When you think about a Bright Club event what is the first thing that comes to mind? Science communication and comedy? Yes, of course – but what else? Think back to the last time you attended Bright Club. Maybe you remember making your way to The Black Gate in Galway, Whelan’s in Dublin or An Spailpín Fánach in Cork, and can recall a moment when you spotted a friend at the bar, waiting for you before the show. Perhaps there was a time when you caught up with an old acquaintance as you made your way to your seat. You might remember sharing a laugh with a stranger as you chatted during the interval of the show, or indeed a time when you clapped and cheered along with an entire room full of people as your friend or colleague took to the stage. Bright Club is made up of all these moments. It is about bringing people together – to laugh, to learn, and to connect.

Back in March as the first wave of restrictions and closures came into effect, it became clear that we would not be in the position to gather people together for a Bright Club event for some time. We set about contacting speakers who were due to perform at our March gigs in Dublin and Galway, notifying them that all of our upcoming gigs were to be cancelled. We assured them that we would be back in touch as soon as the restrictions were lifted and we were in a position to resume live events as normal. As the weeks went on, and reality sank in, we figured that we might be a long time waiting.

On April 1st, we hosted our first online Bright Club event. In truth, we were nervous and a little unsure about the prospect of moving Bright Club to an online platform. There were a number of reasons for this. We had technical worries, and were concerned about the potential threat of unwanted audience members (hackers) joining our events. Not only that, but how could we ask speakers who were brave enough to be giving comedy a go in the first place, to now do so in front of a virtual audience they could neither see nor hear? The reciprocal energy between performer and audience member is such a vital part of live comedy, and in many ways relies upon the personal presence of both. With physical proximity now not an option – would an online version of Bright Club even work?

The answer is yes.

Does it feel strange for our speakers to perform to an imagined audience via a screen instead of on a stage in front of a crowded room? Of course! But, as Erin Sullivan, Drama lecturer at Stratford – Upon Avon University correctly points out; “the very nature of audience presence and ‘liveness’ is being re imagined in a digitally distributed age”. We were pleasantly surprised at how important the chat box became during our first online event on April 1st. Audience members used the chat box to show their appreciation for the speakers. The comments took on the same role that applause or laughter would in a live setting. They created a sense of energy and community amongst speakers and audience members.

That is not to say that attending an online event is the same thing as attending a live Bright Club event in Dublin, Cork or Galway –of course it’s not! For one, we have fewer speakers at the online events. The format for Bright Club Online is to have three academic speakers and one headline comedian. This means that the online show is shorter overall, which we think works better for remote audiences. We operate the events using Zoom Webinar. The pre-show tech checks have become even more important for the online shows then they were previously for the live shows. We tend to run them a number of hours prior to the evening event so as to ensure we have enough time to sort out any individual difficulties or issues should we need to.

What is similar between the online experience of Bright Club and the in person experience is the opportunity for connection. We are inviting audiences and speakers to come together, all be it virtually, to laugh, to learn, and above all to connect with one another. In a time of such separation and isolation perhaps it is more important now than ever to cherish these moments of community and connection. We are so grateful to the speakers that have taken part in all of our online Bright Club events to date, as well as to all the audience members who have registered, logged on and taken part as well. We have had three successful online shows to date, and are very much looking forward to our upcoming shows on May 14th and 28th – see you there?