Last night, the Union Hall bar and restaurant in Brooklyn attempted to host its very first ChatRoulette Night. The Park Slope bar’s cramped basement floor was converted into a mini-theater for the event. Rows of folding chairs were occupied by an eager audience, and at the front of the room, on a small stage, stood a large screen. Projected onto it was the image from the screen of a laptop on the stage, which was logged into ChatRoulette.com, the website that allows strangers around the world to rapidly interact by live video feed. It was an experiment. What fun could be had partying with the strangers onscreen?
Audience members took turns, often in pairs, using the ChatRoulette station on the stage. The conversations with strangers began as they normally seem to, with sarcastic banter getting tossed back and forth. But the interactions began to change as soon as the stranger became aware of the larger audience. A pretty blonde in Brazil, for example, began by playfully flirting with two redheads using the station. When she saw the crowd, she started biting her lips excitedly. The meeting climaxed with loud catcalls from the audience before she was “nexted,” which is website slang for moving on to a new stranger. For the countless nudists on the site, encountering a large crowd was also apparently an exciting treat. A drinking game was made of it: Whenever nudity appeared, the crowd took a drink.
“Am I on some big fucking screen right now?” asked one very red-eyed, mop-haired boy staring into his screen after a few minutes of quiet conversation. “Is this a show of some sort?” asked another. “This is definitely more creepy than all of the penises I’ve seen.”
The presence of an audience did at times seem to turn strangers into temporary performers. A young, male college student, on becoming aware of his audience, began to flirt aggressively with a woman at the station (“I can pleasure you better than any man, it doesn’t matter that I’m young”), only becoming more forward as the audience cheered him on.
Sarah Egan, one of the Union Hall redheads, had never heard of or played ChatRoulette until last night, but she felt similarly energized at having an audience behind her. Once seated at the computer she became a witty comedian, prodding and teasing strangers for the crowd’s delight. She was the most successful hostess of the night. “I prefer this to karaoke,” she said. “Singing to people never worked for me, but making fun of people at a rapid pace is very entertaining. I think this is going to become a huge thing.”
The comedian Eugene Mirman was also in attendance, frequently jumping into conversations to tell jokes, surprising the stranger. “I imagine this will be a fad for a little while,” he says. “It’s certainly going to be popping up in bars. I tried doing this last week at a show but it wasn’t successful like this. I would certainly do it again. The question is would you do it five times? I don’t know how much fun it would be after the 30th penis.”
The experiment ended toward midnight, and as the computer was shut off the room seemed to simultaneously turn empty. “Oh, now we have to talk to each other,” cried an audience member, only half-joking.