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

Dave Chappelle Announces Fall U.S. Tour


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
Dave Chappelle attends the GQ 2014 Men of the Year Party in West Hollywood, California December 4, 2014. REUTERS/Phil McCarten (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 12: Dave Chappelle poses in the E-Talk Portrait Studio at the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards at the Sony Centre For Performing Arts on March 12, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EST and features a diverse lineup of guests that includes celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human-interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Tuesday, March 21 included Dave Chappelle (Netflix special), Naomi Scott ('Power Rangers') and musical guest Weezer. (Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images) DAVE CHAPPELLE, JIMMY KIMMEL
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)
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 2: Comedian, Dave Chappelle attends Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Utah Jazz and the Golden State Warriors during the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 2, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19: Comedians, Chris Tucker and Dave Chappelle attend the NBA All-Star Game as part of 2017 All-Star Weekend at the Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Tyler KaufmanNBAE via Getty Images)
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)
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 ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 19: Jay-Z and Dave Chappelle are seen at the 2017 NBA All-Star Game on February 19, 2017 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Tom O'Connor/NBAE via Getty Images)
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 ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19: Comedian, Dave Chappelle walks around back stage during the NBA All-Star Game as part of the 2017 NBA All Star Weekend on February 19, 2017 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via 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)
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 12: Dave Chappelle and Eugene Levy at the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards at Sony Centre For Performing Arts on March 12, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
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)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16: (L-R) Dave Chappelle, T.I., and Jermaine Dupri attend the 5th Annual Global Spin Awards at The Orpheum Theatre on February 16, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/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.
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)
Dave Chappelle presents the ICON award to "Just for Laughs" during the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto, Ontario, Canada March 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Comedian Dave Chappelle arrives at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto, Ontario, Canada March 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Comedian Dave Chappelle speaks to a reporter as he arrives for the Mark Twain prize for Humor honoring Eddie Murphy at the Kennedy Center in Washington October 18, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
INGLEWOOD, CA - JANUARY 16: Comedian Dave Chappelle gives a surprise performance at the Birthday Celebration For Chris Spencer at The Savoy Entertainment Center on January 16, 2017 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)
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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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