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Rules of Engagement: Karaoke

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As many of you know, there's good karaoke and there's bad karaoke. Good karaoke is when you sing something well or creatively or are just totally having a good time without ripping out anyone’s eardrums. Bad karaoke is when you’re too drunk to read the screen, or when you think this shoddy Irish pub is the right spot for your A Chorus Line audition, or when you "rock promise" everything…and are dead serious about it.

(What’s a "rock promise?" Take your hands and ball them into fists. Bend your elbows at a right angle. Lift them to the heavens as if to say "can you take me hiiiiiiigh enough." Jut out your chin for the high notes.)


1. Don't take yourself too seriously — even if you're good.
2. Do take one tequila shot for courage.
3. Do leave some shame at the door. "Some" being the operative word here.
4. Don't harass the DJ. Your turn is coming up, I swear!
5. Do grab your friends and sing a group tune. It'll give the shy ones a chance to say they've done it.
6. Do applaud for everyone. After all, it takes some testicular fortitude to get up there.
7. Do not sing "Paradise By the Dashboard Light." Ever. Or any Meatloaf tune, for that matter. In fact, this rule is applicable to any eleven-minute opus a la "Stairway" or "Horse with No Name" or "American Pie." We agree to support you for four minutes, don't push it.

What I'm saying here is that karaoke is actually a lot of fun if you just let loose and enjoy yourself. Here are a few of my favorite examples of the good, bad, and ugly:

Exhibit A: When I lived in Brooklyn, there was this bar that featured karaoke every Wednesday, right around the corner from my apartment. While that was always fun, the best part of it were the performances by this guy who looked exactly like Ron Jeremy (with whom I’ve spoken on the phone, but that’s a story for later). He would go up every Wednesday and perform the same song. Normally, I would say this is a karaoke no-no, for you really should mix it up a bit and not be the "dude who sings 'I Believe I can Fly' and nothing else." Anyway, this hedgehog doppleganger sang Radiohead's "Creep" every single Wednesday and killed the living shit out of it. I miss that hairy bastard sometimes.

Exhibit B: When in doubt, sing Neil Diamond. On occasion, we head to our favorite dive bar, or what I fondly refer to as "Toothless Karaoke." The one thing that gives my cold, cold heart a little warmth for my ex was when he regaled the grouchy, weathered regulars with Neil Diamond’s "Coming to America." By the bridge, he had everyone in that joint shouting "TODAY!" along with him. Sometimes wacky is classy at karaoke.

Exhibit C: There's a regular at my favorite karaoke bar. He's got a stage name, brings his own CDs, and shows up every week wearing his signature hat. Dude's serious. Problem is, while he's crooning he struts into the crowd, saddles up to one of the ladies in the audience, and starts invading personal space. I'm saying he sings his power notes within two inches of your nose. There's usually an arm around the shoulder or a tousle of the hair or an "accidental bum touch." You get where I'm going with this.

Karaoke is fun. But there are rules. Simply put: have a good time, put your shame on hold, and don’t be a douche. Even if in real life you’re a member of a 70s Rock cover band.

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About Kate Rados

  • I used to karaoke all the time. Lots of fun. Was invited to a karaoke bar this week but couldn’t go. Glad to hear the karaoke trend is alive and well andn ot just a party game. Is it still big in Japan?

  • I “killed” em at my sister in-law’s 25th anniversary party a few years ago. Oddly, though, ever since, no one has let me near a microphone. I just don’t get it.


  • Great article. So many times, either a drunken slob or a frank sinatra clone just ruins the night for everyone. On the whole, I’ve had some great times at Karaoke shows and have made some lifelong friends.