Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Myth of the Heckler (Part 2 of ?)

[Part 1 of this post can be found here]

After you've properly addressed that first heckler comment, then you've done your job. You remained professional, read the audience, and used your "stock line" to address the situation. You were a true standup comedian in every respect.

Your stock line should be polite enough to not sound rude, but assertive enough to put the heckler in his place, letting him know that he's treading upon dangerous waters, and that an outburst like that is not appreciated and to not be repeated during your set.

Remember, you own the stage. And you're renting that microphone in the meantime. You should not allow any unruly neighbor to let their dog piss all over your lawn. You've mowed and pruned, and watered that lawn. So you need to assess and take charge! That's what 'Step Two' is about.

You remember the look your mother gave you when you were a child, and she suspected that you were about to get out of line. Not only should you study that look, be able emulate it and unleash it at will, but that deadly look should be translated to a stock line. It should be ominous, biting, stinging, and stays with the heckler forever so much that it haunts him in his dreams. And it should be funny enough to make the audience laugh. That look should be able to penetrate even the most inebriated and belligerent of drunks, stopping them in their tracks before they even had a chance.

Understanding the Heckler's modus operandi

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles ---Sun Tzu, The Art of War

So I know it's trite and cliché to quote Sun Tzu's, The Art of War. (I've never been a fan of war, and the idea of living that as a lifestyle or business tactic (yes, I mean you, Donald Trump) makes me want to puke.)

Be that as it may, this quote sums up how to approach a heckler after 'Step One' has been executed, but has failed. Like Sun Tzu says, you need to know the heckler--know your enemy inside and out. So then, we ask the question:

What is the heckler's motivation?

According to Wikipedia,

"The [heckler's] idea is to get the audience laughing at the interruption."

Thank you, Wikipedia---I've never thought about it that way. But yes, the heckler likes the idea of being on stage just as much as you do.

I would also include somewhere in that definition, "to put an end to your set." There is nothing more satisfying to the heckler than to bring your performance to a dead halt, completely burning your set to a crisp. An even more satisfying feeling to him is basking in the idea that he was the sole cause of your "Towering Inferno.' And the only evidence of your demise are the embers floating above the stage. He revels in your downfall, hoping that you will never to rise again from the ashes. Because then his job is done .

- Step Two - Understand that at this point, once the heckler decides to open his mouth for a second time, he no longer represents the audience. He has now crossed the line from diplomatic representative to power-hungry dictator. Also keep in mind that the first comment may have been a dare. Yeah, he got suckered into it by his frat boy buddies, with the hopes that he will receive approval and acceptance as a result of his stupidness. And you're there as the worthy opponent to put him back in his place. Or it may have been a testament to what the audience was feeling. Maybe the first comment was his way of testing you, just to see how you would react. Perhaps, he's jealous and wants to trade places with you. All these are valid reasons--for letting that first comment slip by.

But the second comment: ah, now onto the second comment--the table have turned. Fortunately, they have turned on the heckler. He took a few too many liberties that he shouldn't have otherwise taken by opening his mouth the second time. In fact, the audience is beginning to turn against him, especially if the audience was enjoying your set.

How does one deal with the second comment?

Simply the same as the first, but you're a little more stern this time. The first time your response is "not out of anger." The same goes with this one--not out of anger.


Did you enjoy this post? Buy me a warm cup of joe.


Crushed by Ingsoc said...

The heckler is a sad, jealous attention seker who envies the stage the comedian/ comedienne has and seeks to subvert it to his own ego.

Give him what he thinks wants- attention- but not the way he wants it...

RAFFI said...

with the second outburst, i'd douse the heckler with water and cut my mic wire and electrocute him intermittently and laugh... all the while the audience would laugh too. problem solved.

Michael C said...

Just think, if you execute the comeback correctly and get the audience to laugh, it's almost like the heckler is working for you!

Rol Hirst said...

Why I could never do stand-up, reason 62... I wouldn't be able to resist reacting in anger. I find it hard enough to resist when I'm only in the audience!

Enjoying the blog... looking forward to more.

MymaniacalMind said...

As always, a great read. You brought up some interesting points.

Cidersweet said...

I'm no comedienne, but therz a lot of good advice I'll be following!

E said...

There is good advice in there. Helps to keep in mind that on occasion, a heckler can really enliven a set that's not going well. Dealing with a heckler generally puts you in a different position, as you're working a little more on the improvisational side than just parlaying your act.

Steve said...

A heckler can unnerve even the most established comedian. Jim Davidson (ok - not what I'd call a comedian but, fair play to the guy, he's been around for 30+ years) recently played a gig in my home town. He barely got on the stage before a heckler landed a good one on him. Unfortunately Mr D turned tail and ran; refusing to come back out and complete his set. That's how not to respond to a heckler - both ended up being losers that night...

The Mushroom said...

In the smaller venues, there's a different breed of heckler (though that isn't an accurate term): the inebriated unsolicited contributor. What's being shouted isn't derisive, just additive and continual. If the person's friends don't shut this character's rambling off, the comedian must find a way to curtail the dialog.

I watched a friend's mother drag that guy, her date, out before the main act (meaning she MISSED the show she paid for) on three occasions... similar to an unruly child. She needs a better date. :)

Yoda said...

Interesting question: what is step #2? I don't really know what would be step 2. But I do recall watching one stand up comic eventually inviting his heckler up on stage! This was after quite a few rounds of interruption though. The audience soon found out that he was more drunk than funny, and booed him off stage! LOL! that was fun to watch :-D

Miss Kitty said...

The comedy-club heckler is much like the unruly student in the classroom...both are attention-seekers, pathetic in their own little lives, and looking to be the reason for things going off-track. But you're 100% right: defusing them with humor works best. It reminds me of an asshole who was once in my Comp I class and who steadfastly refused to consider any viewpoint besides his own (racist). My turning the tables on him got the class laughing...and got him to drop the class that very day.

Thanks for the inspiration, Lucy...I think I'll post on this very topic and link to your blog.

ADW said...

Can't you just taser them? I think that's a great idea. Or we could go with yours, but a taser to the balls is sure to get a few laughs....

Guilty Secret said...

Crushed by Ingsoc's comment was spot on.

I don't understand hecklers. If I pay to go see comedy, I want it to be a success.

Princess Pointful said...

Hey! Thanks for stopping by my way!

This is pretty well thought out, I must say. I'm very eager to find out what happens in Part 3 (which is hopefully heckler humiliation!!)

Mile High Pixie said...

ooh! ooh! Tasers!

Lucy--love the blog! You're making me rethink my whole career path yet again.....

Mile High Pixie said...

BTW, have you heard Patton Oswalt deal with the heckler on his CD "Werewolves and Lollipops"? F**kin' killer!

karma lennon said...

Hi! Thanks for stopping by my place! Nice to meet ya! Very cool with the stand-up comedienne gig-I've met a couple in my day when working with sketch comedy actually. Always nice to meet a fellow performer though! :)

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Great blog, and super advice for anyone who has to do public speaking. I like the idea of giving heckler's your mother's "look." I also like that idea of actually brining him or her up on the stage--let the audience do the justice.

willowtree said...

Who would have thought comedy was so adversarial.

Lewis said...

You could just play the old Barbra Streisand trick and tell 'em to F____ off. That always works. And it's pretty clear what you mean, too.

paddy said...

Comidian to heckler: 1."What's the matter, nobody else listenin' to you so you came here"
2. "If there were a few more of you you could form a union and call it: *Noboby's Listening"
3. "There's an asshole somewhere, cone on stand ut, who farted."
4. "Now now, there there , it's ok
let it all out, when did it first begin"

There're so many possibilities, but basically he's ignorant, or he jenuinely wants to join in- he feels he's helping you out or contributing or just an ignorant bastard, and sometimes it works , or as you say, he feels he's saying what the audience can't about your act; they're uncomfortable / you're not catching/connecting with their mood, and he releases the general tension.
Then you've got your work cut out. Spontaneity is a hard act, but there's no doubt, if you are dying on stage and the heckler attacks you've got to rip him apart in a comic way and find the groove; then the audience will love you, but if he gets you seriously annoyed you've had it- as you know.
Personally I hate heckler's whether I'm enjoying the performance or not. I always feel like smacking them.
Y;-) Paddy

Jerrster said...

a real comic goes for the juggler on a heckler...who is in control?

attack, attack, this douche bag's case...can't we make birth control retroactive and talk his daddy outta humping the family dog?

or worse...his older sister.

not so funny in the Bible Belt....the dog version plays better...just don't say hump the family Hound Dog...they don't take kindly to that shit.

Nancy said...

Thanks for a nice comment an a vote! I love new visitors. I dated a comedienne for a while (still good friends) ... kept me laughing all the time. I think it's in your blood, yes? Anyway, enjoy the weekend and stop by again.

captain corky said...

The thought of you scolding someone with the "Mom" look cracked me up just picturing it. Thanks for stopping by the log, but more importantly thanks for making me laugh. ;)

RockDog said...

This is a very interesting topic! Although, I can't say we get a lot of hecklers on the "Closet Comedians" circuit. It's good to know how to handle them should my 3 piece suit ever give me any lip.

Great blog! I will be back for more!

LeRoy Dissing said...

An obvious post as written by one with much experience with hecklers. A heckler and a bully are nearly from the same cloth in my mind. Both probably have borderline personality disorders and/or major narcissism. I totally agree that when they arise the second time, the audience will find them annoying...and then they open themselves up to being torpedoed! And I am just guessing you have lots of ammo in your arsenal :)

The Man at the Pub said...





Sorry, just practising my cyber-hecking.

I like Billy Connolly's reaction to some hecklers years ago...

"You fuck off! If you canna tek a joke you're fuckin DOOMED!"

Lucy said...

Crushed by Ingsoc - True. The Heckler is a sad attention seeker. So does that mean we should pity him and try to help resolve his issues? Or simply ignore him? This is where I'm torn.

RAFFI - Yeah, we still gotta work on that anger-thing, right Raffi? Have you been missing the anger management appointments we scheduled for you?

Michael C - Oh, by far! The Heckler can definitely bring up the quality of the routine And at the end of the night, you don't even have to give him a cut of the paycheck.

Rol Hirst - Keeping anger and emotions in check is an import muscle we all have to develop--especially standup comedians. Thanks for stopping by. I hope I can live up to your expectations.

MymaniacalMind - Thanks again! I'm glad you enjoy the posts. You're truly a devoted fan of comedy! We need more like you. Hey, maybe we can entice you to get on stage.

Cidersweet - You're right. I believe this advice applies to all. I think that's why it speaks/resonates to so many people. It can apply to all ares of life.

E - Yes, definitely and that is I why I will never fully discount Improv comedy because a true comedian/entertainment needs to be on his toes no matter what the circumstance. Good observation!

Steve - Yeah, that's sad when a comedian gets frightened off. I believe it's because they didn't read this post. But another sad thing is when a comedian stages a heckler by having someone walk in and throw out a predictable/premeditated comment and the comedian already has a canned remark ready to go--making him seem important and "quick" when really it was a part of the act all along.

The Mushroom - The inebriated unsolicited contributor to me I find hilarious and endearing. Because I always enjoy unadulterated honesty and alcohol tends to do that--bring people's guards down. Then we know what we're really working with.

Yoda - Yeah, that comedian is fairly ballsy for inviting him on stage. But I'll be addressing that scenario in the next post.

Miss Kitty - There seems to be a theme here--the heckler v. the student v. the bully. I want to hear more about this unruly student.

Glad that I could offer further inspiration. I'll be checking your post soon enough! Thanks for visiting.

ADW - Tasering has been brought up at the Comedian's Union meeting. But each time it keeps getting voted down on account of the fact that we comedians are at risk of tasering ourselves or perhaps hitting the member of the audience. Yeah, insurance is pretty expensive these days.

Guilty Secret - Yes the success p.o.v. is quite different in the US v. UK. I've heard from some veteran comics that the UK audiences want the comedian to be funny, to there is a spirit of encouragement and positivity. Whereas, in the US, often the audiences members carry a more cynically and surly attitude towards comedians. It's more of a, "Let's see if you can make me laugh funny man!"--The room is filled with a tinge of animosity (at least in the beginning) and then once you win them over with a few first laughs, then you've got them hooked. US audiences are a lot more discerning.

Princess Pointful - Glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, it shouldn't be too hard to guess what happens in the next post. Thanks for stopping by. Please don't be a stranger!

Mile High Pixie - I heard you are former standup comedienne. We need to get you back on stage! Patton Oswalt is genius. I remember some of his standup from early Comedy Central (Dr. Katz) and now I've heard he is a powerhouse. I will definitely be checking out his work. Thanks for the reminder!

karma lennon - Thanks Karma for the kind words. Be sure to stop by and catch more of my antics.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt - The momma's look can be effective. But bringing him on stage can be a dicey situation. That is where the show can get out of hand, given the right opportunistic heckler. In fact, now that you brought it up, I'll address in the next part of the series. Thanks much!!

willowtree - Yeah, that's the same thought I had when I first entered this scene. You definitely have to have your guard up.

Lewis - Ugh! I can't believe you mentioned Streisand on this comedy blog. Shame on you!

paddy - Thanks for the many "stock lines." Did you come up with those all on your own? I still have yet to develop a set of my own. Hecklers come in many forms, shapes, and sizes. They all are working under different motivations. This blog-guide for comedians is to keep the wannabe/working comic on-point. Ideally, once a comedian catches his stride and really builds his confidence and worth on stage, then there's no stopping him--no matter what heckler approaches.

Thanks for stopping by Paddy. Please do come again!

Jerrster - Clearly, Jerrster you have a thing about dominating your audience. I like to consider myself more of a sheep herder rather than an attack dog. There's a reason I have all these steps--so as to not to jump to conclusions. AND so that you don't turn the audience that you worked so hard to bring with you on your comedic journey, against you--which could happen at the drop of a hat.

Nancy - No problem. I will definitely be checking up on you.

I've heard a lot of bad stories about people who date comedians/iennes, where by the comedian was always testing out jokes on their partner. I guess it's like dating any artist, where the artist lives his/her art. I promise to never venture down that road, unless my partner asks to come along.

So what do you think about the post's topic? Come back again! I want to hear your opinion.

captain corky - So glad the "mom look" point came across clearly. Imagery, to me, is so important in writing and in comedy. (I guess that's why I value it so much.) And you have given me the greatest compliment anyone can give--you admitted to laughing. Making someone laugh is my sole reason for being! So I should be thanking you! So again, "Thank you!"

RockDog - Are you professing/confessing that you're a closet comedian, needing to be coaxed out? Well, let 'er rip! No better time then the present.

I'm glad you liked the blog and please come back again!

LeRoy Dissing - Hecklers and bullies? Yes, I guess I never saw them as stemming from the same origin. I agree about the narcissism. But I say, if a heckler really wants to get on stage that badly, then he should go out and develop his own comedy career, with his own following.

Thanks for the comment. Be sure to come back for more!

The Man at the Pub - Cyber-heckling. I didn't even know that was possible. But you've certainly proved your worth as a heckler! So a gold star to you!

Thanks for stopping by!

KAYLEE said...


Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Turn his anger on himself, use him as what he choose to make you.

It's about controlling the dynamic.
You have no choice, really.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Always nice to know someone likes what I have to say! I came here looking for something funny, and got that plus a look into something I hadn't given any thought to: heckling. Well, I have thought of how rude hecklers are, but not about how you'd deal with one. I'll be back!

drips said...

Hi Lucy..

like what i read part I & II, will be back for III .... this is rather an alien topic to me but have enjoyed learning about your line of work.

Nags said...


thanks for stopping by, Lucy. Enjoyed ur posts immensely..

etain_lavena said...

Gosh...well the art of war freaked me out for a while...
Thanks for stopping by at my blog:)

Tys on Ice said...

man, that sound like a dangerous world u live in. I hve been to this Russel Peter show and he kind of killed some hecklers point blank. Tell u the truth, hecklers are like this sad bunch of people wanting some piece of the action...but if i was up on the stage, they wud faze me...totally......I probably wud hand him the mike and sit at his seat and request him to make me laugh...

electro-kevin said...

It must be 'war' being a commedienne - I'd rather enlist than do stand-up !

Luckily most hecklers must be drunk, therefore your wits should be sharper.

Probably the greatest gift a comic can have is the wit to retaliate proportionately.

In fact, I think the best warriors probably have similar traits to comics - the element of surprise which can both tickle and kill, borne of tangential 'out of the box' thinking. So you are not at all wrong in quoting Tsun Su (spelling ?).

Lucy said...

KAYLEE - Glad you like it, Kaylee. Please comeback again!

Cheryl - Glad to hear the blog offers a good laugh. That's the highest compliment, for both me and the blog. And yes, heckling is a new area for most--even us comedians!

Drips - Thanks, Drips of Paint! (Did I tell you how much I love your name?) Your line of work requires a lot more patience than I think I can take. And therefore, I have much more respect for people in your line of work. At least when you die, your work increases in value. With us, they'll just make re-releases--the Anniversary Edition---Gold Edition-- Gold Anniversary Edition! (I rest my case.)

Nags - Glad you liked it. Be sure to stop by again for more laughs.

etain_lavena - Are you a pacifist? I think we comedians have to learn when to stick up for ourselves and for the audience. If you were a paying audience member, wouldn't you be the slightest bit irked if some weisenheimer started to take over the show (especially if his interruption isn't as entertaining as the originally planned show.) At that point, you would begin to root for the comedian to put him in his place, right? Thanks for stopping by. Come back for more adventures.

Tys on Ice - Russell Peters I've heard is a dynamic comedian. And unfortunately as a professional comedian/entertainer, hecklers come with the territory. If you were to enter this field, I think after while you will build up the confidence (and simultaneously lost your patience) enough to give him what for. After all that? After all you've worked for? I don't think you'd give up the mic that easily. Thanks for stopping by!

electro-kevin - Thanks for stopping by, E-K! You're right most hecklers are drunk. However, it can make for a most uncomfortable situation. Why? Because no matter how much you out wit the heckler, he just might not be embarrassed enough to sit back down again. His senses and inhibitions maybe, at that point, completely 'turned off.' Thanks again for stopping by!

Palm Springs Savant said...

hecklers are so often just jerks who don't have the balls to do what you do! And we all know what usually happens when they are confrotned.

Anonymous said...

Good information.
I've always wanted to try stand up!

Arthur said...

Hi Lucy, thanks for visiting our (mine and gusthav's) blog.

And your post was funny and I think the heckler is the villain in this post. Good job.

Big greetings, big hugs and big kisses

Sweet dreams, from the bottom of my Heart:

Gusthav said...

I thank you too.

Your post made me laugh so much. Do you like comic post, try out going to my blog (it's not the shared post with Arthur).

Greetings, hugs and kisses

Nice Day, with my whole soul:

Mark said...

Learning to give the heckler the "hairy eyeball" is great advice. The right look can do much more than words!

BTW - I added you to my blogroll. I love what you are writing and I am sure people who read my blog will enjoy