Tuesday, 21 June 2011

When to boo

I can't recall ever booing any public performer, though I've sat through some appalling spectacles in my time. I guess the performance has to be pretty rock-bottom before booing or slow handclapping breaks out, as it did at Amy Winehouse's disastrous gig in Belgrade.

Of course for booing to start, the entire audience has to be so visibly disgusted by the performance that someone is prompted to begin booing, and then everyone else joins in.

I've often been subjected to truly plodding and lifeless actors, musicians and public speakers, but had to repress the urge to boo because the rest of the audience seemed to be heartily enjoying themselves, or even laughing fit to bust. I could only make a discreet exit, wondering what on earth I was missing.

Some established stars seem to inspire such reverence they can get away with an awful lot before an audience finally loses its patience. Especially rock bands. They come on stage an hour late, forget half the lyrics, look bored and indifferent, and still the audience screams for more. Except in Amy's case, where the reverence seems to be running out fast.

Mass booing must be quite exciting when you're in the thick of it. The huge wave of derision, the startled looks from the performers, the refusal to be fobbed off with something mediocre.

Heckling is the more stylish version of booing, not just voicing disapproval but doing it with a witty remark or two. I've sat through many political meetings where the hecklers were out in force, constantly interrupting the speakers with razor-sharp put-downs that not only had the audience in stitches but often the speakers as well.

But on the whole the British are rather reluctant to boo or heckle. They tend to be a bit too charitable, taking the view that the performers are doing their best and even if they're losing their way it would be a little mean to tell them so. Better just to tear them to shreds later on in the pub.

If Amy hasn't got there first, that is.

27 comments:

Eryl said...

I once went to a comedy show that was so dull the audience began to boo. I felt so sorry for the bloke, though, that I couldn't bring myself to join in, even though he was appalling. He looked utterly broken by the boos and just stood there in silence until someone came and helped him off the stage.

Mr VeryVeryBored said...

Worse than booing and heckling is 'bad heckling' of the standard that one tends to get in Jongleurs comedy clubs. Lads on a stag night out who think that comedy clubs are specifically designed for the purpose of shouting at the performers. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you'll get a double or even triple heckle whereby a critique is offered of the heckler, then of the hecklers heckler and so on. If the act knows that they are crap then this is the right time to shuffle off the stage!

Nick said...

Eryl - Poor man! It sounds as if he was totally shattered by the experience. I hope he managed to put it behind him.

VeryVeryBored - When the hecklers are getting more attention than the performers, that's certainly the time to sneak stealthily into the wings....

Cheerful Monk said...

I've never booed, but I did snicker during Hamlet at Stratford-upon-Avon. The gal playing Ophelia was absolutely wooden, and I couldn't help it when she said, "Oh, woe is me." It was just too much. Everyone in the theater looked at me, so I gracefully went back to the hotel during the intermission. The amazing thing is almost everyone else thought it must have been a good performance.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I don't think I've ever booed a performer, although many were boo-worthy, because it isn't in me to inflict pain.

Didn't Amy Winehouse just get out of rehab before her tour? I guess sometimes it doesn't work.

Nick said...

Cheerful Monk - I can imagine her saying "Oh, woe is me" as if she had just lost her doorkey. And as you say, nobody else seemed bothered.

Heart - I hadn't really thought about inflicting pain, but I guess if the booing is really vicious it must be quite traumatic for the performer.

Yes, I gather Amy has just come out of rehab and was supposed to have given up alcohol. Old habits die hard.

Ursula said...

Nick, I don't know why but some years ago I took Amy Winehouse (wine!house - what a name) to my heart. I don't really listen to her music other than "Back to Black"; she really appears to have put her soul into that song; and I like her voice. I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I feel for her. And how cruelly that whatever plagues her is being played out on stage - at a time when most of us would want to disappear down a hole in the ground. Invisible.

I got the newsflash about that concert and did watch a clip. She was so clearly out of it I do not understand why NONE of her entourage took her off stage. Instead letting her embarrass herself. Heartbreaking.

Anyway, Amy, here is to you: We all make an ass of ourselves at times. Cheers.

U

Baino said...

Well I guess if you bought a ticket to Amy it's pot luck as to the quality of the performance in the first place, I'm not one to be vocal either way actually. I rarely give a standing ovation unless I'm really impressed and certainly wouldn't boo if the performance was crap, I'd just go and ask for my money back.

Nick said...

Ursula - I haven't a clue what's bugging Amy but it's certainly strong enough to keep disrupting any sort of normal behaviour. She seems to have very little insight into what the problem is despite the spells in rehab. Yes, her staff should have stopped going on stage in the first place.

Baino - I've often given someone a standing ovation, but I've never booed. I don't think I've ever asked for a refund either, again because the rest of the audience seemed quite happy.

Wisewebwoman said...

I've never booed, oh how awful, but I have walked out. Many times. Except one time at a theatre where Yul Brynner was the star in this garbage play and I was trapped in the middle of the front row balcony and couldn't exit without a rumpus. No intermission either. As if Yul knew how awful it was. Never forgot it.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

W3 - Interesting that there seems to be a consensus that booing should be avoided because it's simply nasty to the performers. I'm not sure I agree. If a performance is that bad, isn't the audience entitled to let them know in a very vocal fashion?

Poor you, being trapped in the Yul Brynner lead-balloon. I think I would have left anyway, even it disturbed other people.

conortje said...

Never booed either but I have also walked out. Made sure to get my money back on the way too :-) When I think of booing I think of Sinead O Connor getting so unfairly booed at the Dylan tribute (after the pope photo circus). She got booed as soon as she walked on stage - thousands of people directing their hateful vibes at her. Shameful. I've read how it made her feel afterwards - such an ugly display.

Having said that I might utter a tiny hushed boo if a member of royalty walked past..., but probably not even then - they're still people with human emotions.

Nick said...

Conor - Goodness, I'm really the odd one out here, even contemplating the idea of booing. I'm obviously a big meany. I agree, the way Sinéad O'Connor was treated at the Dylan concert was atrocious.

wendy house said...

If something is bad I tend to either laugh at the ridiculous of the whole situation, or leave. Laughing through serious plays in the wrong place, its the fun of seeing bad plays. Not yet felt the inclination to Boo. I think I would have wanted to Boo Fred West if I'd seen him and known of his doings.

Nick said...

Wendy - When I'm watching a bad play, I feel like jumping onto the stage and livening things up a bit, but I don't think the rest of the audience would appreciate that.

I think Fred West deserved a lot more than booing....

secret agent woman said...

The only way I could ever boo a performer is if they were doing something offensive - being racist or sexist or homophobic, say. But I could never boo someone just because they were boring or untalented. That would be far too mean-spirited.

Roses said...

I've walked out of an evening with Marianne Faithful. Life is too short to waste even a couple of hours.

As for whether I'd boo...probably not. Not my way.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Good point about their being offensive, I'd agree booing was appropriate for that. It's rather lovely that you're all so generous towards duff performers when other people are not so charitable.

Nick said...

Roses - A deafening consensus on not booing here! I've never heard Marianne Faithful live, I'm surprised she was so unexciting.

Rummuser said...

The comment I made yesterday seems to have disappeared! May be I pressed the wrong button!!

Another alternative, to the discussions in the pub is of course to write to the editor of the local news paper. That is very British too.

Macy said...

Never booed... but I have walked out.
Like Roses says, life's too short to suffer fools for the sake of politeness.

Nick said...

Ramana - I don't know what Blogger is up to. Myra lost a comment as well. Indeed, writing to the press is an honourable British tradition, even though letters are quite often unpublished because the volume of mail is so enormous.

Macy - You're right, life is too short to put up with mind-numbing nonsense. Unless it stars Felicity Kendall....

blackwatertown said...

Mmm Felicity kendall...
Sorry, what were we talkng about again?
Oh aye...
I remember the Pogues having to end their set at Páirc Uí Chaoimh because Status Quo were topping the bill. That got a few boos.
And then we got to go home early. Well, there was nothing left to see.
Re heckling - the worst thing for a stand-up is to surrender control of the mic. I saw one in the Empire in Belfast once challenge a heckler to come onstage and see if he could do any better. He did and he did.
Tough crowd.

Grannymar said...

I have cringed at times but never booed! Now I let my feet do the talking = walking!

Nick said...

Blackwater - Yes, challenging a heckler to do better is asking for trouble. I guess experienced performers have developed a repertoire of anti-heckler tactics.

Grannymar - I should imagine a large number of people walking out is almost as crushing as a chorus of boos.

e said...

I once tried to sit through a performance at which someone threw food at the performers--really bad form and disruptive to those of us interested in the play...

Nick said...

e - I really would draw the line at throwing food. Just creates a lot of mess for the performers and stagehands to clear up. Why not simply boo?