Comedians and musicians are adopting ‘no phone’ policies at their shows

When you go to a concert or a comedy show, you might watch the act through a sea of cell phones, raised above people’s heads as they capture the performance, but some performers are starting to control phone use at their shows.

“I went to go see the comedian John Mulaney at the White River Amphitheater,” said Seattle’s Aaron Mason.

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Mason said phone use was not permitted at the show.

“They gave you these bags the size of an oversized cell phone,” Mason said. “You closed the top of it and there’s a little snap. Once it snaps shut, it stays shut. You have your phone on you the whole time, which I really like, and then at the end of the show, all the staff that were there checking tickets when people came in are now there with little devices to unlock your phone bag.”

The phone bag was created by a company called Yondr.

“Yondr is a company that creates phone-free spaces for educators and performers,” said Dawson Ludwig, Yondr’s director of music and events. “When you step into a performance space, you’ve got a room full of people who are attentive. They do not have their phones on them and it creates this amazing synergy between performer and audience.”

The way life used to be before smartphones.

Artists hire Yondr to come on tour with them and provide the pouches at all of their shows.

“Jack White, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Bob Dylan, John Mulaney, Amy Schumer,” Ludwig listed off the artists they’ve worked with. “We did a tour with Madonna before the pandemic. Quite a few.”

They also work with some comedy clubs that use the Yondr pouches for every performance, every night of the week.

“There’s such a huge value in creating some privacy,” said Ludwig. “There’s obviously a whole Internet filled with leaks and bootlegs and comedians are very invested in making sure that what they say on stage stays in that room.”

More importantly, people are forced to be in the moment.

“I really liked it,” Mason said. “I really noticed a difference in the amount of attention people were paying because they weren’t looking on their phones or busy taking pictures and video. They had to pay attention and that feedback from the audience is reciprocal, so the more engaged the audience is the better that performance is probably going to be. So I really liked it.”

Not to worry, Yondr makes sure that people don’t go into these situations blindly.

“We go to great lengths to make sure that we’re educating fans,” Ludwig said. “It’s on the ticket page, it’s on the event page, there’s signage as you walk up. Often times there are messages directly from artists through their platforms, social media, or website that this is going to be a phone-free show. And that’s a good thing. It’s not a punishment. We want you to have the best experience possible.”

If you need to call the babysitter or use your phone for any reason, there are spaces in the venues, tucked away from the performance area, where you can have your pouch temporarily unlocked.

Yondr is also being used in other places where focus and attention is desired.

“We’re in over a thousand schools in the US,” Ludwig said. “It’s a completely phone-free school. They place their phones in the Yondr pouch, obviously, they keep possession of it. Depending on the school and their policy, they’ll have access to use their phone at lunch or recess, but that’s up to the school. Giving teachers, in a similar way that we give performers, a platform to do what they need to do without having a distracted audience.”

Ludwig says they also service weddings and parties.

As for Mason, he says he wouldn’t mind putting his phone away for all performances.

“I was going to say no because sometimes you want to take a picture, but if nobody was allowed to do that then there wouldn’t be the FOMO about missing capturing the moment,” Mason said. “I think it would result in better shows and better times out, for sure.”

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal.” Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

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