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Audience interactions and crowd work gone awry: Is the customer always right?


Stand-up comedians need an audience to laugh at their jokes and pay for their services. Comedy clubs provide a direct conduit for both, and need a steady supply of both to survive. Audiences need to know their place is in the audience, laughing (or not) offstage.

When comedians and clubs start bickering and burning bridges on social media, it's not so much like Mommy and Daddy are fighting so much as they're locking us in the basement and forcing us to watch them through a skylight. Nobody wins.

It doesn't matter who's right or wrong. Sometimes, you're both.

Case in point happened late Friday night at the Comic Strip Live in New York City, and spilled into Twitter and Facebook by Sunday, then into the online gossip sites by Monday morning.

I was once banned from a club because of a heated argument with a club owner that entirely took place via emails. I was more interested in being right than in doing the right thing, and I regret that now. You have a disagreement? Fine. Talk about it civilly. In person if at all possible. Cooler heads will prevail.
Any club worth attending has hired either bouncers or ushers to monitor the showroom. You want your audiences to enjoy themselves without one idiot trying to hijack the show or otherwise ruin it for everyone else. You don't want audience members videotaping or recording audio to put comedians on blast, or to sell to the gossip rags. You want comedians to feel comfortable enough to do what you're paying them to do. Comedians shouldn't have to police the crowd. Sometimes they resort to harsh language. Sometimes they implode. An MC can say or do the wrong thing, but to blame him or her when you're not stepping in to help. Not cool, either. But texting and Tweeting can escalate what should be a private debate into public clickbait.

William Stephenson posted his account of what went down Friday night at the Strip. Big Jay Oakerson took to Twitter to reveal a flurry of texts sent between him and Comic Strip Live owner Richie Tienken.

For its part, club bookers told The Comic's Comic that their "seater" or bouncer had left the showroom to inform management about the raffle shenanigans when that audience member's boyfriend jumped onstage. They claim the young woman is a regular customer, and should never have been called a cunt. No matter who started the exchange. And nobody is banned from the Strip, or any club, for life. Stephenson has worked on and off at the club since the late 1980s -- Ifondly remember enduring the 50-hour-plus "World Record" marathon there in 2008 that he hosted -- and would be putting in his avails again there soon enough.

If anything, this just gives the comedians a lot more to say at tonight's Roast of Big Jay Oakerson at The Creek and The Cave.

Here is the incident that "everyone" is "talking" about this week, so you can see for yourself what happened. Why it happened? Well, sometimes you learn that everything you're fighting about is so unnecessary.

Footage provided courtesy of Comic Strip Live from the club's internal camera. Roll the clip!

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  3. Thomas Zito

    Per your statement:

    "Here is the incident that "everyone" is "talking" about this week, so you can see for yourself what happened. Why it happened? Well, sometimes you learn that everything you're fighting about is so unnecessary."

    You don't see "why it happened". You just see the conclusion. It's not fair to William Stephenson at all by not showing what led up to this confrontation throughout the show.

    I worked at the club for many years doing the lights and A/V stuff from the booth. They tape the whole show onto one DVD and close off the DVD at the end of the night. They would then have to pull of through editing this segment from that DVD. They sent to you the portion they want you to see. Not the part that led up to it. Her walking in... and continuously asking her throughout the show to be respectful.


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