Hey You. Are You Recording This? Stop It.

Filed Under Stand-Up Comedy

I recently noted in a post how Demetri Martin, somewhat good-naturedly, asked people to stop recording at the Human Giant show. I caught him again at this past Friday’s Greg Johnson Show at the sadly-soon-to-be-defunct Rififi. Near the end of his set, Martin thought a man was taping his performance with a cellphone. And this time his reaction was more insistent, asserting that he would come over and delete the file. The man said he was not recording. (I’m unsure of what he was doing. Perhaps taking a photo? That’s what a second man with a digital camera (unnoticed by Martin) appeared to be doing.)  Martin finished his set soon after, noting his frustration with new jokes getting out there before they’re ready, interfering with his ability to make a living. It should be noted that, to my knowledge, no video of either set has made it to the web.

Martin is not the only one unnerved by this trend. I previously spoke to Michael Ian Black about the issue, who stated:

Honestly, it drives me fucking crazy. Because I feel like they’re stealing something and disseminating it without my permission.

Michael Ian Black also went on to state that he feels it’s a losing battle, but perhaps people are unaware that performers dislike it. Another comic annoyed by the trend is Sarah Silverman. The most recent issue of Wired, in an article about “Things That Suck”, Silverman is quoted as saying:

“I make a joke explaining why I’m asking them to stop, and then guess what,” she says. “They keep shooting — usually with shit-eating grins on their faces, waiting for me to get mad or do something embarrassing. Those people suck. They suck balls.”

This is just three comics, there’s more I’m sure. (I’m also sure there might be a couple who don’t mind. Does anyone know of one?)

Part of this is the age we’re living in. We have access to new technology that makes recording easier and have a generation of people who are auto-documentarians. Will people calm down after a time? Part of me suspects the next generation, disturbed by people who get hurt by living so openly on the web, might be naturally more guarded and less inclined to film, photograph and blog everything they experience. But that’s just speculation. So let’s assume that this is something performers will continue to deal with.

I understand the impulse to post video on the web from companies. It’s an end product that often networks have failed to make available, despite some demand. Many artists also understand this behavior (Ian Black in the same interview said he was actually OK with people stealing his album). But a live stand-up set is not an end product. It’s a moment in time. Sometimes the performer may have new material that’s being developed that they want to put into a product like a CD or a special. It’s ready for the audience attending. The comic wants to give them a good show. But it’s not necessarily ready for wide dissemination.

Comedy is so dependent on presentation. It has to be frustrating to not be able to have the time to be able to enhance and improve upon an idea before it reaches the whole world. Recording video from a stand-up show is not akin to recording a band’s concert. It’s akin to releasing the initial jam session or rough track for a CD. You can see the root of the idea and it might be enjoyed and appreciated, but it’s not in any way ready for a general audience to consume. Musicians can go and work out a song in private, comics don’t have that luxury. They must test and test and test before a live audience.

How can people be made aware that the price of a ticket does not give the right to tape? Are announcements necessary? Why do some persist in doing it, even after being asked (as in Silverman’s case)?

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Comments

Posted by DSR on 01/23  at  02:15 AM

It seems like people won’t calm down unless there is tangible retribution - getting kicked out of the show, online content banned, or some other form of public shaming. Posted signs aren’t going to stop anyone. Just another reason why comedians should have a stock of abusive material in hand.

There seems to be certain types of people too - the die hards that want to be the first to disseminate the material (the hipsters), the documentarians that just want to share the content (the dead heads), or the general populace that just wants to prove they were in attendance (the sheep). There is probably a shit-list one could write out, but they all probably share some crooked ego-centric mentality. They will never figure out that it’s just plain rude to the performers & people in attendance.

Posted by d on 01/23  at  03:41 AM

It’s also a question of quality.  Dana Gould’s got a bunch of bootlegs up on his website, but a lot of them are such bad quality that they are hard to follow.  The diehards will work through it, but they’ll still go to the shows anyway.

I can see it really sucking if you are plugging into a PA, but are there really any comedy bootlegs that have gotten wide dissemination? 

Most of ones I’ve heard have the recorder’s laugh really loud and aren’t too easy to come by.

They are great if you don’t live in L.A. or NYC and you want to hear the material of someone that doesn’t have an album yet.  But, I can see how comics can hate them as well.

Posted by Sean L. McCarthy on 01/23  at  05:27 AM

It’s an ongoing battle.

No matter how many announcements a club may make, when something happens, I always see people pull out their cameras or cell phones to try to document it, and they don’t seem to care that they’re, in effect, part of the problem.

I got a new video camera for Christmas that’s so small and so easy to use, I’ve even notified several stand-ups to be on the lookout for this device if they see something like it when they’re onstage. I always get permission for anything I use with my camera. But regular audience members don’t care or think to care. So, at this point, you’re stuck in a position as a performer of having to keep an eye out for any recording devices, announcement or no announcement.

Posted by natron on 01/23  at  07:24 AM

its very interesting, because i agree with the post, but i’m guilty of watching these videos all the time (since i moved from nyc, i often youtube the comedians who i used to watch perform at rififi or crash test.) also, i think this shows a unique contrast between comedy and music performance (two things i’m starting to compare quite a bit). if you watch a crappy video of belle and sebastian on youtube, you likely already have the song in your head as a frame of reference; so the lack of quality doesn’t detract from it. if you’ve never heard a comedian, and you’re first exposure is an awful video of an unfinished joke, then its completely unfair and almost criminal; both to comedian and spectator. either or, this is a very interesting twist on the digital copyright debate. kudos for bringing it up.

Posted by faceless on 01/23  at  11:37 AM

Threaten them and then eject them. Then wait for them outside and kick their heads in. Sorted.

Posted by edp on 01/23  at  02:35 PM

I was at that show on Friday night when Demitri confronted that guy.  I think he’s totally right to be policing that stuff on his own, but wow, what a way to bring a show to a grinding halt.

I think it’s interesting how much sharing in the digital age has changed what it is to be a stand-up.  Back in the 80’s you could put a solid set together and perform it for 6 months.  Now your material has a shelf life of a couple weeks.

If I were a stand-up comic I’d be freaking out over having to come up with that much new material every day of the week.

I think the only solution is for clubs to do more than hang a sign.  The same way that movie theaters are watching the audience to catch bootleggers, clubs are going to have to take on that responsibility.  Eventually the comics will start gravitating toward the clubs that they know they can count on so they don’t have to be worried the whole time they’re on stage.

And places like Rififi that can already barely keep their heads above water will be screwed when they can’t hire security guards.

Posted by gonz o'lager on 01/23  at  06:22 PM

Maybe Martin’s problem is that he’s concerned more people will realize most of his act is hit or miss.

Snark aside, DM does have a reason to become disgruntled. Acts do take time to finesse and rework. There is no real reason to document except to Be The First To Ever Post It!!!!!!

It’s a distraction and I think comedians would be well within their rights to detonate nuclear bombs in order to discourage this sort of behavior.

Posted by p.j. on 01/25  at  10:05 AM

a couple of years ago whilst watching rich hall
at the banana club balham {there are 2 shows on.1 upstairs and 1 downstairs running more or less at the same time}
i caught a punter texting to a friend in the other room a punchline to a top topical joke rich had done in his room.i noted him. went to the other room.waited for rich to start. the joke was his 3rd in the set.as he got to his punch line
a puter shouted it out.unfortunately he wasnt heard by rich as he was rather drunk and slurred
it.
i asked the chap to come outside as a friend was looking for him.went and got the texter and threw them both out.
unfortunately without staff to look out for this stealing material,smaller clubs cannot stop it.
its not a new thing either.
15 years ago joe pasquale & bobby davro would pop in at screaming blue murder gigs and pop up on tv
weeks later doing unseen alternative circuit acts gags word for word.
Unfortunately even some semi-established acts are now tending to rip off an unknowns material in their haste to get noticed quicker.

Posted by gonz o'lager on 01/25  at  04:22 PM

Joke stealing isn’t something new but I still think it’s a crime punishable by nard punching.

Milton Berle once said, “I’ve never stole a joke, although, I’ve rented a few”.

Posted by Sarah Fan on 01/27  at  08:08 PM

I love Sarah but she is still using the same jokes from “Jesus is Magic.”  There is no new material.  I don’t know why she is getting upset.

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