It’s no joke – since lockdown live audiences have forgotten how to behave | Dani Johns
Do do you consider yourself a well-rounded, functioning adult who enjoys an evening of live entertainment? Or are you the type of person who shows up to a comedy gig four Malbecs deep and decides to sit front row to have an in-depth discussion with your mate about how bad your boss’s soundtrack is? Maybe you don’t like waiting for a break. Instead, do you prefer to stand up and announce out loud that you need a pee, making the whole row stand up as you sneak around, vigorously scratching your back? At the end of a show, do you use your hands to toss popcorn across the room rather than clapping them together to create a pleasant clapping sound?
I’ll be honest, if you’re reading this then you’re probably not one of those people. I bet you’ve seen a few, especially if you’ve recently attended a stand-up comedy concert. Because since we returned from lockdown it has become increasingly clear that a small but noticeable percentage of members of the public have forgotten how to behave in public.
Last week I was hosting a concert when a man jumped onto the raised stage and grabbed my top. I jumped back, having no idea of his intentions. In a split second, I had to choose between laughing it off, scolding him, or knocking his block down. Turns out he was trying to check the tag on my clothes and thought he was just poking around. It was a weird interaction, but I didn’t get “Chris Rock’d” or “Me Too’d”; it was not aggressive or sexually motivated. It falls into the category of “bad public etiquette,” which is obviously worse now than it was before the pandemic.
The gig before the one that caught the label had a similar vibe. I had to tell people to stop talking through the comedian’s routine and stop repeating his punchlines to him like a boring, cider-drunk parrot. Even “well-meaning” interruptions aren’t welcome (“OMG it’s so funny, my partner snores too!”). I call it “disruptive engagement,” which is annoying and unnecessary, even if the sentiment behind it is positive.
I reached out to my comedy network to see if anyone else had noticed this change in behavior. My inbox was quickly inundated with messages, with many comedians agreeing that things have escalated since the pandemic — from aggressive heckling, to talking about the act, jumping on stage and various other examples of being a real pain. in the ass.
It’s not just comedy; musicians and actors tell similar stories. Sophie Ellis-Bextor repeatedly had to ask rowdy members of the public to quiet down so everyone could hear the concert they paid to see. Beverly Knight tweeted after a particularly infuriating incident: “If your intention is to come to the theater, get fucked, make a scene, disrupt the show … My advice is to stay at home. The worst story I heard was of a visually impaired man whose cane was ripped off by a bystander who shouted, “Are you really blind? How many fingers am I holding up?” The majority of comic audiences are brilliant, but some idiots spoil the show for the rest, as well as the performers. It’s like reading a book and tearing out half the pages, except it’s a library book and no one else can fully enjoy it.
So how did we get here? Have two years of confinement and limited live performances made people forget how to be civilized spectators? Are we so deprived of performance art that we can’t contain our excitement? Should places post reminders we’re supposed to drink our drinks, not spill them on the people sitting next to us?
In part, yes. I think people struggle with boundaries. We have lived in our own bubbles for so long that we have forgotten how to interact and engage with others appropriately. On top of that, there’s something about the nature of comedy that makes people think it’s more interactive than it is. Social media isn’t helping either, with “comedian destroying heckler” clips going viral. These kinds of interactions are rare and can be funny, but it shouldn’t set the standard for what to expect at a comedy night. Expect a warm welcome from the MC, stunning material and a great night out. A well-written routine will always be funnier than any impromptu bashing in response to a drunken nuisance.
We’ve come to a strange place, where some people need to be reminded that only comedians need spotlighting. Not them and their buddies so they can have low testosterone. There is literally a stage and a microphone for this very reason.
Whether it’s caused by a lack of social boundaries, pent up frustration after multiple lockdowns, or a cheap offer on Blue Lagoon cocktail pitchers, wally-like behavior is not acceptable. As an MC, I always start the show with a warm welcome and some house rules. Phones on silent, do not heckle numbers, do not talk to each other while numbers are on stage. Now do I need to add, don’t interrupt the show, bully the performers, act like a plonker, and never, ever try to review the labels of the act?