What’s the worst thing that could go wrong during Jerma985’s next livestream in front of hundreds of thousands of internet strangers? “I get diarrhoea and can’t umpire,” he told Kotaku in a recent interview. Twitch’s notorious online jester is pulling his most elaborate stunt yet: officiating a real baseball game at an undisclosed location between the fictional California Circus and the Maryland Magicians. But it doesn’t take Jerma long to realise that shitting his pants isn’t actually the worst thing that could happen. “Maybe not. No. Thunder and lightning is actually probably the worst thing…or like a serious injury.” The internet star and his producer have been trying to make this happen for years, and a rainout or medical emergency is one of the few things that could ruin it.
That’s because things going off the rails is kind of the point of a Jerma livestream. Like a lot of Twitch performances, viewers crave unexpected moments. The kind that can make the chat lose its collective mind, get clipped and re-shared, and proceed to fizz across the internet like lightning in a bottle. Almost exactly a year ago, Jerma created just such a sensation after pulling over a million Twitch viewers into his lifesize “Dollhouse” to take control of his life. The social media experiment was part The Sims, part The Truman Show, letting bystanders wreak havoc on his imagined life inside a studio set by deciding when he ate, slept, used the bathroom and more. It was a huge success, and demonstrated Jerma’s knack for manufacturing moments that feel authentic and spontaneous despite the incredibly contrived setting. Also he’s just a really funny guy.
What people know about Jerma is that he gained popularity on YouTube for his Team Fortress 2 videos in the early 2010s. He transitioned to Twitch in the later half of the decade, streaming games like The Sims and Dark Souls. While he still regularly streams new games and Just Chatting sessions, he’s since branched out into much more ambitious projects. In 2019 he held a livestream that let viewers in the Twitch chat play real carnival games by remote-controlling drones. In early 2021 he went out into the desert and pretended to unearth a made-up trading card fad from the 1990s and then convinced his fans to go along with the charade and propagate it across the internet. Then, earlier this year, he held a game show livestream to interview contestants to see who would replace him. An actor named Ryan Manuel, playing character number 13, won and later streamed Destiny 2 on Jerma’s 1-million-follower Twitch channel. Most of all, he thrives on the drama of committing to a bit over the long haul.
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“During Dollhouse when the cameras turned on that first day, I was standing outside the house and looking at the front door and I knew that everything was live and in my brain I was like, ‘You got 15 hours of content in front of this door. You ready?’” Jerma said. “I had this moment, just like this half a second of dread, of ‘I have to keep this interesting for almost 20 straight hours in the next three days.’”
But tonight’s baseball game, which goes live at 7:30 p.m. ET, has the potential to be his biggest show yet, and the same pressures apply. “The same thing will happen where I’m behind the plate, about to call the first ball or strike of the game. And I’m sitting there going, ‘What the fuck are we doing here?’” Jerma said. It will certainly be the most complex and expensive, and Jerma and his producer Jacob Komar say they’ve spent months working to put it together. While Jerma conceived of the premise — officiate a real baseball game between circus and magic performers — Komar is the one responsible for trying to make the logistics of it all make sense.
“We have real baseball players that are playing in this real baseball game,” Komar said. “And so in order to find players that are willing to do this, this kind of fantastical show in this alternate universe, and enough of them to make up two teams in order to make it happen and then coincide that with a venue that’s available for dates that make sense for a production schedule on streaming, has been a challenge.”
After being thwarted by covid and subsequent scheduling delays, they finally locked down a location, got sponsors and support staff on board, and fielded full teams. Now the only thing that’s left is to actually execute the series of jokes that started knocking around inside Jerma’s head over two years ago. While he doesn’t want to spoil what’s planned, he likens it to Leslie Nielsen’s umpire bit in Naked Gun. Nielsen leans into the absurdity yet plays it completely straight, revealing the inherent silliness of baseball’s theatrics in the process. Jerma said that was basically the inspiration for his latest project.
There’s no real way to describe a Jerma stream, in the sense that you never know what’s in store when he goes live. From games, science experiments, dollhouse simulations and even finding his replacement, @jerma985 rightfully deserves #TheStreamerAwards League of their Own Award! pic.twitter.com/00mXa0guWG
— The Streamer Awards (@StreamerAwards) March 13, 2022
“I really don’t even know what’s going to happen, I really don’t,” he said. “I know that we have things planned. I know that there’s specific gags that I want to do, but there’s a lot of baseball to be played, and we’re just going to have to roll with it and see how it goes.”
The performers involved are paid and briefed on what’s going on, and there is some amount of rehearsal, but Jerma stressed that above all else, the point of the show is that it’s a real baseball game with both teams playing to win.
“I live for moments like that because it’s challenging, right? It means that we got all this together, and it’s time to turn the cameras on, ‘Let’s go,’ and you’ve got to go,” he said. “And there is no ‘Hold on one second.’ No, you’ve got to go and you have a full probably four-plus hours of time that you have to fill here.”
Nathan Fielder’s new HBO show The Rehearsal has captivated audiences for blurring the lines between what seems fake and what we want to believe is real. On the surface it’s a reality TV show about helping everyday people prepare for life’s most unpredictable moments. Beneath that, it’s a documentary about making a reality TV show that’s been edited into a dramedy. At both ends are fiction, but the artifice required to travel from one to the other reveals something true, or at the very least compelling to watch.
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Jerma’s work operates on a very different, and in some cases much more traditional level. At its core it’s standard live improv comedy teetering on the stakes of playing before a mass internet audience. There’s a similar blurring of reality that takes place, however, and it mutates the spectacle into something much more. The tension between what’s rehearsed and what’s unplanned goes both ways. Some of it must be unscripted, so any moment potentially could be. It helps that Jerma has cultivated an online character that often veers between the mundane and the surreal. The result is serpentine fan pages documenting the lore of his “in universe” streaming character alongside the real one.
One thing that is clear, though, is just how much work goes into generating each new mega event in the Jerma timeline. In many ways it runs counter to the very thing that makes Twitch streaming such an attractive platform. Like reality TV before it, the costs are incredibly low, and a big personality can generate thousands of hours of content just by sitting in front of a camera and talking. That doesn’t make the work easy, and Kotaku and others have documented the extensive toll the Twitch content mill can take on its stars. It is certainly less risky, however, than spending potentially hundreds of thousands to put on a live show where the weather has the final say.
“It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of time and it can be scary,” Jerma said. He didn’t specify how much money, but it’s likely a lot more than Dollhouse, which received funding from Twitch and Coinbase and was in turn much more than the $US40,000 ($55,528) reportedly spent on his 2019 carnival stream. The bigger budget isn’t a payday either, he said. Instead, it’s the difference between being able to pull off everything the team has dreamed up for a show versus scrapping half of it in the weeks leading up to a performance.
“I don’t want — I don’t like to kind of sit here and put myself on some kind of pedestal with, like, ‘Oh, what we do is, oh, my goodness, our stream here is so much better,’ because it’s an inherent amount of risk and it’s a lot of stress.”
At the same time, he sees a lot of potential in his antics for a new genre of livestream comedy, and potentially a proof of concept for other Twitch performers to get more resources to experiment with. After all, the streaming wars between mega corporations like Amazon and Disney have proven there’s an endless appetite for new content. Jerma’s shows are one of the clearest bridges between Twitch and the larger world of streaming entertainment.
“It’s a terrifying prospect to a lot of people, which I really do wish that, you know, in the future that there was more opportunity for people to tap into some resources, to do some fun things that they want to do and not have to worry about ‘how can I come up with 50 grand to hire a bunch of people?’” he said. “I wish there was more tools and resources for content creators in general. I don’t know where it’s going but I hope that it continues to go in a good direction.”