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 Get Talking To Some Strangers

 Associated Newspapers Ltd

When I first heard about Talkaoke I was puzzled. It is, I was assured, the logical follow-up to karaoke, with the advantage of not requiring an ear for a tune. But would it involve reading out the wit of Roy 'Chubby' Brown in front of a baying pub crowd? Would we engage in a freaky scripted conversation, or would the event be more of an open-mike whinge?

I rang the organizer, Mikey Weinkove, 26, who runs Talkaoke night. The crux of this activity is, he explains, the table. It is doughnut-shaped and Mikey sits in the middle with ten sparkling conversationalists around the outside. Mikey has a microphone and rations it out to the talkers, while their image is projected on to a big screen. The topic for conversation is decided by the audience. No attempt is made to cover a particular subject; instead, the host encourages an 'open-ended agenda'. It is, he says, 'empowering' and the whole thing is about to be screened worldwide on the internet for the first time.

I was still a little mystified; I couldn't understand why anybody would want to spend their Friday nights talking into a microphone to a bunch of strangers. Nonetheless, I bribed two friends, Nick and Seb, with the prospect of free beer and curry (the venue was a bar in Brick Lane) and off we went to our first Talkaoke experience.

Walking into the bar, you can see the discussion on a large screen and a group of people seated around the 'doughnut' in one corner. Talkers tend to drop in and out, depending on the subjects. When we took our seats, the topic for fevered debate was war. After a meandering discussion someone piped up, 'Why do people have to kill each other?' Then I knew it was my moment. I was determined to provoke. My heart pounded in my chest as I waved frantically at Mikey and grabbed the microphone. My voice sounded incredibly loud as I started talking. 'Look, people kill each other because they hate each other and it's fun - have you seen the anti-aircraft guns they have these days? I mean, imagine what a kick it would be to use one of those if you were a rebel soldier? Budda-budda-budda-Kpow!'

There was a moment of stunned silence. Then everyone was grabbing the microphone, telling me I was an ignorant fool and it was all thanks to people like me that we had wars in the first place.

The conversation turned, predictably, to peace and love. It started to flag a bit. Then Seb grabbed the microphone. 'Don't you think, though, that love is a drug?' he asked.

Bingo! Suddenly everyone couldn't stop talking about drugs. Were they good/bad/indifferent? Should they be legalised? Someone got a bit carried away and told us how every time he wanted to buy cannabis he had to go and see a cheesy West End musical because his dealer was an usher there. Then we moved on swiftly to other important questions: were violent films harmful and should human beings be classified as animals?

An hour later we piled out of the bar and stood on the pavement discussing the evening. Nick, who hadn't said a word on the microphone ('I got web fright,' he explains. 'What if Madonna was watching?'), nonetheless said he enjoyed the night. Seb thought that Talkaoke was 'sad' because it was like 'a student union crusty's debating society', but conceded, 'there is a certain adrenaline rush and subsequent high to be had from arguing with a bunch of complete strangers.'


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