When it comes to seeing his jokes become the basis of a viral phenomenon, comedian Hannibal Buress is nothing short of a reluctant expert.
In the fall of 2014, Buress’ comedy set on Bill Cosby’s rape allegations hit the internet after an audience member recorded it on their cell phone. The video footage went viral shortly thereafter, which served as a catalyst for numerous alleged female victims of Cosby to come forward to tell their stories of being sexually assaulted by the former “Cosby Show” and “I, Spy” star. Cosby denies any wrongdoing and has faced many verbal assaults from hecklers during his own live shows.
So in trying to prevent having his material leaked online again — and to avoid getting death threats as well — Buress has partnered Yondr to use their emerging signal blocking technology to make sure his latest show at the Uptown Theater in Napa, California is, in fact, a cell phone-free zone.
“Comedians rely on the content of their performances not being leaked,” Graham Dugoni, founder of Yondr, told Laughspin. “Partnering with Hannibal is important because it shows that major artists care a lot about this issue.”
Yondr, a San Fransisco-based firm founded in January 2014, employs small pouch-like cases to block any and all cell signals at public performance venues like concerts and movie theaters. As people enter a venue, phones are placed in the pouch and returned to the owner. Once patrons enter the phone-free performance zone, the Yondr cases lock, prohibiting access to the enclosed phones. If the audience needs to use their phones at any point during the performance, they must leave the zone to unlock their case unlocks and they regain access to their phone.
“People are not using phones as a useful tool as much as a compulsive habit,” Dugoni told Newsweek in December 2014. “Phones become kind of a crutch, a social crutch, and people are constantly trying to document everything. They’re not really enjoying the primacy of the experience.”
Dugoni told Laughspin that he sees his company’s partnership with Buress as the first step towards making all live comedy performances cell-free areas. “Yondr creates an environment where comedians can say what they want without fear of leaks,” he said. “Spaces where people are temporarily free from constant emails and texts, where they can be genuinely uninhibited without fear of becoming a viral video and enjoy authentic social interaction. Live performances thrive when these elements are present and suffer when they aren’t.”
He added, “A prerequisite for good comedy is that comedians can get on stage and let it all hang out.”
Check out what Buress had to say about the leaked Cosby set video when he appeared on the Howard Stern Show in October 2014: