Audience Participation Failure
The band is rocking, everyone's cheering. They get to the call-and-response part of the song and.... nobody responds. The song's not famous enough, or the audience isn't feeling it, or what have you, but suddenly the whole vibe is ruined — or possibly made funnier. A subtrope of Audience Participation.
open/close all folders
- There's a Southwest Airlines "Wanna Get Away" commercial where the MC at a hip-hop concert has the house rocking, until he shouts, "Thank you, Detroit! We love you!" and the crowd immediately falls dead silent. Another member of the band leans over and whispers to him, "Detroit was last night."
- In With Strings Attached, Paul drunkenly plays "Long Tall Sally" for a barful of skahs warriors. When he's finished, he screams "ARE YOU HAVIN' A GOOD TIME?" The bar falls silent for a few moments, and then a dozen people call out, "What's a 'gud time'?" It transpires that the word "good" is not in their vocabulary. (Nor is "evil," for that matter.)
Film — Live-Action
- At one point during the filming of A Knight's Tale, the Czech extras hired to play a crowd watching a knightly tournament (very few of whom actually understood English) were supposed to cheer wildly when Heath Ledger, playing the titular knight, defeated his opponent in a tournament. But, as most of them didn't understand English, the crowd hadn't actually understood their instructions, and when the fight was over they stood there silently for almost a minute, staring at each other in confusion. When actor Mark Addy, playing one of Ledger's cronies, abruptly broke into wild cheering, the crowd finally got it and began to cheer as well. Director Brian Helgeland thought this was so funny he actually kept it in the film and reshot some sequences before and after to make their reaction more appropriate to the story.
- The movie The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure was supposed to encourage audience participation among its preschool-aged audience. However, its opening weekend box office results were so poor that the average screening would have had no more than one child and one adult in the audience.
- In Ghostbusters II Ray and Winston make an appearance at a birthday party, but the kids are less than enthused. When they try to get them to respond to the "Who You Gonna Call?" part of their theme song, the kids just yell "He-Man!"
- There's the joke that goes:
Performer: ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?Audience: GIVE US FIVE MORE MINUTES!
- Invoked by a classic Steve Martin routine where he calls upon the audience to recite with him the "Non-Conformists Oath": "I promise to be different!" (Audience repeats) "I promise to be unique!" (Audience repeats) "I promise not to repeat things other people say!" (Audience starts to repeat, breaks off about halfway through) "Good!"
- Australian satirical duo Shortis and Simpson have a song called "Don't You Hate It When They Make You Sing Along?" which is based around performers attempting to badger the audience into singing along when they don't want to.
- "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Daschle" by political satire group The Capitol Steps features the 'women sing first chorus, men sing the second' variant. On the third chorus they call for 'women over forty!' and no one sings. It takes the crowd a minute to get that this was intentional.
- Invoked and played for laughs during a Robin Williams concert where Robin had asked the audience to respond to the word "alcohol" with "yes" and "drugs" with "no."
Robin Williams: Alcohol!Audience: YES!Robin Williams: Drugs!Audience: NO!Robin Williams: Alcodrugs!Audience: *confused silence*
- Happens in one of P. G. Wodehouse's stories of Jeeves and Wooster, when Bingo Little tries to become a local sensation and impress a girl at a village concert. His plan is to, during a song about oranges, toss orange foamy balls into the audience, who will naturally pass them around and it'll be fun. A bad enough plan as is, but gets even worse when Bingo's rival replaces the balls with actual oranges.
- One skit on Mystery Science Theater 3000 had Tom Servo, dressed as a cheerleader, doing the whole "give me an S!" routine. Mike and Crow are slow to cooperate, but eventually concede and give Servo "an M, an R, a small x, and one L," leading to Servo chanting about "MRxL."
- Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Greg Proops attempted to get the audience to sing along with him as a response to improvise in the style of a pantomime. When he only got a few responses, he yelled out: "SING, DAMN IT!" He got them to sing.
- In the game "Hoedown", the audience typically claps in tune to the music. During one episode, however, the audience simply could not clap in sync for a good 20 seconds. The audience had to stop clapping and start again for them to finally get it right.
- Invoked for laughs in Ugly Duckling's "Opening Act." Despite the increasingly desperate pleas for the audience to shout "I wanna rock right now," the only response is a single "YOU GUYS SUCK!"
- In an episode of Arrested Development, the consummate professional lawyer Wayne Jarvis brings up having been "voted the worst audience participant Cirque du Soleil ever had," because "[he] did not find their buffoonery amusing."
- Joan Baez once led her entire audience in a 'repeat-after-me' version of "Amazing Grace". It didn't work so well when she tried it at Live Aid. That crowd wouldn't start singing along until she segued into "We Are the World".
- Here's Baez performing "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" on The Midnight Special in the '70s. Note her rather miffed reaction to the audience's failure to sing along on the chorus.
- During their concerts, DragonForce get the crowd to sing a part of their song, "Through the Fire and Flames". While performing a different song, "Operation Ground and Pound", in Ohio, the crowd just laughed and cheered when ZP Theart held out the microphone. He then went on a short tirade about this.
- John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats is famous for haranguing a notoriously shy indie rock crowd into singing along with a number of closing numbers, including the Ace of Bass song "The Sign". Best Quotation: "Time was when I had to harangue people to sing that one and I spent the entirety of the time between the first chorus and the second verse singling out the people who hadn't sung. I can't even see the people who hadn't sung this time, but I know you're there, 'cause I couldn't fucking hear you. I need to hear you. I will come out there! I have witnesses that will tell you that I will come out there and make you extraordinarily uncomfortable, standing in front of you with my guitar where you'll go 'damn, I'd like to beat a hasty retreat to the exit but I just, there's something about a guy talking right to you that you can't just turn around and walk away.' So, what I wish you'd do is sing and save us both the embarrassment and the pain and the years of the therapy!"
- There's a Foo Fighters concert video where Dave Grohl tried to get fans to sing the chorus of "Everlong" with him, and they become dead silent. This, when the audience had cheered him on when they heard him play the intro...
- Slipknot's live album, 9.0 Live, includes a good deal of Audience Participation — including one ("Spit It Out") where the audience flubs it.
Corey Taylor: Let me hear your fucking voices as one, motherfuckers!Audience: *general roar*Corey: Way to go *does verse*Audience: *chanting* Fuck me! I'm all out of enemies! Fuck me! I'm all out of enemies!Corey: Now that's exactly what I asked you to do 15 seconds ago!
- At the end of Flight of the Conchords "Mutha'uckers":
Bret: Everybody come on!Everyone: SilenceBret: Yeah!
Bret: When I say "ooh!" all the ladies say "ooh, Flight of the Conchords, you're so big!"Bret: Ooh!Audience: Ooh, Flight of the Conchords, you're so big!"Bret: ...Oh.Bret: Wow, thank you. Wow.Jamaine: *scratches head* Thank you ladies, you didn't have to say that...
- Invoked, then subverted (Audience Participation Failure Failure?) here (from about 3:50):
- Tim Minchin does this intentionally and hilariously in "I Love Jesus". He starts out singing, "I love Jesus!" with the audience repeating. Then he sings, "I hate faggots!" and the audience cannot bring themselves to respond in turn. The creepy part is that sometimes you do hear part of the audience singing it back.
"People always start clapping then, but I'm about to do a solo and I can't keep time. *beat* So shut the fuck up."
- He also has some fun with the failure being the audience participating in one of the versions of "Dark Side":
- Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence has done on at least one occasion a variation of the aforementioned Steve Martin joke. He goes: "Repeat after me: I am unique!" (Audience repeats) "I'm an individual!" (Audience repeats) "I can think for myself!" (Audience repeats) "Therefore I will not repeat what other people tell me to repeat, even if that person is holding a microphone!" (Audience is reduced to a hail of slurs as Jimmy stands center stage, waving his arms like he's conducting an orchestra.)
- An inversion in Mounted Animal Nature Trail by The Arrogant Worms. The animals are all dead, and should not make any noise, so the appropriate response to the audience participation prompts is not to respond, but everyone faithfully makes the noise the stuffed animals' living counterparts would. Intentional, because this is what drives the humor in the song.
- Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach is infamous for his inability to scream live the way he can in studio. So your average Papa Roach show is made of him randomly holding the mic at the audience at unexpected intervals, hoping for them to fill in the blanks. During their performance at Ozzfest 2001, Shaddix shouts "Thanks for singing along with me!" during "Bloodbrothers".
- As a joke, Bill Bailey often gets the audience to sing along to "La Bamba". Needless to say, it dissolves into gibberish quite quickly.
- Arlo Guthrie, at the end of "Alices Restaurant", trying to get the audience to join in on the chorus. The first attempt causes Arlo to say "That was awful" and try again with more success.
- "I've been playing this song for twenty minutes. I can play for another twenty minutes. I'm not proud... or tired..."
- "Weird Al" Yankovic has a contingency for this on "Dare to Be Stupid". At the "I can't hear you!" part, he expects the audience to shout back "Dare to be stupid"...and if they don't do it loud enough, he'll keep saying "I can't hear you!" until they do. You'll know when he's happy with it when, as in the album version, he yells, "Okay, I can hear you now!"
- Played for Laughs on a live album by Michigan-based a cappella group Three Men and a Tenor. When singing "Drift Away", they encourage the audience to sing along on the chorus. Then just the men. Then just the women. Then, for a laugh, the tenor singer asks everyone to sing in Spanish... cue dead silence.
- In Bo Burnham's live performance of "Oh Bo", there's a point where he goes silent expecting a response from the male audience, but since he's been singing that part himself throughout the song, he gets no response.
Bo: Welcome to the show/It goes a little something like this:/Joke *points to the audience*Audience: *silence*Bo: Exactly.
- He also has a similar moment in "What's Funny":
- There's an apocryphal story about a U2 concert. Bono starts clicking his fingers, encouraging the audience to join in. He says "Every time I click my fingers, someone in Africa dies," to which one wag responded "Well stop fucking doing it then."
- During a live version of "Two Minutes to Midnight" by Iron Maiden:
Bruce Dickinson: Everybody sing it!Audience: BAARGHBruce Dickinson: ...minutes, to miiiiidniiiight...
- Also, once Bruce replied to a banner requesting "Alexander the Great" by playing part of it in a kazoo, and asking the audience to sing the chorus. Half of them visibly don't know the lyrics!
- The Bonzo Dog Band's "Trouser Press" has the fey singer starting out with "Come on everybody, clap your hands" — and to a weak smattering of half-hearted clapping he goes "Oooo, you're looking good" — he asks "Do you like soul music?" and one voice mutters "No."
- Art Vs Science attempt this in their live performance of the song "Parlez vouz Francais?". The chorus go: "Parlez vouz Francais? Oui! Parlez vouz Francais? Oui!" This being Australia, this generally ends up more like: "Parlez vows Francais? Whee! Whee!" Some particularly drunk/confused people go "Woot."
- During the dark days of WCW, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper tried to get a "Warrior" chant going, but failed. This happened a few times with him actually.
- This is actually a fairly common trope in wrestling when a face fails to get over with the crowd (i.e. John Cena) or a heel does (Attitude Era Stone Cold or the Rock). It can be worse when the commentators are required to stick to a script instead of being allowed to improvise (this was particularly bad at the 1990 Survivor Series when the crowd very loudly booed the introduction of the Gobbledy Gooker and Gorilla Monsoon went on about how the crowd loved him).
- Pro wrestling has a unique relationship with its audience; the crowd is a character in its own right, but one that hasn't been shown the script and is free to improv its own lines at will. A lot of things that would qualify anywhere else — booing, refusing to participate, trying to derail the performer with abusive/mocking chants — are signs that everything is working as intended (as the saying goes, it doesn't matter if they're cheering or booing, so long as they care). This has led audiences to develop a nuanced system of displaying actual dissatisfaction.
- Silence is bad, and indicates a bored crowd.
- Intentionally incorrect chants are worse, and indicate an angry audience. Chanting for a popular but not present wrestler is bad, deceased wrestlers are worse, and the announce team is worse than that.
- The first stage performance of Peter Pan had a contingency plan for this: If the audience didn't clap when it was time to save Tinkerbell, the orchestra would do it. Fortunately, this wasn't necessary.
- Cirque du Soleil examples:
- Mystere has a lot of Audience Participation, and it's always aware of the possibility of this. Yes, it's funny enough to have audience members toss Bebe Francois's ball back to him after it lands in the front row, but it's even funnier to see him start to cry if no one initially feels like doing so. A goodly chunk of the repeat value of the show comes in seeing just what happens when the cast comes up against reluctant audience members.
- Michael Jackson The IMMORTAL World Tour often runs into this in its final stretch. Cast members try to lead the audience in a "Michael! Michael!" chant; if Ticketmaster customer reviews are any indication, at least a third of the time this doesn't work. (After all, he's not going to actually show up.)
- Played for laughs and invoked in The Magic Flute. Papageno threatens to kill himself on the count of three, unless the audience tells him not to. He counts to three, and when, naturally, the audience doesn't say anything, he nervously says "You'll get one more chance."
- In the third case of the video game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All, the fact that the magician defendant was seen at the scene of the crime with his three trademark symbols is used against him. When Phoenix presses this point, the first witness and the entire gallery shout them out in unison. "SILK HAT! CLOAK! WHITE ROSES!" The next witness, a clown, gets the same opportunity during his cross-examination, and he leads the gallery into it. No one does it. He gets depressed.
- On an episode of Family Guy, Gene Simmons of KISS holds the mic out to Lois for the chorus of "Rock and Roll All Nite"...and she gets the line horribly wrong, exposing that she'd lied to Peter about being a KISS fan and embarrassing him in front of the other concertgoers.
- In an episode of Earthworm Jim, Jim has been injured. In a spoof of Peter Pan, Jim tells the audience that they can help them if they clap really hard. He asks Peter if they're clapping, and Peter tells him that some of them are, but most of them just changed the channel.