11 Debuts That Got Booed
By Jason Plautz
1. Charlie Sheen's Torpedo of Truth Tour
After Charlie Sheen's high-profile media meltdown that got him kicked off of Two and a Half Men, he capitalized on the attention and launched a 20-city live "comedy" tour. Nobody quite knew what to expect from the Torpedo of Truth tour, named after one of his many outrageous descriptions of himself. The event kicked off in Detroit and the crowd cheered when he entered flanked by his "goddesses," but soon it turned ugly. He joked about the city's history of crack cocaine, answered questions from the audience, and showed a short film he had written several years earlier. The crowd booed, chanted "refund," and had mostly filed out before the show ended. Sheen retooled the show for future dates to eventually focus on some of his outrageous Hollywood stories and pulled in comedian Jeff Ross to roast him in several more cities.
2. The Barber of Seville
It's believed that Gioachino Rossini wrote the music for his comic opera in less than three weeks, not out of the norm for a man known for cranking out two operas per year. Still, Rossini could not have been prepared for the opera's disastrous opening in Rome. During the show, one of the singers tripped over a loose board. Then a cat wandered onto the stage near the end of the first act, prompting laughter from the audience and overshadowing the performance. After the show closed to deafening boos on opening night, Rossini locked himself in his dressing room for the show's second performance the next day, and nearly missed the standing ovation from the more receptive crowd. Interestingly, the French play on which the opera was based, Le Barbier de Séville, was also booed on its opening night and was hastily rewritten.
3. Bob Dylan Going Electric
Bob Dylan had been known as a leader in the folk movement, but his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home marked a shift by backing him with an electric band. He brought his new sound to the 1965 Newport Folk Festival to mixed results. Dylan opened his performance with Maggie's Farm and some in the crowd instantly started booing, which continued throughout most of the set. It's unclear if the crowd was really booing Dylan's electric transition: some think the crowd was upset with festival organizers for only giving Dylan 45 minutes, and others said it had to do with poor sound quality. (Pete Seeger said in his memoir that he was standing backstage during the set and wanted to cut the microphone cord because of all the distortion.) Dylan wouldn't return to the Newport festival until 2002.
4. The Rite of Spring
Igor Stravinsky's ballet is now famous for its avant-garde structure, use of dissonance and unusual rhythms. But those features were far less appreciated during the ballet's debut in 1913. The audience famously began laughing just as the introduction started and continued as the dancers on stage performed unfamiliar, jerky moves. Some of the dancers even said it was difficult to hear the music on the stage, the audience was so loud. Theater managers even had to flash the house lights to suppress a possible riot. The controversial piece would eventually be recognized as a touchstone of 20th century music and even made its way into Disney's Fantasia.
5. 2009 Philadelphia Phillies
Coming off a World Series win in 2008—the city's first sports title in 25 years—the Phillies opened in front of a sellout crowd. Of course, being a sellout Philadelphia crowd, it naturally ended in booing (sound familiar, Santa Claus?). A lengthy ceremony honoring the championship win was marred when manager Charlie Manuel was stranded high on a platform in center field; the ladder had been removed. And the game only got worse from there: the Phillies failed to score a single run until the ninth inning, and starter Brett Myers gave up four runs on three homers to seal the loss and get the crowd jeering. The Phillies did eventually rebound, though, and made it to another World Series that season.
6. Lauryn Hill
As a 13-year-old, the future Grammy winner appeared on amateur night on It's Showtime at the Apollo. As she launched into Smokey Robinson's "Who's Loving You?," the normally raucous crowd almost immediately began to boo, and someone even shouted "Step up to the mike" to get her to project (check out the video here). Hill kept going and eventually won over the crowd. Just a few years later, Hill would go on to appear in Sister Act II and join the Fugees, launching a successful career. Hill is not alone in overcoming a tough Apollo crowd: Luther Vandross, James Brown, and Dave Chapelle were all once booed at the Harlem theater.
7. The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick's 2011 film stretched from the dawn of the universe to the end of the Earth (or the afterlife or something), all while being anchored in a story about a 1950s family led by Brad Pitt; it's tough to explain and even tougher to watch. And audiences reflected that at the film's debut at the Cannes Film Festival, where the screening was met with a mix of boos and cheers. The film got some critical appeal after its dicey reception, winning the Palme d'Or at that year's festival and scoring an Oscar nomination, but it continued to split audiences.
There's actually a rich tradition of critics and the press booing films at Cannes. Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny, and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain were all jeered during initial screenings. Audiences were even so noisy at the end of Lars von Trier's 2009 film Antichrist that they booed straight through a credit paying tribute to late Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. But one of the more famous negative reactions was to the 1960 Italian film L'Avventura, where heckling grew so loud that director Michelangelo Antonioni and star Monica Vitti fled the theater. A second screening was better received, and the film won a jury prize and is now regarded as a touchstone in film for its slow pacing and visual style.
9. The Seagull
Anton Chekhov's seminal comedy is regarded as a touchstone of theater for its use of subtext and subtleties. Its premiere in St. Petersburg, however, was an unmitigated disaster. Lead actress Vera Komissarzhevskaya lost her voice and was mocked by the audience. The crowd booed the performance, and Chekhov himself even hid backstage for the final two acts. After the performance, Chekhov vowed to never write another play, although thankfully he broke that promise.
Eminem may be one of the best-selling artists of all time, but his rap career almost ended before it started. In one of his first public performances at a Detroit club, he remembers being booed. In an interview, he said the experience was "f***ing traumatic, and I think I went home and I was like, man, I quit."
11. Bryce Harper
Even before he made his major league debut, Harper had appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (at age 17), won the Golden Spikes Award for the nation's best amateur baseball player, been the number one overall draft pick and had been hyped beyond belief. His reputation for brashness and showboating had also led many to form their opinion of him. And when the Washington Nationals called him up for his first game (against the Los Angeles Dodgers) on April 28 this year, the L.A. crowd let him know what it was: he was resoundingly booed before his first at bat (he would ground out) and even his first hit was marred by a fan mooning the camera. Harper ended up having a stellar rookie season and was even named to the All Star Game as a replacement player.