For the Love of God, Stop Clapping at Comedies
Last night, I saw a comedy; Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck. And the man sitting next to me clapped 24 different times.
Yes, I counted. After this gentleman applauded three times before the opening credits (and ignored several side-eyes in his direction), I decided to keep track of every time he did it.
The final total, again, was 24. It was horrible, obnoxious, and incredibly distracting. But it was only the most extreme example of a disease that’s infected movie theaters across this great nation: Performative clapping at comedies. No one knows where this virus started; it’s unclear who was the Gwyneth Paltrow of this particularly virulent contagion. But wherever it’s started, it’s become a full-blown epidemic. And it must be stopped.
To be sure, there are times when clapping in a movie theater is permissible, or even advisable. At a movie premiere or a unique repertory screening with special guests in attendance, enthusiastic applause during the closing credits makes perfect sense. But a first-run film on a Wednesday night at an ordinary multiplex? Two dozen times throughout the movie? That kind of applause serves no one. This is not a Broadway show. Judd Apatow is not here. Amy Schumer is not here. Bill Hader is not here. You know who is here? Me. And I came to hear the movie, not your incessant clapping. So for the love of God stop it.
Look, we’ve all found something so incredibly funny that we clapped involuntarily. It happens. Once or twice a movie, that’s reasonable, for something that’s one of the funniest things you’ve ever heard. When Jason Statham lists all the insane things he’d done as a secret agent in Spy, that’s worthy of spontaneous applause. Or when the Hulk suddenly demolishes Loki in the first Avengers. That’s a great moment. Applaud away.
But no one has 24 separate uncontrollable bursts of applause over the course of two hours. The funniest movie ever made does not contain enough jokes to justify that much acclamation. At one point the guy next to me almost leapt out of his seat clapping at a tampon joke. This is a middle-aged man! How much hands-on experience does he have with tampons? Does he really think that’s funny? Or is he more worried about everyone around him thinking he thinks it’s funny?
Movie theaters are communal spaces. The reactions of many strangers sitting in the dark together is part of their unique appeal. I’m all for expressing your enjoyment in a movie theater. If a movie’s funny, laugh. Laugh your head off! I’m a pretty loud laugher myself. But that’s not something I can control — and in fact, I try not to laugh as hard as I’d like out of consideration for others. It’s the same reason you shouldn’t check your email or talk on your cell phone or get up and stand directly in front of someone during the movie. Because this is a shared space, and the rights of others should be treated with understanding and respect.
Obviously, I didn’t confront this jerkstore after the movie, so this is purely speculation on my part, but I wonder how much of this over-the-top clapping is some kind of offshoot of our wider cultural need to perform, record, and share every aspect of modern life. It’s not enough to watch Game of Thrones; you’ve got to record yourself watching it and put that reaction video on YouTube. You can’t just go to a cool concert; you’ve got to Vine, Periscope, and Soundcloud the thing too. In that environment, laughing at a comedy is insufficient. Every single person in the theater must know that, yes, you think that tampon joke is absolutely hilarious. It’s like the pop cultural version of the tree falling in the woods. If no one observes your pleasure, did it really happen?
Overapplauders and their incessant interruptions highlight the growing need for an official code of conduct for all movie theaters, something I first took a stab at several years ago. Movie theaters have enough competition from video-on-demand, iPads, and television without viewers turning the atmosphere toxic with their inconsiderate behavior. If we could make movie theaters more inviting and comfortable spaces, that would really be something worthy of a standing ovation.