some substantial views but we didn’t make anything… so we were looking to crowdfunding and Josef actually made the suggestion and said, ‘why don’t we just create our own crowdfunding platform specifically for YouTube channels?’ Thus tubestart was born.

Interview: Stand-up Comedian & Media Entrepreneur Claude Shires
Claude Shires (left) and business partner and friend Josef Holm. Co-founders of tubestart

Did you initially think of tubestart as being directed at comedy only or was it always going to have a wider reach in terms of audiovisual creations?

We didn’t set it up as exclusively for stand-up. We were just looking at other YouTubers who were in the same position as us, losing 45 cents for every dollar to the YouTube ad revenue model… it didn’t seem like the returns were matching the efforts of the creator. So we thought if it’s a problem for us it must be a problem for everybody… let’s fix it.

YouTube is the new TV; online video is the new TV. There will be – in my opinion, and Josef’s opinion – a one-to-one relationship between content creator and consumer. If YouTube is the democratization of the ability to reach an audience, and crowdfunding is the democratization of the ability to raise capital, these two things intersecting in two separately disruptive markets seems to be a good idea.

From there it just it started develop; we asked why are they doing it this way? Why are there 28,000 categories and all this different stuff and one unique funding model? I think Kickstarter has 16 categories and IndieGoGo 12. Video projects seem to be getting lost; the larger volume creators seem to do really well on those platforms because they would bring an audience to the table. But what about having one category – video, film, digital video basically – and creating three different funding models: the fixed, the flexible, and the new subscription-based model.

I think what’s really going to revolutionize what we’re doing in terms of video creators is, on top of having just one video category and three different funding models, developing third party fulfillment of the items that they want to sell in return for raising capital for their creative projects.

How would that work?

Say I’m a creator that has an idea for a web series and I want to crowdfund… how do I do that? Well, I can put up a project and I can reach out to my friends on social media and then I can put up items that I think would be a fair exchange for capital. But then that turns me into less of a creator – because I have to go into the campaign management aspect of it as opposed to creating content and I have to manage the development of that project through whatever the crowdfunding platform is; I have to find these items, collect all shipping addresses and constantly work on updating and creating the project and reaching out through social media…

One of the things that I can do – which is an elimination of this pain – on tubestart is run a campaign and create like a CaféPress account. Say I have over 600 items on the platform that can be sold. I can bill those items with my own custom logo, my own custom graphics, whatever I want it to be, whether it’s a hoodie or a baseball cap or a mug, and then I can put those items that I’ve created into my campaign. If you want to contribute to the SUB campaign, you can buy a hoodie and that will get shipped directly to you; the hard cost of that item will go directly to the fulfillment house and the profit will go to the creator. It takes the creator out of the logistical element.

Is tubestart a success right now?

Yeah it’s going really well. Obviously it’s a ton of work but we’re getting ready to re-launch a new version of the site, with the perk engine – that’s our nickname for the integrated fulfillment. We’ve partnered with a lot of the multi-channel networks on YouTube and basically what we do is we help the creators under those network banners, we integrate with them and provide the crowdfunding aspect of that multi-channel network to help the creators raise money for their content.

This is very quickly evolving. One of the things we offer in our partner program is that we share our information. YouTube hides all the subscriber information. If somebody’s running a crowdfunding campaign and I’m a creator and I have 800 contributors – or 8,000 or whatever – all their demographic information is collected and forwarded to the creator.

If I’m a creator and I’m developing my content, I now have a window into the kind of people who are willing to spend money on the kind of material that I’m creating. Those data points really tell a story.

If you had a brand and those people sponsored, say, three campaigns they felt had legs, that met the criteria for that brand, and those campaigns got funded, well, now you look at that contributor information and go, well, this demographic is really willing to get behind this content and if I match the funding on this content for optional brand integration into the content then I know for sure that this web series has potential. The creators are bringing the audience to the table and the brand can bring the money to the table. So you merge those two aspects and now you have a completely different way for content to get developed. 

So, what’s next for you?

What’s next is to continue to develop the platform in a way that makes sense to the creators. What we’re really looking to do is to become the next generation content creation platform/virtual studio, where we connect creators with any company that has an interest in developing content, as well as any studio or brand that wants to get behind the development of some of these new ideas.

We really want to build a social community around tubestart because what we want is to become a community for creators and for fans; to be like, hey, register here and tell us what kind of content you’re interested in seeing developed.

There’s a lot of ways this well develop. We’re basically creating a hub for everybody involved in content development to participate in a way that makes sense to them.

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