An eye-witness account of what happened at the disastrous Trevor Noah show in Bengaluru, and why
After a harrowing, three-hour ride through some of the worst traffic Bengaluru has seen in a long time, I made it to Trevor Noah’s Off The Record show at Manpho Convention Centre in the north of the city by the skin of my teeth. In fact, I made it only because the show had been pushed back by half an hour—reportedly because Noah himself was held up in traffic and was running late. We were prepping for a round of Bengaluru traffic jokes with high anticipation—it’s only humour that helps us get through the daily trauma of commuting in the city, and here we had one of the top comics in the world hitting a goldmine of comedy on his way to his first performance here. It was going to be delicious.
It was only during the opening act by New York-based comic Wilner Sylvince that we felt the first moments of disquiet. There were loud murmurs, and then shouts, from large parts of the audience at the back that they couldn’t hear. Sylvince took it in his stride, as a seasoned comic would, but seemed visibly nonplussed and happy to get off the stage and make way for Noah. Loud cheers greeted him, but the first thing Noah did was ask the audience if they could hear him. He proceeded to do an impromptu sound-check, asking tranches of the audience seated in descending rows down the flat hall (this was no auditorium with tiered seating) whether they could hear him.
People in the back rows started chanting ‘we can’t hear’ and ‘no’. Noah was gracious and calm; he tried instructing the sound engineers to adjust the volume and make tweaks to the sound quality, asking the audience for feedback. Still no. “We’ll try to get this fixed,” he said. “Give us 10 minutes.” Half an hour later, he came back on to say it looked like they wouldn’t be able to fix it. “I won’t be able to perform like this… I’m really sorry, I’ve never been in this kind of situation before.”
That was the last we saw of Trevor Noah.
There is a lot of unpredictability to live shows; it’s what makes us brave three hours in traffic to watch something live, even at a time when streaming brings everything into our cosy bedrooms. There’s a certain frisson of tension we enjoy in not knowing exactly how something will go down; it feeds the need for drama in all of us. Well, last night was certainly unpredictable and dramatic, if not for the reasons we went for the show in the first place.
It is inevitable that we will look to apportion blame. All of us in the audience last night paid upwards of ₹3,000 + taxes for tickets—yes, that’s how much the cheapest tickets cost, going up to ₹12,500+. There were approximately 3,500 people in the audience. Was Manpho Convention Centre the best choice of venue for a show of this kind, with the kind of prices that were being charged? Emphatically, no. Stand-up comedy is not a rock concert, you can’t trust to people being carried away by loud music and communal energy to forget everything else. Comedy requires attention and intellectual engagement. The comedian feeds off the audience’s feedback actively. As much as it is a performance, it is also a conversation. Good audio is the least requirement for it to proceed smoothly.
Even without the seemingly unforeseeable acoustic issues during the performance, this huge, flat convention hall, with its bare walls, ceiling, and floor, would not give the impression of being a good acoustical venue to even a novice. Given that people at the back certainly could not see the stage—because no amphitheatre seating, remember?—the least they would expect is to be able to hear the comic, while following the visuals on a large screen suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the hall. As a friend put it, “Who thought this shaadi hall was a good idea?”
It is a mystery how both producers/organisers BookMyShow (who are being rightly pilloried on social media), and Noah’s team (who are not), ok’d these arrangements that even to a layperson looked hastily put together and sketchy—I am not even getting into the fact of the venue being tucked inside a tiny lane off the Outer Ring Road or the chaotic parking arrangements. Those are inevitable, this is India. But it is absolutely unfathomable how the actual ‘auditorium’ passed muster during the several inspections and sound checks that must have taken place before a huge show like this—by both BookMyShow and Noah’s own team. The hall turned into a literal echo chamber the minute Sylvince and then Noah started speaking—had no one thought to conduct a thorough sound check keeping the various factors in mind, such as 2,000-odd people packed in the back of the hall?
My local Durga Puja ‘rock night’ is better organised than this; someone called it a “TCS annual day”. For none of these events do people pay ₹3,000 upwards for one ticket—they are free.
BookMyShow has now put out a mealy-mouthed apology, offering no real explanation for their failure to put up a good—or even mediocre—show. “Bengaluru, we are extremely sorry for the inconvenience caused at Trevor Noah’s Off The Record show at Manpho Convention Centre on September 27th. The Bengaluru leg of the India Tour for both September 27th & 28th stands cancelled. All customers who purchased tickets for both shows will get a complete refund within 8-10 working days. We deeply regret this experience that our valuable customers faced and hope to be able to bring Trevor back to this amazing city at the earliest.”
Beyond Noah’s tweet from last night, there has been no word from his team.
Dear Bengalaru India, I was so looking forward to performing in your amazing city but due to technical issues we’ve been forced to cancel both shows.
We tried everything but because the audience can’t hear the comedians on stage there’s literally no way to do a show. We’ll make…
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) September 27, 2023
Despite these kind words about being “amazing”, let’s face it—Bengaluru, too, has a lot to answer for. Why does a rapidly swelling city of over 13 million people have no large public auditorium where an event like this can be arranged smoothly? Why must it be a warehouse with non-functional airconditioning and such poor acoustics that a world-famous comedian has to quit his show? Why are we so inured to mediocrity; to empty, flimsy Instagrammability; to a certain ‘good-enough’-ness?
It is not the fault of those who own and operate this convention centre. It is the fault of those who thought it would be good enough to host a show of this kind.
Well, at least it had a bar.