In the early 1980s, while Malcolm Jamal Warner was busy making the children of the world cooler, Van Halen was making a reputation for itself as the world’s leader in jackass tour riders.
By now the sight of a superstar band demanding preposterous concessions while on tour is a familiar one. But it all began in 1981 when Van Halen insisted that they be served M&Ms with all the brown ones picked out. The penalty for discovering a single brown M&M was a complete cancellation of the show.
Van Halen’s demand earned them a reputation for petulance. But according to Snopes.com (via Boing Boing), David Lee Roth actually had a good reason for it. Because the Van Halen show required more equipment and technical infrastructure than most venues were used to, the band used the M&M clause to ensure that the venue had done its due diligence. From Roth’s autobiography:
The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes … ” And article 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”
So when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to find a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to destroy just the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.
In a sad, ironic twist, David Lee Roth’s career was finally killed by a brown M&M. In Roth’s defense, I don’t know why the brown one had to hog the spotlight at Skylar’s 8th birthday party. The yellow one that does the jumping splits has all the talent.