It's been three years since Dave Chappelle walked off a Hartford, Connecticut, stage midset when a raucous — and predominantly white — audience wouldn't shut the fuck up. The comedian had notoriously disappeared during the filming of the third season of his Comedy Central sketch program Chappelle's Show, so the Hartford incident was erroneously classified as a "meltdown." Cellphone footage taken by an audience member surfaced online and, although it served to justify Chappelle's departure from the stage, it also extended the life of a story that might've otherwise died out. Lazy entertainment sites weren't likely to have actually reached out to eyewitnesses for first-person accounts, but covering the incident became as easy as cutting and pasting an embed code from YouTube.
Regardless, the inclusion of this advisement in a Live Nation press release announcing Chappelle's three-night stand at the Hollywood Palladium, which kicked off last night, shouldn't have come as a surprise:
Please note that this is a strict NO CELLPHONES ALLOWED show. Please leave your phones in your cars or at home. Anyone who brings a cellphone will be required to place it in a lockable pouch. Everyone is subject to a pat-down. Anyone caught with a cellphone inside the venue will be immediately ejected.
No cellphones, yes, sure, but — a lockable pouch? Emails to Live Nation went unanswered, but I finally heard from the folks behind Yondr, a San Francisco-based start-up that created little lockable pouches to secure audience members' cellphones at things like comedy shows and concerts at the behest of the artist.
A publicist wrote, "[Chappelle] came to us last year out of frustration — his fans were increasingly filming, SnapChatting, Instagraming and posting content from his shows. Yondr has been with Dave at every show on his tour this year and there have been zero reports of an audience member using his/her cellphone to document his stand-up."
How it works (in short): Concertgoers' phones are placed in Yondr pouches as they enter the venue, and then they're welcome to hang on to their phones rather than leaving them in the car. Once they enter a cellphone-free zone, the pouch locks — using "proprietary technology" — and won't unlock until the concertgoer has visited one of several unlocking stations in the venue's lobby.
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Twenty-nine-year-old Yondr CEO Graham Dugoni says that, besides preventing a comedian or musician's work from being spread across the Internet willy-nilly, cellphone-free environments are safer spaces.
"Here's how the idea works for me," Dugoni says. "If you think artists are the most sensitive people in a culture, creating a space where they can get up and do what they do is important." And of course there's the matter of people ruining the experience of going to a live show by watching the entire thing through a screen.
Yondr also has worked with Hannibal Buress and Louis C.K., and Dugoni says he's yet to encounter all that much resistance from audiences. "That's the most interesting part," he says. "The thing we were saying early on is that people are ready for this. There's a general angst about the role of tech in society. ... The relief people feel is interesting for us to see."
An added benefit for the venues? "We’re seeing a big increase in bar sales at Yondr shows," Dugoni says. "I don't know if it's idle hands, social anxiety or what, but it sure makes the show more lively."