Dave Chappelle, Bicyclists, and Baristas: On Unrealistic Expectations
Trish and I had tickets to the Dave Chappelle “Oddball Comedy Festival” a couple weeks ago. Damn it, I got us some pretty good seats! Unfortunately, there was a scheduling conflict that drew us to Seattle on that weekend, so the spoils of my speedy mouse-clicks and page refresh timing skills ended up first-served to the first-come Craigslist respondent for a blow-softening $50 premium. Good outcome, but still a bummer.
Coincidentally that same day, news spread about a Chappelle “meltdown” in Connecticut. There’s been no video released of that show, but reports say that he took the stage, started his act, got “heckled,” and finished out his contractually-obligated time with what amounted to a comedian’s filibuster. Instead of delaying a vote on a bill, Chappelle was out to punish and to protest.
Now stand-up has been an occasional fancy for me. While I’ve never gotten it together and taken a stage, I like to think about it in the way we all fantasize about doing something as good if not better than those you see doing it professionally without having done anything to deserve that dickish attitude. Still, I think I’ve paid above-average attention to the stand-up comedy scene. Maybe I’ll get a routine together someday but probably not don’t be ridiculous though you never know nevermind.
When a stand-up routine is going well, it’s a fluid comic call and answer with laughter as punctuation. A long, protracted crowd-laughter is like a period. A comma is a light laughter from a smattering of giggly people. A new paragraph comes with a thunderous roar. The one thing about the Chappelle melt-down story that sticks out to me is the fact that there was a clear disconnect between the audience and the comic. Simply put, the audience wasn’t following the rules.
Calling out to the comic, shouting out catchphrases and lines from old bits. Beseeching and adulating. Whooping and hollerin’. I mean really, what’s wrong with these people?
But it begs the question, rules? What rules? Who makes the rules? Are they written rules? Why are there these rules?
Lastly, how is anyone supposed to learn the rules?
To Chappelle, the audience was engaged in bad behavior. Logically, nobody in that audience paid money for the opportunity to get Chappelle to stop performing. What they (or specifically, the so-called “hecklers”) were attempting was to engage in the experience in an enjoyable way, influenced by what was going on around them, based on prior experience and their conception of what’s okay to do in that setting. We’ve all seen clips of comics responding to individuals yelling stuff out from the crowd. We’ve even seen comics directly engaging people in the audience, even to the now clichéd take-their-cell-phone bit. But my above-average stand-up interest has taught me that it’s really only ‘allowed’ when the comic is inviting, initiating, or at least clearly consenting it. Outside of that, no means no, and no-engagement means no.
But how is everyone really supposed to know this?
Coffee has changed a lot over the past three decades. Perhaps in a Moore’s Law-type acceleration of development, cycles in trends and such in specialty coffee seem to come more often and more intensely. During the recent decade as the third-wave of coffee has started taking real shape, the dialogue between the industry and the consumer base has been mostly defined by identified problems and frictions, even as our leading-edge segment slowly grows in market-share and rapidly in awareness.
We talk about customers that “get it,” and those who don’t. We scoff at customers who request more second-wave stalwarts like hazelnut flavor or Sweet’N Low. We tire of having to explain again and again our coffee selections and defend again and again our service decisions. The constant coffee apologist mantle can indeed be a wearisome one, and some people are simply better suited for it than others.
But when our fatigue turns to hubris and we demand in subtle and less-subtle ways that those who walk into our coffee shops come with certain preconditions: that they “get it,” or are completely wide open for it, or at the very least come without inconvenient predilections, we’re embedded in unrealistic expectations. We want what we want, without really having done anything to deserve the right to demand such.
There are certain requirements to earning a drivers’ license, not the least of which is proof that you understand the relevant traffic laws. This is less about keeping the drivers’ club exclusive, more about public safety. If a driver doesn’t know that a red traffic light means STOP, it puts real lives at risk. But bicyclists have no such requirement.
If you were to assume that most automobile drivers are aware of most typical traffic laws, I think it’s similarly safe to assume that a fewer number of drivers are aware of the laws that pertain to driving and bicycles. An even smaller percentage of bicyclists, at least by my limited observation, experience, and logic, appear to understand or care to abide by bicycling laws. Why would they, when there’s no legal requirement to prove you understand them?
Short of such a law, the next best thing would be for basic sociological forces to put pressure on drivers and bicyclists to learn, understand, and abide by the rules of the road, both the legal and casual ones. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a strong movement of that sort. So what options are left?
Simply, bicyclists need to be more careful for their own safety, and automobile drivers need to be extra-cautious around the less-protected bicyclists out there. That too, would be great, but the onus on the automobile driver would be one of benevolence, less about self-interest. Only the bicyclist can really take care of her or him self. Demanding that drivers of cars have learned, understand, and demonstrate how to share the road with bicyclists is perhaps a worthwhile political issue. Expecting such, however, can get you killed.
There are a number of factors that these examples, stand-up comics, bicyclists, and baristas, having in common. There are not, despite our best wishes, well-established, well-communicated, and well-understood rules or even societal norms guiding relevant behaviors. There are, however and apparently, certain expectations that the corresponding sides on each bring to the table (comics and audiences, bicyclists and drivers, baristas and coffee consumers), and associated risks and rewards to those expectations. However, as in most human conflict, while there is shared responsibility on both sides, the keys to real solutions lie solely in the hands of one party.
Bicyclists need to do their best to follow the typical rules of the road, that help others predict behaviors. Stand-up comics need to either get over themselves, or actually work harder to inform the public of their rules. Baristas need to abandon our expectations about what customers should know, or get to work on a worldwide publicity campaign about whatever the hell it is that we think people need to know about coffee.
But ultimately, it’s doubtful Chappelle will put out his rules, because it would be admitting he indeed expected unrealistically. Similarly, it’s doubtful that specialty coffee would be able to collaborate in a way that might result in such a campaign. We’re too diverse, competitive, and paranoid to engage in that high a level of coordination. That leaves abandonment. Abandon your expectations. Allow our customers to be who they are. Meet them where they are, and give them the best we can. Unless you saw them on a bicycle, blowing through a stop sign. Then eff ‘em.
Then if the collective efforts of all involved push us past the tipping point and over to being something the public generally understands, we might enjoy a more frequently easy experience serving, and our customers might have a more frequently enjoyable service experience. We’ve got a long way to go though, and there’s no fake-it-til-you-make-it for this.