Comedian Chris James breaks the barriers of Zoom to entertain Whitman community

Jaime Fields, A&E Reporter

With a fake background of a beach behind him, Chris James looked like he was calling in from a tropical vacation — when in actuality, the British-African comedian was hundreds of miles away in LA. On Tuesday, March 30, James performed a stand-up routine for Whitman students as a Zoom WEB event.

James wasn’t always a stand-up comedian. He was a model and an actor. It was while he was reading poetry at open mics for more stage experience that a friend suggested stand-up. Although he still acts and is getting back into modeling, James is known for his comedy, with some of his stand-up clips getting millions of views on YouTube.

When everything went online, comedians like James faced a huge unknown.

“When it was new to everyone, no one knew what to expect — agents didn’t know what to expect, the comics didn’t know what to expect, and the first shows that everyone [did were] disasters,” James said, adding that with the audiences’ cameras off, “it feels like you’re playing to nobody, and it’s nerve wracking because a lot of comics ride off laughter and interaction and energy and the vibe of the room, [but] there is no vibe. So it took some getting used to.”

Even over Zoom, though, James has found a way to keep his audience engaged. At the beginning of his show at Whitman, he asked everyone to not only turn on their cameras, but unmute their audio so that he could hear everyone’s reactions. He also says that with a Zoom show, he takes a different, more conversational tone because of the intimate setting.

Whether in person or online, James enjoys making people laugh. Although the laughter and connection with his audience, according to him, are “obviously” his favorite parts, he also enjoys the impact that comedy can have.

“The second most exciting thing I like about comedy is how you can bridge gaps. You can bridge gaps between communities, you can bridge gaps between cultures, race, genders… If they didn’t like you at first because of whatever it is they saw, after doing the comedy show, those people will fall in love with you, and I like the power of that,” James said.

Kira Joseph-Lim, a senior biology major and the WEB Chair, said that WEB was looking for one more event to do for the year when they decided on James, having also looked at several other comedians.

“He just offers a different perspective than other comedians… I think WEB has generally hired white comedians and so, offering a different perspective in that sense might be a good direction,” Joseph-Lim said.

Although Joseph-Lim expressed the difficulties of getting students to attend Zoom events, the event had quite a few attendees and received a generally positive response.

Sophomores Katie Duncan and Siri Lindstrum attended the show together. Both said that they really enjoyed it, and appreciated James’ effort to keep the audience engaged.

“I enjoyed that… he asked everyone to turn our mics on. He wanted us all to laugh and for him be able to hear us laugh, which was really funny, to be able to hear everyone’s laugh. And it kind of made it feel more like we were in the same room, which was really nice,” Lindstrum said.

Duncan agreed that it was fun to engage, especially when the comedian started calling on audience members, and added that the show was even better than some she’d seen in person.

“It was kind of nice having it on Zoom, because there’s already a sense of awkwardness where you go into it knowing that it’s going to be awkward, but if it’s not, then it’s that much better,” Duncan said. “I think he did a really great job of remaining super-engaging and upbeat.”

Eboni Hayes, another sophomore in the audience, was nervous at first about whether going to a comedy show online could actually be fun. However, she said that she thought James pulled it off really well, and she enjoyed the interaction with the audience.

“Chris James was brilliant for changing the format of his show to fit Zoom… I was happy other Whitman students who attended were engaged,” Hayes said, adding, “though hearing about [James’] sex life when he is my dad’s age was a little odd at times.”

Although a few jokes were a little uncomfortable, Hayes enjoyed the show overall.

“I had fun and thought he was a charismatic comedian. Not everyone can pull off being funny for an extended period of time over Zoom,” Hayes said.

Not only did the students enjoy James’ show, but James himself said that he enjoyed performing for Whitman students as well.

“What I liked about Whitman is that the students were very interactive and they listened. They weren’t zoning out… They were here for a show, and they were very engaged and focused and intent,” James said.

For those who missed this show, this is not the end. Joseph-Lim mentioned that WEB has a variety of other events coming up, including speakers and musical artists. For James’s audience, though, the performance was a welcome study break.

As Joseph-Lim has said, “Comedy is something we need in a time like this.”

Chris James can be found online at