While COVID-19 has undoubtedly caused problems for every industry, not least the performing arts, going into lockdown has afforded some the opportunity to explore untapped potential. We caught up with one such person, comic Killian Sundermann, to discuss going viral in 2020. 

Even in the best of times, comedians have struggled to maintain a steady income. Their success relies heavily on things completely out of their control: the mood of a room, the state of the nation, the MC, the time of day, an errant heckler, a global pandemic - the potential risks to a successful gig are endless.

Then again, it is the precarious nature of stand up that makes it so worthwhile. Going by most comics' accounts, capturing the attention of a live audience is as rewarding as it is addictive. There is no better feeling than a gig gone right. 

But what happens to comedy when gigs are cancelled? When audiences are told to stay home, and stand-ups are banned from the stage? 

Well, like most things in 2020, it moves online.

With the popularity of online sketches, podcasts, memes, and videos already on the rise, COVID-19 has only served to speed up the new wave of digital comedy. Not only for its ease of use - all you need is a smartphone and decent wifi - but because new faces have been afforded the opportunity to stay at home and get creative.

One such person being Killian Sundermann, a 27-year-old video editor from Dublin who found his audience in the chaos of 2020.

"I've never had an extended period of time where I've been doing nothing," says Killian, "I didn't consciously say 'OK, this is it, let's make content', but lockdown happened and I had nothing to do."

With time on his hands to spare, the DIT graduate put his Degree in Film and Broadcasting to good use and created a mock RTÉ Radio 1 news report to lighten the mood.

"Covid happened and the news became... it was just a drag to exist," he explains, laughing, "I thought I could make fun of RTÉ News and that kind of thing. It was also to show that I could do it because it sounds a little bit real. Don't get me wrong, I love RTÉ, I listen to the radio all the time, but I just thought it was something I could do that would be funny."

The video quickly went viral across Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok, inspiring Sundermann to create reactionary videos to the goings-on of lockdown, whether it be Leo Varadkar's speedy speech or the various levels of COVID management.

And despite insisting that his comedy is "the least political thing ever," his background is firmly rooted in activism, no more so than the two years he spent with a radical performance community in New York.

"I sort of ran away with the circus," he explains. "New York is all about Wall Street and business, but it also has this artistic community and I just fell in with a good crowd of people who were pretty wild and interesting."

"Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir was their name. Reverend Billy does singing and preaching about the evils of capitalism and then we all sing and clap our hands and go in the streets. It's weird and wacky stuff but it was really fun."

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During the first lockdown, Killian's videos were being shared across social media and WhatsApp groups as the country came to terms with the 'new normal'.

Before long, he had grown a following of over 18k people on Instagram alone, firmly placing him in the category of 'micro-influencer' - a subset of influencer becoming increasingly popular with brands for their authenticity and high engagement levels.

According to The Walrus, a recent report found that 56 percent of millennials and Gen Z say that they have made a purchase after seeing a post by someone they follow. Another 86 percent said that they would be willing to post sponsored content if someone paid them to do so.

Simply put, there is money to be made online.

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"I have signed with an agency," says Killian, "The Collaborations Agency messaged me on Instagram and asked if I wanted to make money from my videos and, I guess, there is a decision that you have to make.

"First of all, this is a way for you to make money doing something you like doing. But then, there's also that question of: Is it right? Will people not like it? Will people think that the guy they go to for jokes is now telling us to buy beer or something like that.

"Ultimately, I'd like to figure out a way of making a living off this," he says. "The people at the agency are really nice and allow you to keep control of your creative product even though it's an ad. You make it out of your own idea, and you script it.

"It's good and I like the people, so I have chosen to do it."

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Two years later, creating sponsored content on Instagram, the Dublin man jokes that he has "no morals anymore" and has replaced marching on the streets with the odd e-mail to TDs. However, by the look of both his content and his hobbies outside of social media, he remains an artistic activist at heart.

Since returning home to Ireland from his stint in the states, he has reformed The Sleaze, his angsty childhood band ("we're very teenagery even though we're in our late 20s") and launched MK UltraFilm, a movie review podcast recorded over voice note ("I think there's a punkiness about podcasts").

As for his future career in comedy, he one day hopes to bring his material to the stage but, for now, he is more than happy to remain online.

"I still don't have a plan," he says, "I don't have defined goals in terms of getting a show or something like that but, I suppose if I could figure out a way to make a living off my creativity that would be, in itself, as good as it could get."

"With COVID, comedy isn't happening on stages anymore," he continues, "people have kind of gone to the internet for an audience. I haven't been doing this a long time but it kind of feels like a new grouping of people as well."

"Generation is probably the wrong word," he adds," but it's a new group of people coming out of the rafters, interesting new faces that I haven't seen before who are putting themselves out there."

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If we can take anything away from this year, it’s that even in the most unprecedented of times, performance, art, and entertainment will persevere. After all, we really do need a laugh.

As for Killian, we’ll just have to wait and see where his "wandering 20s" bring him next...

See more from Killian Sundermann here.