Funding Comedy with NFTs

A slightly tangential thought experiment.

Update: since writing this, I’ve been convinced by this very strong counter-argument to NFTs by Seth Godin. He also links to this post on their environmental impact by Everest Pipkin.

In order to become a professional comedy writer-director, there are two things I need to figure out:

  1. How to be a really great comedy writer-director
  2. How to make a sustainable income doing that

The first one has a relatively well-defined path. I like this mantra from Scott Myers: watch movies, read scripts, write pages. (For good measure, I also recommend learning in public so that you can be corrected by people who actually know what they’re talking about.)

The second one is less straightforward. In an ideal world — and I add that caveat in case this comes back to haunt me in the future — I’d want to abide by these general principles:

  1. Everything I make should be freely available for anyone who wants to watch it
  2. Everyone who helped me make it should be compensated fairly

We’ve seen this work with a pay what you want / tip jar / Patreon model, where most people watch for free — but a handful of true fans are happy to pay. (I’m not sure how well this scales beyond an individual artist to e.g. a production company, but we’ll save that for another time.)

But there’s another possible option that’s been in the news this week: non-fungible tokens.

A Quick Introduction to Non-Fungible Tokens (or NFTs)

(You can skip this section if you already know about them, or if you don’t trust someone who only heard about them three days ago to give you a proper explanation.)

“A ‘fungible’ asset refers to something that is interchangeable with another unit of that same asset. A good example of a fungible asset is the US dollar. If I exchange my $1 bill for your $1 bill, nothing really changes. While they are two different pieces of fancy paper, both bills represent the same exact value.” — a handy definition from ONE37pm.

In comparison, a non-fungible asset is something that is unique and has its own distinct value, such a piece of art: I can’t just exchange a post-it note doodle for a Van Gogh. And although I can still take a photo of The Starry Night, or buy a print and hang it on my wall — we all understand that the original is owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

NFTs are a way of emulating this sense of ‘ownership’ for digital art, using blockchain.

For example: earlier this month, Chris Torres — the creator of Nyan Cat — minted an NFT for the beloved animated gif, and sold it for $560,000. And even though we can all still copy it and share it as before, only one person can now claim that they ‘own’ it. Sure, it might not be the exact same as literally owning oil on canvas, but it’s a fun way to let people support the artists they love.1

NFTs and Comedy

So how could this be applied to comedy?

In the long term, maybe you could ‘buy’ your favourite sitcom episodes? Imagine how cool it would be to ‘own’ the Dinner Party episode of The Office (US), like a trading card. Or maybe you could go even further, and create collectible NFTs for classic scenes or especially great jokes.

Although that’s a fun idea, I doubt you’d be able to fully cover the cost of production at that scale. But I wonder if you could for lower-budget, shorter-form videos?

Let’s say you built a reputation for releasing solid, funny sketches with up-and-coming comedy actors. You could then start auctioning off NFTs for each sketch a few days after releasing them. You could convince loyal fans to buy them — especially if they knew that it would help fund future videos. And unlike a simple tip jar or Patreon, they’re actually investing in you: if those up-and-coming actors go on to be successful, then those NFTs increase in value — like owning footage of a celebrity before they were famous — and so they could theoretically resell them for more money. (And platforms like Rarible even let you configure royalties, so you get a cut of all future sales.)

And best of all: the rest of the world can still watch your sketches for free.

I’m a long way from being able to try this out myself — but if anyone a bit more established than me wanted to give it a go, I’d be interested to know how it works out!

  1. One caveat: it’s worth noting that the ecological impact of blockchains is still pretty bad at the moment, and NFTs are unfortunately no exception. That would need to improve before I felt totally comfortable using them — but I’m optimistic that it will do eventually. Update: maybe not.

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