It’s easy to admire the comedy empires that people like Chris Hardwick and Aziz Ansari have built with the help of the Internet, but what often gets overlooked is the years worth of work they put into it before hitting it big.
That work doesn’t just involve what happens on stage, but their commitment to building an online presence and using it to put creative content out into the world has also contributed to their success.
With a little help from the Internet Archive, I thought I’d go back in time and show you some of the things that today’s biggest comics were doing years ago – when both their fanbases and the Internet audience as a whole was a fraction of what it is today. It’s a good reminder that success online doesn’t happen overnight and that most comics who have made it were putting in work years before you may have realized it.
Now let’s hop in a comedy time machine and see who was doing what when…
In 2008, Chris Hardwick was posting home theater reviews and joining Twitter.
Shortly after launching his Nerdist blog – and years before he would launch the Nerdist podcast – Chris Hardwick was blogging regularly on his site about all sorts of stuff that had nothing specifically to do with his standup act. He was regularly posting reviews of technology gadgets such as this home theater system review.
He also joined Twitter (as explained in this blog post) because he thought it was “just too damned adorable to ignore any more” and promised to give people “blog updates and who knows what kind of other tweets.” Little did he know the TV series and hashtag wars that it would lead to.
In 2005, Aziz Ansari was making short videos and uploading them in Quicktime to his site.
Aziz didn’t bother waiting around for YouTube to be invented to start posting videos online. As you can see here, he was making short comedy videos about how Wal-Mart put his Dad out of business and uploading them to his site as Quicktime files way back in 2005.
Another fun bit of back-in-the-day Aziz is a look at the bio that was on his website back then. As you’ll see, it’s honest and he didn’t try to make himself seem more successful than he was at the time – something that way too many comics today try to do. He even mocks the fact that he’s writing about himself in the third person, as opposed to pretending somebody else wrote it for him.
In 2002, Gabriel Iglesias was remixing articles for the 5,000 people that visited his website.
A look back at Gabriel’s site from 12 years ago reveals a fun little bit – a public stat counter that shows 5,018 people had visited his site up to that point in total. But that small audience didn’t stop him from still taking the time to occasionally post some content on the site.
For example, he posted this article from the El Paso Times with his own commentary about it incorporated into it.
In 2001, Doug Stanhope was trolling newsgroups and posting road stories.
Stanhope has done an incredible job building a fanbase outside of the traditional comedy club system, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that even 11 years ago he was already using his website to share content with fans and give them a chance to interact with him. For example, you can look back and see a collection of his road stories, or a bunch of examples of him trolling early Internet newsgroups.
In 2001, Louis CK was posting “bad jokes” on his site and trying to figure out his own name.
Louis CK may be the king of standup comedy at the moment, but 11 years ago he was quick to point out on his website that he was a “fellow who does a number of things.” In addition to details about his standup career, his site also featured uploaded videos of the short films he had made, cartoons he had made, and even a Bad Jokes page featuring bad jokes he had written.
Back then Louis wasn’t even quite sure what name he was using for his comedy. As he explained, “You may have noticed that I am refered to on this site sometimes as Louis, and other times as Louie. That is because I am stupid and have not figured out which one I am called yet.”
Why You Should Care About Any Of This…
Besides the fact that looking back at some old websites is a fun bit of nostalgia, I think it’s worth recognizing a couple things that all of these successful comics had in common. First, they had a website – in some cases years before other comics bothered to create one. But on top of that, each of these guys were putting some content on their sites – they were using them as a way to attract and engage fans.
These guys were also pretty open and honest about where they were in their career and who they were – they weren’t trying to pretend they were more successful than they were. They were transparent.
A lot has changed in the years since these guys launched their sites, but the underlying things that they embraced can benefit you just as much today as they did them years ago.