A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 25, 2011
“If you want to build a crowd, start a fight”

"If you want an audience, start a fight” is often said to be a Gaelic proverb. “If you want to build/draw a crowd, start/pick a fight” is often credited to the showman Phineas Taylor “P. T.” Barnum (1810-1891), but there is no evidence that Barnum ever said it.

The saying is especially popular in politics, where the media loves an electoral fight between candidates. Debates and mudslinging fights draw audience attention. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (the Democratic senator from New York from 1977 to 2001) used the saying, but credited it as a Gaelic aphorism.

“[H]e would have no difficulty in drawing a crowd—start a fight” has been cited in print since 1914. “If you want an audience, start a fight” has been cited in print since at least 1974.


26 December 1914, Morning Olympian (Olympia, WA), pg. 2:
If the street orator would play to one of the central instincts of the animal man, he would have no difficulty in drawing a crowd. Start a fight. There is no more powerful magnet. Men and boys fly to it like iron filings to a lodestone.

Google Books
Perspectives on the Presidency:
A Collection

Edited by Stanley Bach and George T. Sulzner
Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath
1974
Pg. 162:
In the course of the McCarthy era James Reston recalled the ancient adage which translated from the Erse proposes that “If you want an audience, start a fight.”

10 December 1978, New York (NY) Times, “Bugling the Red, White and Blue” by Gaddish Smith, pg. BR1:
A DANGEROUS PLACE
By Daniel Patrick Moynihan
with Suzanne Weaver.
297 pp.
Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown. $12.50.
(...)
Senator Moynihan’s method is based on a Gaelic aphorism: “If you want an audience, start a fight.”

Google Books
American Democracy Debated:
An Introduction to American Government

By Charles W. Dunn
Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press
1978
Pg. ?: 
Another holds that “if you want to draw a crowd, start an argument.”

Google Books
The Playboy Interview
By G. Barry Golson
New York, NY: Playboy Press
1981
Pg. 79:
Or at recess time, I’d start a fight with somebody to draw a crowd. I always liked drawing crowds. When I started fighting serious, I found out that grown people, the fight fans, acted just like those school kids.
(Interview with the boxer Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr./Muhammad Ali—ed.)

Google Books
Taking Chances:
Lessons in putting passion and creativity into your work life

By Dale A. Dauten
New York, NY: Pocket Books
1986
Pg. 138:
In asking himself just why the “Want an audience, start a fight” statement was useful, he might concentrate not only on the “fight” but on the “audience.”

San Francisco (CA) Examiner
Wilson needed a fight crowd
CHRISTOPHER MATTHEWS, Chief of The Examiner’s Washington bureau.
Thursday, July 20, 1995
(07-20) 04:00 PDT CALIFORNIA—THE BEST WAY to build a crowd, said P.T. Barnum, is to start a fight. A crowd is what Gov. Wilson needs. Having regained his voice after some recent surgery, he now needs an audience.

Google Books
Calling Elections:
The history of horse race journalism

By Thomas B. Littlewood
Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press
1998
Pg. 88:
Newspaper editors have always understood the old adage which says, if you want an audience, start a fight. Before the fight starts, people want to know who is favored to win. Once the fight starts, they want to know who is winning. As soon as it is over, they want to know who did win.

5 March 2000, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Voters’ Campaign 2000 Guide” by Cathleen Decker, Metro, pg. 1:
“P. T. Barnum said it best,” noted Bob Mulholland, the eminence grise of the state Democratic Party. “If you want to build a crowd, start a fight.”

Google Books
The 2,548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said
By Robert Byrne
New York, NY: SImon & Schuster
2002
No. 391
If you want an audience, start a fight. —Gaelic proverb

Google Books
Direct democracy in Europe:
A comprehensive reference guide to the initiative and referendum process in Europe

By Bruno Kaufmann and M. Dane Waters
Durham NC: Carolina Academic Press
2004
Pg. 11:
“If you want a crowd, start a fight,” said the famous 19th century showman Phineas Taylor Barnum, founder of the Grand Travelling Circus.

Forums of Pravda.Ru
vigorous
Posted 30 May 2005 - 06:20 PM
“If you want to build a crowd, start a fight.” - PT Barnum

New York (NY) Times
The silver linings of defeat
Dan O’Brien
Published: Tuesday, May 31, 2005
(...)
Voters attend rallies, ask questions and actively inform themselves, as France’s best-seller list shows, with books on Europe dominating the top 10. “If you want to build a crowd, start a fight” said the 19th-century circus impresario P.T. Barnum. He was right.

Google Books
The Routledge Book of World Proverbs
By Jon R. Stone
New York, NY: ROutledge
2006
Pg. 22:
Audience
If you want an audience, start a fight. (Chinese)

Columbia (MO) Tribune
Republican Scramble
Five candidates compete to succeed Congressman Kenny Hulshof.

By JASON ROSENBAUM of the Tribune’s staff
Published Sunday, July 6, 2008
(...)
“You’ve got to find an issue and you got to be able to exploit that,” said Richard Hardy, a political science professor at Western Illinois University, who ran for the Ninth District seat as a Republican in the early 1990s. “P.T. Barnum said it best - you want a crowd, start a fight. And so, the two who might be fighting the most, they may in fact draw the biggest crowd.”

RC Groups
killbucket
Jan 03, 2011, 05:19 AM
“If you want to draw a crowd, start a fight.”
-PT Barnum.

Ace of Spades HQ
August 25, 2011
The RedState/Dan Riehl/Jamie Radtke Fur-Pile
(...)
Well who knows, maybe this can help Radtke. There is an old staying, if you want to draw a crowd, pick a fight.
Posted by: Ace at 01:12 PM

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Thursday, August 25, 2011 • Permalink