How RushTix CEO Jill Bourque Pivoted In 2020 To Create The Biggest Comedy Club On The Planet

Jill Bourque | Image by Lisa Keating

If there is one word that has become the description of many people’s careers in the entertainment world in 2020, it is “pivot”. With COVID-19 almost wiping out any in-person experience and causing many ticket agencies to re-strategize about their business going forward, one woman didn’t waste any time taking her business into a post-COVID world and continued to help artists bring their creative genius to the fans.

Meet Jill Bourque – the CEO of RushTix, which is described as “the biggest comedy club on the planet” on their website, because, well, it is! You don’t have to be in any specific geographical location to enjoy a live comedy show, and therein lies the genius of what she has created.

As the live entertainment industry continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, musical artists and comedians are continuing to leverage new formats and technologies to tour and perform live while social distancing. The RushTix platform is unique in that it provides a vibrant, real-time social experience, including the “RushTix Studio AUDIO-ance,” which allows the comedian and audience to hear real-time laughter as if they were all in the club together – a key element for stand-up comedy.

Since shifting their business to ticketed comedy livestreams in March, RushTix has produced over 50 large-scale live virtual comedy shows with some of today’s top comedians including Maria Bamford, Kevin Nealon, Chris Porter, and more. The shows have drawn virtual crowds from all over the world with audiences ranging from 3,000 – 5,000 in size.

With RushTix, Jill is creating a live streaming ecosystem designed specifically for live comedy – a $42 billion dollar industry. In fact, her own origins as a stand-up comic inspired her to transform her business and create a platform that helps bring in a good stream of income for an industry that historically needed to be in person.

The best thing about this new experience is there’s no two drink minimum! But seriously, this is such an exciting landscape for the live comedy world and we got to speak to the comedian, CEO and innovative queen about how the platform operates, how this will potentially impact the comedy world going forward, and how this new landscape can be a game-changer for gender equality in comedy..

Tell us about how the concept for RushTix came about initially…

Until March 16, 2020, RushTix was a live event ticket membership company. With live events evaporating we executed a “pandemic pivot” into ticketed comedy livestreams.

For many business owners and entrepreneurs COVID has become a real test of adaptability. Can you tell me more about the success of RushTix since launching?

In March when live events stopped happening, we had to adapt to the new reality of a world without IRL events. Livestreaming was something that we had been doing over the past year as a promotion for our company, hosting a number of Facebook Live events that were really fun to produce. So, fully jumping into livestreaming was something that we had some experience with. We started doing ticketed livestreams for a variety of experiences: concerts, circus, comedy and drag shows, but comedy was the one that really skyrocketed us. 

Your platform is making stand-up comedy even more intimate, giving fans the ability to watch awesome comedy but also get a closer look into the lives of the comedian. How does this element of RushTix add to the comedy-watching experience like never before? 

When you go see a comedian at a comedy club, they are coming to your town and you’re seeing them in a venue. What’s really interesting about livestreaming is that comedians are inviting fans into their world and fans get a peek into their life. We encourage each comedian we work with to use a space for their livestream that reflects their life. Maria Bamfords’s first show had a surprise cameo with her pugs. Brian Posehn, who is big into nerd culture, does his livestream in his “nerd cave” which has an entire wall full of cool memorabilia like comic books and action figures. Livestreaming makes the connection between comedians and fans even stronger.

Many comedians play off hecklers and audience members. How is audience interaction managed virtually? 

The way it works is that we send an email a few days before the show to all the ticket buyers and they apply to be in the audience. There are certain rules they have to agree to that are aimed at weeding out the folks who will spoil the fun by being disruptive. Even though it takes extra effort for our team to vet, it’s worth it because we get a great studio audience that is supportive.

Comedy has traditionally been very male-dominated as you are probably familiar with given your own stand-up background. How do you hope RushTix will become a major player in leveling the ground for equality in the industry?

I’m so glad you asked this. One of the things that is a game-changer for livestreaming is that a comedian can cultivate a worldwide following without going on the road. Traditionally, the only way to move up the comedy ladder is to go on the road, which I think is especially hard for women who have kids as touring is just not a lifestyle that is conducive to having a family. That was a big blocker for me personally. I hope that women will be able to get more virtual stage time and be able to hone their act on platforms like ours and further their careers in stand-up.

Given that you are the CEO of an innovative platform offering comedians the opportunity to connect with thousands of fans even during COVID, how have comedians and agents been approaching you and pitching their shows? 

We’ve been super lucky to have great word of mouth. The comedy community is very close and comedians tell each other about their experiences. Once we had a few big shows we started getting more and more agents approaching us. What I love is how comedians are starting to innovate with the medium. Maria Bamford recently did her second show with us and it was a fun, quirky and heartfelt advice show. The fans really loved it and we’re now seeing more pitches that are not your standard stand-up show.

Who are some of the upcoming comedians being featured that fans can look forward to? 

The next few months are going to be chock full of some great comedy:

Gareth Reynolds
Doug Benson
Dov Davidoff
Brad Williams
Jonathan Katz’ “Dr. Katz Live”
Mary Lynn Rajskub
Becky Robinson
Myq Kaplan
Andy Kindler’s “The Particulars”
…and more!

When the world eventually does start to get back to “normal”, with in-person events, what are your plans for how RushTix will fit into the comedy landscape? 

I think livestreaming is here to stay. It’s a great way for comedians to connect on a deeper level with their fans all over the world. Comedians can have their “touring act,” which is comprised of stand-up jokes and their livestream show, which will be an extension of their act with more interactive content.

What has COVID taught you in terms of entrepreneurship and creativity, and the ability to innovate?

Something I’ve always believed in is that creativity thrives on boundaries and COVID has been the ultimate boundary. It takes a lot of grit to overcome the types of challenges we’ve all been facing lately. That said, I think what has been the true secret of our success is our team. When I came up with this crazy idea to pivot to livestreaming my whole team was onboard and really pulled us through. I’m so grateful to have a team that 100% believes in what we’re doing.

2020 has been so hard in so many ways. Why is comedy more important than ever?  

Comedy is community and if there’s ever a time we needed more community, it’s now. Our country is so divided and we are all feeling worn down and isolated. It’s truly magical when people come together to experience comedy together. Even though we’re all in different places, everyone feels connected.

Head to RushTix now to experience live comedy in a new way, right from the comfort of your home!