Whether it's stripping off or throwing bread, sometimes the only way to respond to an interactive show is to embrace the silliness
Few things chill my blood like the sight of the word "interactive" under a show's description in the Fringe programme. I have a horror of being invited to enter into the performance, much preferring to sit in the dark and let them get on with it. It's partly a natural aversion to joining in, but also because as a reviewer you're so often at comedy shows alone, and you do feel self-conscious when asked to make an idiot of yourself without friends to laugh along with.
But for some people, getting involved is part of the attraction of live comedy. It used to be generally understood that if you sat in the front row, you were asking for the comedian's attention and would take your chances as to whether that was benign or otherwise, but there are a number of shows that demand the participation of the whole audience and render you unsafe wherever you sit.
New Art Club's Quiet Act of Destruction is based around the story of a feud between two villages, where the audience is divided up and asked to play the part of the villagers, attempting to score points against each other through traditional village fete games. Once we've all got over the embarrassment of the physical warm-up, there's a genuine enthusiasm for the competition, which culminates in a village meeting where the two sides pelt each other with soft objects. "The gusto with which some of you got involved in that might go some way to explaining what's been going on in England lately," says one of the performers with a reproving look.
"This show is interactive," warns the impeccably polite voiceover at the beginning of The Boy With Tape On His Face, a wonderful show that was one of the surprise hits of last year's Fringe. "So if you're invited on stage," it goes on, "do please play along, or you will look like a cock." Wise words. However much you fear looking an idiot in front of the rest of the audience, it's nothing compared with the mass disapproval you'll face if you don't join in willingly. In Al Murray's comedy pub quiz Compete for the Meat, one man was nominated by his team to take part in a game on stage. Inexplicably, he waited until he got up there before refusing to take part, on the grounds that it was "a bit silly". Quite rightly, he was booed back to his seat.
The only way to respond to interactive shows is to leave your self-consciousness at the door and embrace the silliness. Some might even discover their inner performer, like the guys asked to play the stripper in The Boy With Tape's show. This is, after all, part of the joy of live performance, and I have found it surprisingly liberating to put down my notebook for once and chuck bread at strangers.