But no worries; opening next August in Jamestown, New York is the National Comedy Center, which promises to be a humor hall of fame starring well-known stand-ups you can’t see live anymore. Instead of video installments, wax statues or robot clones, the performers will be holograms: life-size, 3-D holograms that even up close look like real people. The center is working with Beverly Hills–based HologramUSA to render the new space a club where you can watch funny people (most of them long dead) perform at their peak with routines that kill (virtually).
“It’s a centuries-old trick called pepper’s ghost,” explains David Nussbaum, vice president of sales at HologramUSA. “It was used by actors to project themselves from under the stage to above the stage. It’s an old smoke-and-mirrors theater trick.”
There are no mirrors in the modern version. Instead, a projector positioned over the stage beams the video onto a reflective, high-definition “bounce screen.” The image is then cast back up across a piece of translucent material stretched at a 45-degree angle, resulting in the final lifelike likeness.
HologramUSA has already arranged an all-star lineup of Andy Kaufman (sure to reignite rumors that his death was faked), Redd Foxx and Sammy Davis Jr. Another big name batted around but unconfirmed is Rodney Dangerfield. Recently, inside the company’s studio in California, a hologram of Jimmy Kimmel (you may have seen it featured on his late-night show) appeared onstage, followed by Ray Charles banging away on a piano. The reanimated talents seemed almost alive, if a tad airy, their performances simultaneously creepy and amazing.
“We’re installing these as permanent installations in famous venues across the country,” says Nussbaum. “Instead of Tupac at Coachella for one song, we’re going to do an entire concert, over and over again, selling tickets, capitalizing on love and nostalgia.”
If the idea takes off, you may never again have to leave town to take in a live performance. A company will broadcast perfected hologram acts—with no hecklers or mistakes—to venues everywhere. Nussbaum even sees uses beyond entertainment. “It’s the safest way to campaign if you’re a politician,” he says.
Sure, you won’t experience the anxiety and spontaneity of a live performance—or the comics’ sweat, stench and spit. But you could get to watch a shvitzing, stammering Dangerfield who doesn’t exist whine about how he still gets no respect. The material may crack you up, but it will also remind you that you’re lucky to be real—and alive.