The internet has been abuzz the last few days about the story of Patton Oswalt’s confrontation with a woman who began recording a set of his material at a recent small comedy show at The Palace in Los Feliz, CA.
If you aren’t familiar here’s what happened in a nutshell… Oswalt dropped in on a small show to test out new material, all was well until some point in his set when a woman in the audience pulled out a camera or smartphone and began to film the comedian as he performed new material. Oswalt confronted the woman, she gave him some half-assed reason as to why she thought it was okay, Oswalt said it was not and began to rip into her. The insults got so bad that the woman left. After the show, one of the comedians on the bill Barbara Gray took to her tumblr with a statement as to why she thought Oswalt was wrong, describing him as an asshole.
This didn’t fly well with Oswalt who shortly thereafter released a pretty lengthy response with his side of the story. Blasting Gray for not realizing that he’s in charge of the material he writes and when comedians let people in the audience bootleg their material and release it on the web prematurely or not in the way it was intended by it’s owner, it not only hurts the bit, but takes potential money away from the comedian who spends the writing, honing, and sharpening the material. Oswalt added that the joke in particular being recorded was a very new and personal bit he was working on, and the smug nature of the woman recording it weighed heavily on him.
Many people will have varying opinions as to who is right and who is wrong in this situation but with that being said it does raise the larger question about the use of technology in comedy and what it means to be a good audience member. When is enough enough? And when does something shared no longer become your own? This isn’t the first time Oswalt has taken to the web to point out moments when he’s been wronged. His response also highlights times when he’s had to take measures to preserve his material, reaching out to people who post bootlegged material on Youtube only to be met with weird responses from those posters people thinking they were was no wrong doing on their part, in fact they were doing him the favor.
There are pretty obvious reasons as to why a fan would want to document an experience; and with the increased ease in which this became possible, it’s also paved the way for the growth of outright rude behavior by audiences to do so. This idea that can be applied even further as it’s nearly unbearable to patron a movie theater and other public forums sometimes. Many of today’s audiences have at some point forgotten that being an active audience means being present and making it an enjoyable experience for everyone present. Not everything needs to be documented, Tweeted, Facebooked, filmed, or disrupted to take the attention away from what’s happening on stage.
As a comedy website, we tend to side with the comedian in these cases as they are the ones out there day in and day out testing, tweaking, writing, and re-writing their material into something great. As Oswalt relayed, the material was personal in nature and in addition to blinding him with a light on the camera, the woman recording made a glib remark that she was doing him some sort of favor by recording the bit. A truly weird statement, as if in his 20+ years of being a comedian, Oswalt never thought that he himself could set up a camera or friend up in the back to tape his set for future reference? Removing the personal nature of the jokes for Oswalt as no one would know these details besides Oswalt himself, the other two factors he mentioned in his statement should be reason enough to consider the woman as acting rude.
A well-seasoned comedian like Oswalt has definitely had to deal with his share of disruptive people; and deciding to dispatch or ignore them is part of the job as a stand-up. Granted there is a fine line between giving a heckler what they deserve and continuing to berate someone long after they’ve left. Those present have differing stories and everyone else has secondhand knowledge at best. So it’s wrong for anyone to assume its entirely one-sided as to how the events played out that night.
It’s a topic many comedians have addressed in the past, and with the rise of social media, breaking down walls and transparency have become the name of the game. It does not change that we as people in polite society must uphold certain social contracts when it comes to operating in public. If this sounds like blame can be assigned to someone, it probably could. But in the end it doesn’t fix the larger problem of potentially putting a black eye on comedy in general. From the comedians performing, to the crowd, to the club paying attention to the crowd, everyone needs to be better about their role.
As someone who’s witnessed a well-known comedian loose it on a crowd member recording his act I can wholeheartedly understand where the comedian is coming from in these situations. I also witnessed how awkward it made the other 300 people in the room feel as it happened, and then witnessed the absolute lack of the club security stating/policing policy as it happened. Letting one or two people make the entire experience bad for the comedian or audience makes everyone think twice about returning to pay money to see a show, investing time to hone jokes, or investing money to showcase comedy. And if that happened, it might be the biggest travesty of all.
What is your take on the situation? Sound off in the comments.