The Chatroulette Show
July 22, 2010
@The Make-Out Room
Better than: Pretty much any other use of Chatroulette. (Unless you really just like looking at genitalia.)
Penises, boobs, cocks, phone sex ladies, tits, schlongs, vaginas, pubes, porn ads, and more penises. Bored-looking men staring blankly into the cold glow of their computer screens. Signs begging for boobs. And gawking teenagers. To this -- the icky scene last night on the random video chat website Chatroulette -- one Jonathan Bender, theater producer, man of letters, and Internet provocateur, decided to add a little San Francisco whimsy.
The idea behind his Chatroulette Show, the third instance of which went down at the Make-Out Room last night, is simply to get a bunch of musical, etc., performers into a bar with a live crowd, link them with audio and video to Chatroulette, and hold a contest to see which can best hold the attention of both the people in the bar and whatever vacuous face, curious listener, or foreign phallus happens to be onscreen. The goal is to inspire, connect, and perform -- and to not get nexted. But despite charismatic performances and a good-looking S.F. crowd last night, we got nexted. A lot.
Bender isn't the first to try this idea (Ben Folds played a concert via Chatroulette and I'm sure others have as well), but that's because it's a good one. And even if the execution last night better demonstrated the Internet's place as a dustbin for unyielding human stupidity than its potential for electrifying human connection -- due to what Bender said were more vertically inclined male parts than usual -- it still provoked a lot of laughs from the throngs who witnessed it live.
the penis game
in school? It was like that, except with more words, more people, and more volume. Oh, and alcohol.
Naturally, there was a drinking game involved. The crowd shouted keywords and took drinks each time one of several things happened: a penis appeared (frequent; we shouted one of several synonyms), breasts made a cameo (rare; we shouted "boobs!") or the website's shoddy coding caused the MacBook's browser to crash (constantly; after which we were to yell "Andrey!" -- the first name of the Russian teenager who produced the site). Did you ever play
), a busking cover band (Mad Noise
), an oddball Internet performance artist (John Staedler
), the Ukulady
, and Unwoman
(aka Erica Mulkey, a busking singer-cellist). As a cute, coiffed, Victorian-clad female with a willing smile, Mulkey -- who also plays cello with Stripmall Architecture
-- entered the game with a considerable advantage. On Chatroulette, males usually get nexted immediately.
Our performers for the evening included a magician (
But as the artists worked through their performances (each got three, ever-shorter tries), every contender more or less made a case for themselves. The four members of Mad Noise issued untraditional arrangements of familiar covers (Weezer's "Say it Ain't So," Rihanna's "Umbrella") with an irresistible effervescence, garnering raised thumbs from the few Chatrouletters that stuck around to watch. "Hootie!" one foreign-seeming chatter typed after clicking across Mad Noise's guitar-slinging frontman, Khalil Sullivan, who is black. "Hold my hand," the chatter continued. Then the dude nexted Mad Noise. "It's hard up on Chatroulette," Sullivan mused, mid-song.
Ukulady's revolving costumes and screechy chatter started off funny ("I can handle wieners from Siberia! Is that a cooter?"), but she seemed fazed each time she was nexted, which, as with all the performers, happened constantly. She later returned with a hilarious impression of an overachieving elementary schooler that exploded the eyeballs of several Chatrouletters.
The best parts of the night were the few moments in which the random human connections that Bender hopes for were found. Proving that cellos are irresistibly sexy, Mulkey (aka Unwoman) dazzled a naked German (?) dude with big eyebrows (his reaction to her and her cello: "wowwwwwwwwwww"). Mad Noise made friends with a Texan wearing a creepy George W. Bush mask, who bounced along to "Umbrella," complained about the bad sound quality, and signed off, in true Internet-asshole style, by holding up signs that read "epic fail." (He was very wrong.) There weren't many chatters that lasted longer than a minute watching any part of the show, although the live audience seemed to enjoy it a great deal. (Mulkey and Mad Noise earned such effusive cheers from the live crowd at the end that they were deemed a tie for first place, winning $50 each.)
So more than making real connections, the Make-Out room crowd felt the sting of rejection: Rejection from veiny erect penises, rejection from flaccid hairy penises, rejection from adolescent males lounging in beds lit only by their computer screens, rejection from would-be video-sex-chatters, rejection from dudes scratching their balls, rejection from four-year-olds in the southern hemisphere, and rejection even from gaggles of teenage girls and boys looking for a little amusement on the tubes. The average span of attention was about three seconds, which doesn't say much for the future of civilized society. The Make-Out Room crowd, however, laughed and shouted through the entire production -- so the future of the Chatroulette Show, which returns there on August 27, looks pretty bright.
By the way: Some smart people studied Chatroulette and concluded that its users -- who number about 35,000 at any one time -- are 89 percent male, 49 percent American, and 13 percent perverts. Clearly, they weren't studying it last night.
Overheard in the crowd: Person A: "Isn't that why we're here -- to see dick?" Person B: "No, it's not." Person A: "Oh ... I really thought it was."
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All of the performers got a few eyelid-lifting shocks out of their chance encounters, which made for some of the show's funniest moments. Watching German/Russian/Texan retinas pop at the sight of a shirtless dude shouting a haiku about horses and salt licks (one of Staedler's more noteworthy moments) or a tall guy doing tricks with playing cards and a hat (Miller's a good magician) never got old. Chatroulette is supposed to be about surprise, but little of what one finds there is actually surprising. Encountering a bar full of people in San Francisco singing weird songs, wearing wigs and doing costumes? You don't see that on Chatroulette every day.