The Talking Dead: Is bad audience behavior hurting Milwaukee’s reputation?
Saturday night at 10 p.m., some 2,500 people braved the temperatures and shuffled into The Riverside Theater for an event billed as “an evening with Greg Nicotero, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, and Lauren Cohan” of AMC’s The Walking Dead fame. However, by the time the 90-minute live panel discussion and Q&A session concluded, it had derailed into an oft-interrupted, self-serving, misogynistic, stumblingly intoxicated, and all-around embarrassing performance on behalf of Milwaukee, with the paid performers unfortunately forced into a supporting role.
Having been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to review dozens of concerts, comedy shows, and even the occasional panel event for publications, I can say with confidence that this isn’t a one-time occurrence for our city. Yes, most audiences I’ve been part of are enthusiastic, respectful, and courteous—a good representation of the “kind” and “blue collar” labels so often placed beside Milwaukee’s name. However, almost any person in the crowd the last time Louis C.K. came through town or the many who navigated the controlled chaos of Jeffrey Ross’ “Roasts America” tour can tell you that Milwaukee’s little-guy-with-something-to-prove mentality can effortlessly push a show to the brink of being ruined. And, in the case of Saturday’s late show, can completely shove it off the cliff of good taste.
Following some clips from the hit zombie drama, the performers entered to a crescendo of applause and unintelligible shouting that never fully stopped for the remainder of the show. During introductions, it was quickly made apparent through catcalls (and worse) that lots of guys wanted Lauren Cohan to know they found her attractive. As Norman Reedus was introduced, the ladies responded with a Beatles-on-Sullivan scream, before, seemingly, assigning numbers to take turns yelling, “I love you, Daryl!” (his Walking Dead character’s name) every time he was in the middle of answering a question.
Oh, the questions! Though moderator (and The A.V. Club’s own) Kyle Ryan initially tried to maintain some semblance of organization for the panel, he quickly lost the reins. Virtually every pause served as an uninvited opportunity for crowd members to shout their own slurred impromptu response. Following the third time an audience member bellowed “YOU CAN DO IT!” (which wasn’t even funny in 1998, when it was first said in context in The Waterboy), Steven Yeun—echoing the annoyance felt by 2,449 others—said, “All right, man. Rule of threes. We’re good.” By my count, the phrase was yelled eight more times. However, I’d take 11 more Rob Schneider quotes over when Cohan’s response regarding her favorite scene to film was cut abruptly short when a man yelled, “You should re-enact your scene with the governor!” (Spoiler alert: Her character was forced to disrobe and threatened with rape. So hot!)
The crowd had its positive points, such as the person who brought the cast PBR tallboys, when Yeun hinted he wanted one. But as the quartet politely sipped (and poured a drink out for the dearly departed T-Dog character), another patron—no doubt jealous of the handshake Yeun bestowed upon the last person—ambled brazenly to the foot of the stage with four Budweiser tallboys for some reason. Soon after, someone brought a single Budweiser tallboy up front. Finally, Greg Nicotero stopped that particular strain of madness, saying, “There’s just four of us up here.”
In addition to the now-expected mid-question interjections, Yeun and Reedus’ decision to venture offstage to field questions proved to be the deathblow to an already damaged evening’s entertainment. Most questions that didn’t begin with “Who would win in a fight between (character X) and (character Y)?” were in regard to whether that person could get a picture with that actor, as the show stood idly by. As 10 percent of the crowd stood up, the lower level’s center aisle clogged with people mobbing Reedus for pictures and hugs. The sloppy-drunken shouts darted from all corners of The Riverside, and the frenzied crowd gave quick and idiotic judgment to two of the few good questions asked all night. One inquiry about an actor’s reaction to finding out their character was dying was met with a “Fuck you!” from a vocal Daryl-lover trying to expand her repertoire. A question about whether the show was open to bringing on gay characters produced a surprising heft of boos, too.
So went the show: a clumsy ordeal of audience behavior in which a staggeringly massive portion of the crowd allowed its passion for the guests to turn pathetically inward. Instead of listening and interacting in the manner the event required, it became a platform for audience members to let the performers know of their specific appreciation of them, simple human respect be damned. I know I’m not alone in my disappointment in both the show and the impression Milwaukee gave the panel Saturday night.
Sadly, this type of show decorum is becoming increasingly prevalent in Milwaukee events. Although the show-killing, night-ruining actions are only perpetrated by a fraction of those in attendance, it makes Milwaukee as a whole look awful. Does our need to vocalize our presence and boast about our breweries boil down to a feeling of inadequacy? Is our belief that if we love famous people the loudest, they’ll have no choice but to return, even though we don’t have the skyline, NHL team, or Pinkberry locations Chicago has? Whatever the reason is, it has to stop.
Milwaukee may be a great place, what with its urban forests, wide availability of single men, and (alleged) romance. But lots of places make beer, and even more cities drink a lot of it. Unless we’re talking a BoDeans’ concert, it’s important to remember that Milwaukee can be skipped (and oftentimes is) by touring acts. Instead of falling over ourselves to convince an act we deserve them, why not act as if we’ve been there before? This is a one-of-a-kind city with tremendous venues that go out of their way to offer a wide variety of first-class entertainment options to (usually) enthusiastic, appreciative, and respectful audiences. Let’s not ruin that.