Imagine a carnival with no attendees; a wrestling match with no audience; a baseball game with no spectators. This may not be very hard to envision given our post-Covid experience, but there was someone who was remotely hosting such grand-scale events before it was even a requirement of the Center for Disease Control.
Jeremy Elbertson, known under the alias Jerma985 (often Jerma for short), is a streamer on the popular streaming platform Twitch who has been getting a great deal of attention for his grand scale, one-of-a-kind projects that redefine the bounds of what it means to be an entertainer on the internet.
Jerma got his start on YouTube making standard gaming content that sometimes bordered on skit comedy, but it wasn’t until he moved to Twitch in 2016, a streaming platform mostly for gamers, that he was able to compose his greatest productions yet. Twitch is a platform built around playing video games live for an audience, which is something Jerma does quite often. But every once in a while, Jerma live streams something truly special to upwards of 100,000 concurrent viewers. These events take months of planning and coordination. In 2019, he streamed a virtual carnival, in which he rigged up multiple robots for the viewers on Twitch to control so that they could play the various carnival games, such as the ring toss or the dunk tank (in which he was the dunkee). In 2021, in his largest production to date, he conducted a three-day stream called “The Dollhouse Stream,” where he emulated the popular virtual reality game “The Sims” in real life, letting the viewers vote on what he should wear (from a set number of options), to how to decorate his house and what he should do throughout the day. Most recently, Jerma rented out an entire baseball stadium to stream a baseball game between the fictitious teams “The Maryland Magicians” and “The California Circus.” Throughout the baseball game, a number of improvised gags and skits took place which shook up the flow of the game and provided entertainment for those who aren’t as quite invested in the sport itself. These productions are best described as unhinged improv shows, using a loose format to guide the clever, on-the-fly bits that occur at the discretion of the performers.
This only scratches the surface of the various events Jerma has streamed live on the platform (there’s also “The Archeology Stream,” “the Jerma Wrestling League,” etc), and suffice it to say that there are no other content creators or streamers on the platform doing exactly what Jerma does. The reasons for this seem obvious and practical: these productions are expensive (“The Dollhouse Stream” took upwards of $40,000 to make), they aren’t guaranteed to be profitable, and they don’t fall under the standard content that Twitch is really known for. So why does Jerma do any of this at all if he stands to face all these difficulties?
In Jerma’s own words during an interview with NPR, “Why not? It sounds like fun, and it seems like something that could make a lot of people happy. So I’m going to do it.” Jerma is a streamer driven by the value of the performance for its own sake. He takes a joke to its fullest extent and when it has been exhausted moves on, choosing to keep inventing rather than sticking to what is proven to be popular. What Jerma’s various entertainment escapades show is that he is sincere and earnest in his position as an entertainer, fully embodying the title of “E-Clown” given to him by many of his fans. Another thing that sets Jerma apart from most of his contemporaries is his deep humility. In the same NPR interview, Jerma says, “I don’t like to punch down. I don’t really punch up that much either, though, I kind of just throw punches wildly in the air.” His greatest and most popular jokes among members of his community are often at his own expense, like during “The Baseball Stream” when he was hit in the face with a cream pie multiple times, and during “The Carnival Stream” when his viewers conspired to launch a plastic frog at his head rather than at the lily pad in a carnival game, or when viewers made him fight a bear (a person in a bear costume) during “The Dollhouse Stream.”
Many have been calling these events performance art, and I would have to agree. Jerma’s commitment to comedy and entertainment for its own sake puts him up as one of the most curious and authentic online artists of our time. What sets him even further apart is his ability to turn a platform previously thought to be for video games alone into a place where one can watch a comedic wrestling match or even an amateur excavation of minerals in the middle of the Nevada desert. If this is the future of online entertainment, I welcome the new era of the Jerma-esque performer.
Jerma985 can be viewed live on Twitch.TV almost every week, or on Youtube under the same name.