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Audience Participation Failure

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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 subversion of Audience Participation. See also Outside Joke.


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  • 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."

    Fan Fiction 
  • 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 
  • 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?
  • 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*
  • Mitch Hedberg joked about doing this at a concert where the singer asked the audience "How many people out there feel like human beings tonight?" and followed up with "How many people out there feel like ANIMALS?!" Mitch ended up cheering at the "human beings" part, because he didn't know there was going to be a second part to the question:
    "Hell yes, I feel like a human being tonight. I do not feel like a tree."
  • Mitch Benn's 2016 Edinburgh Fringe show Don't Fear the Reaper opened with him handing a cowbell to someone in the audience and saying "You'll know what to do", before launching into his pastiche of (of course) "Don't Fear the Reaper". On one occasion it turned out the audience member didn't have a clue what to do, being completely unfamiliar with the original.

  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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."
  • Constable Reg tries this in Goodnight Sweetheart as part of a stand-up rehearsal; the audience quickly take the opportunity to make fun.
  • The 1994 Comedy Central sketch show Limboland has a three-part gag about a rock singer shouting "ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?" to the (unseen) audience, and never getting the reaction he wants:
    Singer: ARE YOU READY TO ROCK? [holds the microphone toward the audience]
    Audience: [in unison] NOT YET! GIVE US FIVE MINUTES!
    Singer: ARE YOU READY TO ROCK? [holds the microphone toward the audience again]
    Audience: [still in unison] VERY NEARLY!
    [still later]
    Singer: ARE YOU READY TO ROCK? [holds the microphone toward the audience yet again]
    Audience: [still in unison] WHAT DOES "ROCK" MEAN, ANYWAY?
    Singer: [taken aback] ... Party!
    Audience: [still in unison] "PARTY"'S A NOUN!
    [the singer throws down the microphone and storms off, gesturing to his bandmates to do likewise]

  • During live recordings microphones often have to be aimed at the audience in order to properly capture the crowd noise on the recording, if not done properly it can give the impression that the audience didn't participate even when they actually did as they are hardly audible in the final mix.
  • 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".
  • 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 cheered him on right after hearing 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!
  • Tally Hall has a downplayed example in the album version of “Welcome to Tally Hall”. The first words of the song are “Can I get a T?”, and then what is clearly just several people saying “T” somewhat unenthusiastically can be heard. Either a recording failure or Self-Deprecation, it’s hard to tell.
  • At the end of Flight of the Conchords "Mutha'uckers":
    Bret: Everybody come on!
    Everyone: Silence
    Bret: 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...
  • 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.
    • He also has some fun with the failure being the audience participating in one of the versions of "Dark Side":
    "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."
  • 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 the original slbum version of "Alice's Restaurant", tries 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. Live performances of the song often went the same way, with the audience mumbling along with the first attempt at the chorus, followed by Arlo chastising them for their lack of effort and trying again.
    "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.
  • Bo Burnham examples:
    • In a 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.
    • He has a similar moment in "What's Funny":
      Bo: Welcome to the show/It goes a little something like this:/Joke [points to the audience]
      Audience: [silence]
      Bo: Exactly.
    • Invoked (probably) in Klan Kookout.
      Bo: It's a Klan Kookout-just the black people!
      Audience: [silence and scattered laughter]
      Bo: [much quieter] Klan Kookout.
  • 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 snarky audience member 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: BAARGH
    Bruce Dickinson: ...minutes, to miiiiidniiiight...
  • 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."
  • British folk singer/comedian Richard Digance was trying to rehearse his audience in the chorus of his song "Poor Jane" ("Poor, poor Jane/Poor, poor Jane"). Frustrated at their reticence ("There are only three words and two of them are the same!"), he strummed his guitar once and sang "Mama..." and gestured to the audience to continue.
    Audience: ...just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he's dead. Mama, life had just begun, and now I've gone and thrown it all away. Mama, oooh, didn't mean to make you cry, if I'm not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on, as if nothing really mattered...
    Richard: You can remember all that and you can't remember my three poxy words!
  • Paul and Storm invoke this during 'The Irish Sing-Along Song' with a section of the chorus being completely unintelligible. When the audience reaches the last part, they'll stop the song and tease the audience for screwing it up.
    Audience: Something something something something, la-da da-da dah / La da-da dee-dee da-da something something la-da dah/ [Unintelligible]
    Paul: No. Stop. Let's break it down.
  • Caused by a form of Bilingual Backfire in O Canada, the Canadian National Anthem. There's an English Version, and there's a French Version, and quite often at events, the two are blended. Problem is, less than 20% of Canadians speak both languages, so (at least in western provinces), the crowd will merrily sing to the English words, and go completely silent at the French part or vice versa. Those that speak both langauges know that the two versions are completely different and still don't make sense.
    • The current South African national anthem can suffer from the same dissonance. The first half, Nkosi Sikeli' Africa is a hymn recognising the black peoples' long struggle for dignity and equality, and can be sung either in Xhosa or Zulu. This segues into Uit die Blou van onse Hemel..., a survival of the prevous apartheid-age national anthem, in Afrikaans. Film exists from different contexts of audiences who will happily sing the first half and not the second, or vice-versa, depending on ethnic or racial considerations. This is from a rugby international, a sport that for historical reasons tends to attract a 95% white crowd. Officially, this was put down to a PA failure... but listen as the anthem moves from a distinctly half-hearted first verse to a full-throated second.
  • Johnny Standley's 1951 novelty record "It's In The Book, parts 1 & 2" has a singalong on part 2, subtitled "Lye Soap." The audience claps along to the refrain, only for the music to stop suddenly when the refrain ends. The clapping slowly dies down to only one person clapping.
  • The audience participation in "Hey Li-Lee-Li-Lee" by the comedy/folk group the Limeliters rates anywhere from clever to unenthused self-deprecation:
    Audience member: The stupid guy who wrote this song...
    Audience: Hey Li-Lee Li-Lee Lo...
    Audience member: Should have to sing it all night long!
    Audience: Hey Li-Lee Li-Lee Lo!
  • Sabaton has a tradition of letting audiences in their native Sweden sing the first verse of "En livstid i krig" by themselves. At the end of their 2021 tour, Joakim tried to get their audience in Denver, Colorado to do the same, but not enough of the audience knew the Swedish lyrics.
    Joakim: I have to admit, I was taking a risk having you sing that song, but you can always hope.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • During the dark days of WCW, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper tried to get a "Warrior" chant going, but failed. This happened a few times.
    • This is actually a 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.note 
    • Intentionally incorrect chants are worse, and indicate an angry audience. Chanting for a popular but not present wrestler is bad, deceased wrestlers are worse, the announce team is worse than that, and then there's chanting for a different promotion (such as "T-N-A" at a WWE event). There's even been chants for something completely unrelated to wrestling, such as Taber Corn and the ice cream man.

    Puppet Shows 
  • On a UK exclusive skit on The Muppet Show, a farmer who sings "The Old Sow Song" while bashing some livestock with his pitchfork tries to get the audience to join in on singing the chorus at the end of each verse. However, each time we see the audience, they are just looking on, evidently not amused. At the end of the final verse, the farmer snaps and yells at the audience, asking them why they aren’t taking part in his song. Some pigs dressed up in biker outfits show up (they’d dressed that way for the opening number, "I Get Around") and tell him they think the song is dumb. We don’t see what they do to the farmer, but it probably isn’t pleasant....

  • Intentionally done with the "What do points mean?" gag on British radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, in which the chairman either has a ridiculously long definition of "points", or replaces the question with a different call-and-response catchphrase. Originally, this lead to total confusion, with the audience not sure what they were supposed to shout and laughing too much at their shared uncertainty to do so anyway. At some point, however, the audiences decided they were just going to shout out "PRIZES!" regardless.

    Theme Parks 

  • The first stage performance of Peter Pan had a contingency plan for this. If the audience hadn't clapped when it was time to save Tinkerbell, the orchestra would have done it. Fortunately, this wasn't necessary.
    • Invoked In-Universe in the Christopher Durang play 'Identity'. The main character recounts a story of seeing Peter Pan in her childhood, but after the audience claps to save Tinkerbell, Peter Pan shouts at them, "You didn't clap hard enough! Now Tinkerbell's dead!" The experience contributed to the main character's poor state of mental health.
  • Cirque du Soleil examples:
    • Mystère 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."
  • The Royal Shakespeare Company's 2000 production of Richard III brought the house lights up during the scene when Buckingham manipulates the crowd into proclaiming Richard king, and Buckingham tried to lead the audience in a cheer of "Long live Richard, England's royal king!" The audience invariably didn't bite — at least, the audience in Stratford didn't. (The audience on the U.S. tour responded with great enthusiasm.)

    Video Games 
  • 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.

  • You can invoke this in Amanda the Adventurer by intentionally putting the wrong answers into the game to provoke Amanda. Doing this too much has very horrible consequences.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: In "Make New Friends but Keep Discord", Discord starts doing stand-up comedy at the Grand Galloping Gala in an attempt to impress ponies, but he can't get anyone to respond to his attempt to start a "Knock Knock" Joke.
    Discord: You're supposed to say "Who's there?"! This the most basic of jokes!
    Maud Pie: YOU'RE the most basic of jokes.
  • The Simpsons: In the episode "$pringfield", Krusty does a stage performance where the opening jokes are about herpes. The audience just glowers at him.
    Krusty: You people are the worst audience I've ever seen!
    Man: Well, you're the worst comedian we've ever seen!
    Krusty: Fine, I guess we'll just sit here in silence for the next ninety minutes!
    Man: Fine with us.

    Real Life 
  • 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 sword fight. 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 Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure was especially created for audience participation among its preschool-aged audience. 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.
  • Occurred during the filming of Man on the Moon in the Professional Wrestling scene between Andy Kaufman (played by Jim Carrey) and Jerry Lawler (playing himself). In the storyline of the film, Lawler was the over-the-top super-popular Face character, while Kaufman was the obnoxious Heel. However, the extras present in the auditorium, most of whom were not Pro Wrestling fans, didn't know that. They had never heard of Jerry Lawler, but did recognize and like Jim Carrey, so they kept cheering Carrey-as-Kaufman and booing Lawler. The director of the film had to give them very specific instructions as to who to boo and who to cheer.