Outsmarting Smartphones: Yondr tests a cell-free stand-up show with Hannibal Buress

Imagine if nobody in the audience in Philadelphia last year had captured Hannibal Buress on their cell phone camera, performing his bit calling out Bill Cosby as a hypocrite.

Cosby certainly would like to imagine it.

But it’s not just about him, or about Buress, but about all stand-up comedians working on new jokes, bits and stories, who don’t want someone recording them without permission and rebroadcasting it to the world. Chris Rock left a New York City gig last year within minutes for that very reason, because “fans” in the front row refused to stop recording him onstage. Dave Chappelle over the years has tried enacting strict rules for his audiences to prevent unauthorized photos and videos.

None of the comedians working the road can know for certain how well that comedy club or theater will handle security, either.

Yondr thinks it has found a solution. Or to wit, a workaround.

Yondr has developed individual cases or sleeves for phones that automatically lock when the audience member enters the designated “phone-free zones” of the performance venue. You keep your phone on you, so if it vibrates, you can quickly leave the auditorium/showroom, unlock the sleeve and make calls/texts. The company’s mission, in part, reads: “We think smartphones have incredible utility, but not in every setting. In some situations, they have become a distraction and a crutch—cutting people off from each other and their immediate surroundings. Yondr has a simple purpose: to show people how powerful a moment can be when we aren’t focused on documenting or broadcasting it.”

The new San Francisco start-up began partnering with Bay Area music venues over the winter. On Saturday, Hannibal Buress tried it out for his stand-up comedy show in Napa.

“Yondr reached out to me,” Buress told The Comic’s Comic on Monday. “I thought the idea was interesting. Usually when I do a show these days, people pop their phones out for the first few minutes or at various other points in the show. I had a woman texting half the show in the front row in Oakland. I get that people wanna talk about the experience but I worry about material being burnt by someone posting online. It’s really about being in control of when the product comes out.”

Buress can relate, saying he uses his own phone too much, too.

Justin Wyne, a software engineer at Twitter, attended his show and didn’t mind detaching for a couple of hours.

Yondr founder Graham Dugoni was pleased, too.

“Hannibal’s show was great all-around. His set was fantastic, fans were receptive, and according to venue security not a single phone was spotted inside,” Dugoni told The Comic’s Comic on Monday.

“We are in talks with Hannibal’s team and some other comedians about using Yondr for their upcoming shows. Once comedians see how easy and effective it is to implement in venues of all sizes, we are confident more will hop on board as well.”

How soon that might happen, and where, outside of the Bay Area, is still to be determined.

“I won’t be able to use Yondr at every show but it was smoothly executed in Napa,” Buress said. “People seemed on board with it and I think it helped the energy.”

A ringing endorsement? Perhaps. Just not inside the theater.

Meanwhile, Buress returned to New York City on Monday night to host The Webby Awards. Which, of course, have plenty of video clips on YouTube today for you to watch and share.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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