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TikTok star Adam Waheed launches comedy network at Mark Cuban-backed Fireside

·Senior Reporter
·7 min read
In this article:
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When New York-born TikTok comedian Adam Waheed moved to Los Angeles to act, he wasn't planning on running a comedy empire on social media. But roles were hard to come by — so he took to Instagram. Hundreds, if not thousands, of videos later, he's a star.

On Thursday, he launched a comedy network called WAHAHA with Fireside, a startup co-founded by Dallas Mavericks owner and "Shark Tank" judge Mark Cuban. Fireside helps performers like Waheed do live performances while interacting virtually with their audiences.

“Let’s say I do a stand-up tour,” Waheed, 29, told Yahoo Finance. “There’s only a certain number of people that can actually show up to a location, right? You’re just not going to get more than 60,000 or 70,000 people in one sitting, but let’s say I broadcast that stand-up show on Fireside — I could get a million people in there. It’s just physically impossible to do that anywhere else.”

WAHAHA, an entertainment network, will feature content generated by Waheed, who across platforms including TikTok and Instagram has about 30 million followers, with his videos hitting 1.5 billion views monthly. Waheed, like Cuban, is betting on an entertainment future that's inherently participatory and includes buy-in from audiences.

Fireside’s a participatory platform that drew early comparisons to Clubhouse — think a livestream, where you can not only interact with a host, but where you can be brought onto that host's virtual stage. You’re not just an audience member at Fireside — you’re also an owner and co-creator when you buy an NFT-based membership, said Falon Fatemi, Fireside’s co-founder and CEO.

“It's not just game-changing because it's powering the next generation of hits, but because media empires will be built by creators and their communities and supported by brands directly,” Falon Fatemi said.

Fatemi, who was an early Google employee, co-founded Fireside with Cuban, revealing the app in 2021. Fireside — which is reportedly valued at $125 million — has begun building a cohort of famous creators, from Jay Leno to screenwriter and director Doug Ellin, who created HBO’s "Entourage." Ellin has, through Fireside, explored his fascination with the efficiency and reach of the creator economy.

“There have been funny people all over the world forever, but they didn’t have a way to find that reach,” Ellin told Yahoo Finance. “Adam’s been able to get that following from his iPhone, and it removes so many barriers. I made a short film when I was 21, and it took a year and $15,000. I then had a VHS tape that I’d walk around town with. Now, to think I could have made it on my iPhone for $400 and, if people liked it, it could’ve gone around the world in an hour.”

TikTok comedian Adam Waheed attends Rolling Stone Live Big Game Experience at Academy LA on February 12, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for MCM)
TikTok comedian Adam Waheed attends Rolling Stone Live Big Game Experience at Academy LA on February 12, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for MCM)

Waheed’s trajectory

Waheed didn't become a social media star right away. After a few tries, just as he was ready to give up, his channel went viral for the first time. In 2017, he woke up to a welcome, but jarring surprise. Overnight, he had gone from 2,000 views to 400,000, and he all of a sudden had 7,000 followers, up from a few hundred. Quickly, Waheed’s life changed as he quit his job, and started doing social media full-time.

Today, his massive footprint on social media gives him a business of his own, and a reach he couldn’t imagine just a few short years back.

"I'm one guy, and I get contacted by millions of people,” he said. “It's easy for them to contact me, sure, but practically I can only get back to a small percentage of them.”

That’s the thing, though — he wants to get back to his fans, engage with them, and hear what they like and what they don’t. The same way a great stand-up like Dave Chappelle or Patton Oswalt responds to an audience’s roars and jeers, Waheed wants to hear from his digital audience.

“I’m very reactive to what my audience does and says, especially in my comments, since a lot of my content is actually based on what fans say,” said Waheed. “So this network can go in all sorts of different directions, depending on how involved the audience gets and what they’re actually providing. That’s what’s so exciting and scary.”

In conversation, Waheed, is funny, sure — but it's his practicality and perceptiveness that stand out when talking to him, both of which translate into his comedy.

His ambitions have expanded rapidly in recent years, not only for himself but for others. To that end, Waheed won't be the only featured creator on WAHAHA. Over time, he plans to spread the love, featuring up-and-comers and existing talent across comedy.

How Fireside works

Networks on Fireside can launch membership models that include NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, securities that are stored on a blockchain. The company has sought to make the NFT-buying experience consumer-friendly. Buying an NFT membership on Fireside doesn't have the logistical strings that buying an NFT on, say, OpenSea has. For example, you don't have to create a wallet — instead, it's automatically created for you — and you don’t need to purchase that NFT with cryptocurrency.

These are utility NFTs, which grant their owners membership to a creator's network. The membership these NFTs grant is inherently participatory, even going so far as to offer members access to a creators' room or production process. When buying a membership NFT at Fireside, you’re gaining shared ownership in a network like WAHAHA. These networks essentially become a shared asset.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 14: (L-R) Craig Kilborn, Mark Cuban, Falon Fatemi and Shira Lazar speak onstage at Predicting the Future of Entertainment with Fireside during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals at JW Marriott Austin on March 14, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW)
Craig Kilborn, Mark Cuban, Falon Fatemi and Shira Lazar speak onstage at Predicting the Future of Entertainment with Fireside during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals at JW Marriott Austin on March 14, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW)

Fatemi and Fireside have even accounted for one of the internet’s most ubiquitous realties: trolls.

“The cornerstone of the platform is that this is a curated experience,” she told Yahoo Finance. “I kind of think about it like ["Saturday Night Live"]. If you’re in the studio audience, they’re making sure there are no crazies in the audience because it’s being broadcasted live. There are responsibilities that you have when content is being recorded live, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

It’s worth asking — how’s this all possible? To that end, it's notable that Fireside is layered on top of Skale, an infrastructure blockchain network.

“What Fireside’s doing is creating a business model that gives power to users and even workers. It’s using blockchain to let the audience engage in a more interconnected manner,” said Jack O'Holleran, CEO and co-founder of Skale Labs. "They’re taking out the middleman."

At its core, Fireside's goal is simple. It's betting that creators and audiences want both ownership and autonomy, and for as much red tape as possible to disappear. As the company finds its footing, that's already happening on the creators' end. For instance, Doug Ellin made his Fireside show, "Ramble On," in five months, from start to finish. As a point of comparison, even getting "Entourage" to a set took over two years, he said.

“Fireside’s about building the community," Ellin said, "and then hopefully giving that community things that they want."

Allie Garfinkle is a senior tech reporter at Yahoo Finance. Find her on twitter @agarfinks.

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