How Dave Chappelle is creating a "No-Phone Zone" for his Chicago shows

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Poll any group of Hollywood comedians and you'll hear the recurring gripes about smartphones and their dreaded byproduct, smartphone video: The glowing devices distract during performances; their well-honed material plummets in street value once posted to YouTube; and, in the case of more provocative comics, it renders them the target of an angry Twitter mob.

Now, Dave Chappelle is taking matters into his own hands: The revered funnyman has entered into a deal with San Francisco-based Yondr to use that company's smartphone-locking pouches at a series of live shows this week in Chicago.

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How Dave Chappelle is creating a "No-Phone Zone" for his Chicago shows
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Dave Chappelle performs as part of the The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival at Shoreline Amphitheatre on September 20, 2013 in Mountain View, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 10: Dave Chappelle visits the Late Show With David Letterman on June 10, 2014 in New York City. Credit: Diego Corredor / MediaPunch /IPX
AUSTIN, TX - AUGUST 23: Comedian Dave Chappelle performs on stage during the tour opener in support of the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival at Austin360 Amphitheater on August 23, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)
AUSTIN, TX - AUGUST 23: Comedian Dave Chappelle performs on stage during the tour opener in support of the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival at Austin360 Amphitheater on August 23, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Actor Dave Chappelle leaves his Soho hotel on September 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/Getty Images)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Dave Chappelle performs as part of the The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival at Shoreline Amphitheatre on September 20, 2013 in Mountain View, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, FL - JULY 23: Dave Chappelle performs at Zo Summer Groove Benefit Dinner and Gala at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel on July 23, 2011 in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Larry Marano/WireImage)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) ***EXCLUSIVE*** Comedian/Actor Dave Chappelle poses as he visits backstage at The New Hit Musical 'Passing Strange' at The Belasco Theater on March 1, 2008 in New York City.
FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2008 file photo, comedian Dave Chappelle attends a Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
FILE - In this June 13, 2006, file photo, comedian Dave Chappelle promotes the release of his new DVD "Dave Chappelle's Block Party," at the Virgin Megastore in Los Angeles. Chappelle has struck back at the city of Hartford, Conn. after he was heckled at a show Aug. 29, 2013, and refused to perform his set. (AP Photo/Stefano Paltera, File)
Howard Bingham, top, stands behind Dave Chappelle, left, and Bingham's longtime friend Muhammad Ali at a reception Friday, May 5, 2006, at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., on the eve of the Kentucky Derby. (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon)
Comedian Dave Chappelle on stage at the Laugh Factory in New York City for pre-opening night, Saturday, April 3, 2004. (AP Photo/Stuart Ramson)
Comedian Dave Chappelle, poses for photographs before the start of the Directors Guild of America Honors ceremonies Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2004, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Comedian Dave Chappelle performs during the 2011 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/WireImage)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Comedian Dave Chappelle makes the announcement that Big Boi's performance has been canceled onstage at the Sutro Stage during the 2011 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival held at Golden Gate Park on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
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Attendees at any of Chappelle's 13 sold-out Thalia Hall performances will be greeted by staffers handing out gray smartphone sleeves, available in three sizes. They are then instructed to place their phones inside the sleeves and fasten them, at which point they are welcome to carry them inside the venue.

As soon as they enter the "no-phone zone," however, the pouches will have locked shut via wireless signal, preventing anyone from firing off so much as a winking emoji. Need to make a call or send an email? No problem. Simply leave the designated zone (and head, say, to the lobby bar) and the pouches can now magically be unlocked.

If the experiment works, it could mark a bold new era in standup comedy - one in which comedians can breathe a little bit easier knowing their bluest material won't wind up online before last call. And the service, which is already being employed by various schools around the country, can easily extend to other sensitive entertainment events - say, that upcoming preview screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Hannibal Buress was the first comedian to try Yondr. After video went viral of a 2014 performance in which he repeatedly called Bill Cosby a rapist, resulting in death threats, Buress decided to use the technology at a show last June. That led executives from Live Nation, producers of the current Chappelle tour, to consult with him about Yondr. He told them he was happy with the results.

"It's a huge thing for Chappelle, like all comedians: how to make the show phone-free," says Yondr founder Graham Dugoni, 29, (pictured left) who adds that "the deal came together pretty quickly."

His company may stand in stark contrast to most tech startups, but in many ways, Yondr is the ultimate disrupter, existing to render app-filled iPhones and the like completely useless. (Not surprisingly, Yondr has received a chilly welcome from some of its Silicon Valley contemporaries, Dugoni says.)

The service, which makes its money by leasing out its equipment, is currently able to accommodate up to a 12,000-seat arena. That means it's not quite ready to tackle 17,000-seat L.A. venues like Staples Center or The Forum. Thalia Hall, which holds a maximum 800 people, is on the lower end of what Yondr can handle. But Chappelle is by far the biggest name yet to align himself with the company (besides Buress, they've previously worked with Zhu, an electronic artist). The deal could mark an entree to higher-profile performers and bigger events.

The timing is good, as more and more artists insist on phone-free shows. Venues can do what they've always done, and withdraw phones entirely. But, Dugoni argues, that method - which was deployed by the band Mumford and Sons during its recent tour - is extremely inefficient, often leading to long check-in and retrieval lines and even the possibility of theft or property damage. It also leads to more phone smugglers, requiring increased staff to police them.

"People just don't want to give up possession of their phone," Dugoni says. "It's like an extra arm."

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