Hologram Comedians, Real Laughs: Shows May Bring Back Late Legends

Carlin Pryor
George Carlin with Richard Pryor at the American Comedy Awards on April 22, 2001. Reuters

"Motherfucker, that was incredible!" announced Jennifer Lee, Richard Pryor's widow, when she first saw a demonstration of a hologram. Her late husband's hologram may soon be performing a stand-up set.

Pryor's estate is one of several considering putting a holographic version of their loved one up onstage at the National Comedy Center. The others include George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers, though the deals have not yet been finalized.

"What's funny is that the irony of death really resonates well with the estates of comedians, rather than other entertainers. Maybe death, for some reason, is funnier to comedians than anyone else," explained Alki David, CEO of Hologram USA, the company behind the technology for these performances. "Comedians, for the most part, want to turn around and get back onstage faster than any other dead person."

David, who has the technology, came together with the comedy center, which decided that holograms could deliver an iconic performance more personal than seeing an old video or listening to now-dated albums. "We think it'll be an important experience to feel what it would've been like to sit in the audience at these iconic performances," said Journey Gunderson, the center's executive director.

The holograms have some time to work on their acts, as the National Comedy Center is not set to open until August 2016, in Jamestown, New York. "It will be more like the intimacy of some of the greatest comedy clubs," says Gunderson. "It'll be a small space that seats about 60 people. Some of the greatest comedy performances happen on stages in intimate basement clubs and small venues. That's the feel we are re-creating."

Though Gunderson is certain the experience will be enjoyable, she adds that it is "overreaching for us to say this is the exact experience one would get live." But David is determined to make it as close to real as possible.

Some of Hologram USA's experiences are prerecorded, but for these comedy legends, the company is considering using a real actor, who operates in real time, directing the hologram. This kind of technology would allow for excellent comedic timing, as not all jokes go over the same with different audiences. "They could be heckling. They can delay a punch line. It's a real-time and real interactive experience," David explained. "Not every show will be the same."

The sets will be developed based on existing audio recordings. Once the contracts are set, the estate will work with the families to pick the performer's outfits, though brands might get in on the dress code too. "If a sponsor wants to work with us to integrate a product into the show, and they are critical to drive the economics of this, then we will incorporate a sponsor-based design. But mostly we will base the outfit on original clothing," David explained.

For those unable to make it to the shows in Jamestown, Hologram USA hopes to offer a pay-per-view program. David said, "We are working on a special that will include all of the comedy greats, and it'll also include several living legends as well."

Hologram Comedians, Real Laughs: Shows May Bring Back Late Legends | Culture