When the Machine Breaks Down

Ever notice that the audience laughs louder or claps harder when the machine breaks down?

Take Saturday Night Live, for instance. The best parts are when the comedians can’t stop laughing at their own jokes. You can hear the studio audience cracking up the whole time. Or, at the circus, if the highwire acrobat stumbles on a jump, on their next attempt you can bet they’ll get bigger applause than anyone else the whole night. Or, when a keynote speaker forgets her next line and admits she lost her place; that’s when we stop Tweeting and sit up in our chair.

When running their routines smoothly, experts can be almost too perfect, so flawless, they stop being human. We appreciate the content, but we can’t relate, and so our interest falls to the background.

Without flaws, entertainers and lecturers become like digitized recordings, like robots – efficient and predictable, on some predetermined path and we, the audience, are merely onlookers without the power to influence.

We have no skin in the game, no hand in the outcome, and we almost feel like that person in front of us, so perfect and polished, isn’t even in the room with us, like they’re behind a screen, manipulated by levers that reach far off the stage.

Yes, we can benefit from their knowledge, we may indeed ooh and ahh, but they’ll never really reach us from there. The act remains an act.

Until something sputters or smokes, we’re both just playing our parts.