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Thursday, May 8, 2008

"What's with all this commotion?"

Anyone who has ever been to a comedy show knows the inevitability of "crazy heckler guy." He's the obnoxious gasbag who, despite paying good money for a ticket, decides that he's going to try and one-up the performer by screaming a few choice words at every moment of silence -- or even worse, inject his personal philosophy as to how the set should play out because he wants to hear a certain all-time classic joke.

The real pros know how to deal with these buffoons quickly, and in all honesty, I've never been to a comedy show where one lightning-fast quip didn't put them in their place for the rest of the evening. So even though excitement is literally coursing through my veins because of Sunday night's sold-out Flight of the Conchords show in Milwaukee, I have to admit, I don't know how it's going to play out.

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are going to primarily be putting on a comedy show. They'll also be performing comedy songs, which will make it very concert-like, particularly since it's at the Riverside Theater -- a great music venue in downtown Milwaukee. But it's not the loudmouth hecklers I'm worried about. It's all the "Mel's" that are going to be in the audience. On their HBO show, Mel is the one obsessive fan who makes inappropriate sexual comments to both Conchords at every turn. But as depicted on the show, Mel claps heartily when the boys "rock the party" and doesn't interfere with business time as it pertains to the stage. Plus, she's freakin' hilarious. Based on Alan Sepinwall's review of the Conchords' second New York show earlier this week, quite a few people didn't give the motherflippin' New Zealand duo that same courtesy.

According to Sepinwall: "Now, there were some pluses to the audience participation element. Early on, someone asked them to sing 'Sello Tape (Tape of Love)' The guys nervously admitted they hadn't played it in close to two years (the version from the show was recorded months before filming even began) and were afraid of screwing it up, but with lots of encouraging applause, they launched into it perfectly, even nailing the between-verses banter (a story about working in a box factory with Bryan Adams and Phil Collins) without any obvious hitches.

"There were also some guys in the front row who brought their own props for the band to incorporate into the show: for '(Robots) The Humans Are Dead,' they gave Jemaine a bunch of toy robots; during "Albi the Racist Dragon," they threw jellybeans on the stage at the appropriate point in the lyrics; and during the encore-closing performance of "Bowie," they threw Bret an eyepatch (an homage to the episode where they sang "Bowie"), which he happily put on for the song's second half. Bret even joked at one point that those fans put more effort into the show than he and Jemaine had.

"The downside of the 'Rocky Horror'-ization was typified by the woman with the booming voice who decided the evening's sole purpose was for her to have a running conversation (from wherever her seat was, either in the back rows or the balcony) with Jemaine. When he sang a new song about all his ex-girlfriends, she called out that she would never hurt him like that, and she kept injecting herself into the show without somehow being removed by security. Though Bret and Jemaine seemed amused by all the audience call-outs at first, there came a point where they got tired of it, and Jemaine had to start flirtatiously shushing the crowd whenever it got too rowdy."

I'm telling you right now -- if a woman with a booming voice is sitting anywhere in my vicinity and pulls the same fifth grade behavior, the Milwaukee County Police Department will have my mugshot on file for all eternity. If there's anything I can't stand at a show, it's audience participation from No. 1 fan in seat 32 of row Z. One of the first concert reviews I ever wrote for the Press-Gazette was a Dashboard Confessional gig at the Riverside Ballroom. I'd like to say I gave Chris Carrabba the benefit of the doubt that night, but man, the impassioned audience sing-alongs were SO incredibly irritating, I could feel my hand clenching involuntarily with every passing note. At one point, I was standing next to a guy who, honest to God, had his eyes closed and seemed to think HE was on stage performing (or maybe in front of his mirror, I don't know.) Hmmm, so how can I write this ever so politely? I DON'T PAY TO HEAR TALENTLESS HACKS TAKE OVER THE SHOW!

Sepinwall goes on to write, "One blog account of the show says (Jemaine) even held up the setlist at one point and said that it didn't include "Audience talks with FOTC" on it ..."

Seriously, that's when security has to step in and stick a billy club in someone's mid-section (or preferably lower.) Now I'm not saying the audience can't engage in banter or play along when the band or comedian is perfectly willing. That's part of the beauty of a live show. That's also part of the improv that makes professionals so amazing to watch in their natural environment. But what Sepinwall described is self-absorption to the Nth degree. It's thinking that a performer is only there for YOU, and ultimately, it's that "Look at me!" mentality that can (and will) cause me to go insane.

Anyway, the over-the-top fan-demonium didn't seem to detract from the night's overall quality. It looks like Todd Barry, who played a third Conchord/Crazy Dogggz frontman in the first season finale, is opening. Every show also seems to be different -- "Bret, You've Got it Goin' On" was played in Philly, not New York -- but after looking at some other sites on the Internet, it appears crowds have been pretty loud and boisterous at previous stops. On one hand, Bret and Jemaine have to be happy they aren't playing to Ben the dry cleaner in empty halls throughout the States. But it also has to be pretty wearing to face such ridiculous behavior night in, night out.

In conclusion -- polite participation: good. Carrying hot dog signs and screaming that you want to have Jemaine's baby in-between every song: there might be a few humans who end up dead.

(Also, MJ and Sara will be at the Conchords show, so if any readers are planning to make the Milwaukee trek, maybe we can all meet up after the show and have a kebab!)

Photo credit: Brooklyn Vegan

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, trozwado@greenbaypressgazette.com

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5 Comments:

I can't believe I'm about to say this, because it is something Tom wrote but SWEET JESUS, WELL SAID. Trust me, if there are any hecklers in the audience to ruin my hugely anticipated viewing of the flights in the flesh, I'll be the first to "silence them." We can lay the smack down - I'll be the Hiphopopotomus, you be the Rhymenocerous.

-- Sara

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At May 9, 2008 at 9:19 AM  

There's nothing more that I hate than hecklers... Yes, I'm talking to you, half-naked fan at the Violent Femmes/Flaming Lips concert about five years ago in Chicago. That was me who threw that plastic cup at your head to shut you up.

But, amen. Anyone heckles. It will be war.

On the flip side, I will sing along loudly and badly to "Robots." I mean, I paid $45.

"Once again without emotion... the humans are dead dead dead dead..."

--Malavika

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At May 9, 2008 at 9:33 AM  

You lucky, lucky SOBs. Color me jealous. Have fun, and I expect a full recap (especially if there is any heckler related violence)!

By Anonymous Daniel, At May 9, 2008 at 12:01 PM  

Unfortunately the closest I'll get to the sold out FOTC show is this blog's recap. Any of you folks coming to the Bill Maher show in July?

By Blogger Ms. Quarter, At May 9, 2008 at 5:35 PM  

Let's hope that it's heckler free. When I got to see The Mighty Wind Tour stop in DC, the audience was totally respectable and in awe of the sheer genius of the performers that night.

Even the Tenacious D show I attended was filled with devoted fans that knew every song and every lyric, but they didn't disrupt the show. I'm very jealous that I won't be seeing them.

By Blogger Antony, At May 9, 2008 at 8:06 PM  

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