A few months ago we asked readers a basic question: “Do you boo?” Judging by the number (and nature) of comments the post solicited, the answer is yes. The question was asked as part of an upcoming Freakonomics Radio episode that’s all about booing. To borrow the words of one of our guests, writer Robert Lipsyte, we ask: Is booing verbal vandalism, or is it one of the last true expressions of democracy?
For the audience at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, it’s the latter. We recently visited for its talent showcase, Amateur Night. There, booing—and cheering—is a way of voting, to decide who advances to the next round of competition.
One might think booing is a visceral act, but for a group of friends sitting next to us, it’s a choice that comes after a bit of discussion. However, one contestant made this group’s verdict very easy. When the vocalist stepped on stage to perform a gospel song, the friends all groaned and one made this observation:
“He’s cheating. Singing gospel is cheating. No one wants to boo it.”
For this “cop-out,” the singer got a fusillade of boos. We caught up with the friends after the show when one of them told us, “I’m not scared to boo in the name of Jesus.”
Also on our boo panel for this episode is former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who explains why Philadelphia has the best sports fans in the world; and The Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout, who thinks there ought to be more booing in Broadway houses. Stay tuned.