I was fortunate enough to be given tickets to see one of Dave Chappelle’s shows during his August residency at Radio City Music Hall. Beyond being an amazing experience and the fact that he brought together legendary names to perform alongside him, the show did something unlike other shows I’ve been to: Chappelle banned all recording devices. And unlike just saying, “please be sure to have all cell phones turned off or on silent,” he went so far as to have everyone switch off their phones or set it on airplane mode and have it sealed in a pouch where you cannot open it without a special device. Moreover, all iPads/tablets needed to be checked in, just to ensure that no one would record anything.
This is not a new concept for him either. He has banned phones at his shows in Hollywood last year and explained himself on this Jimmy Kimmel interview—which makes total sense and is completely justified, in my opinion. I had no intention of recording or distracting anyone with my phone, but this was my experience.
When I go to a show, I’m guilty of just staying on my phone before it starts or during intermissions—taking Snapchats or Instagram Stories to broadcast the cool thing I’m doing, etc. And I admit, I’m ashamed to be one of those millennials. So when I did not have access to my phone, I felt strange not being able to browse through any feeds. My boyfriend and I arrived to our seats half an hour early and I felt lost not being able to figure out what time it was and if the show was about to start or not.
I also took the time to notice how other people in the audience were faring without phones. I noticed a few people taking out their pouches as though they were about to check their screens. Others held it in their hands even though they had bags, and I could be speculating this, but it seemed as though holding it provided a sense of comfort. I’m guilty of feeling panicked that I will be disconnected from the world when I’m away from my phone. One girl even tried to pry her pouch open during a comedian’s set, which I thought was desperate.
Something my boyfriend and I learned during the breaks between each set of the 3-hour show was that we had to figure out what to talk about. And it’s not that we have a hard time creating conversations, but we would usually scroll through Twitter or Facebook and make remarks about random news or memes that we come across. We got into a little tiff (admittedly my fault) and I joked that had we been just scrolling through our phones not talking, we wouldn’t have gotten into a disagreement.
When we exited the theater, we watched everyone have their phones unlocked from the pouches and ravenously scroll through their notifications. The show really encourages you to be in the moment and not worry about what is happening with the world outside, and it was honestly very refreshing. I kept saying that this was probably what it was like to watch a Chappelle’s show back in his heyday in the ’90s/early 2000s. I almost wish that all shows forbade cell phones to get audiences’ attentions back and not think about the post they are planning to make on Instagram (which I am guilty of, too). Concerts shouldn’t be watched through your iPhone screen, and live shows shouldn’t be commentated via Twitter.
It shouldn’t be about saying that you were there and you have a post to prove it—it should be about enjoying your time there and being present in the moment.