Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Myth of the Heckler (Part 4 of ?)

[Part 1 of this series can be found here, Part 2 can be found here , and Part 3 is here]

Lucy, what more could there be? Are there are more steps to follow, after tearing the heckler a new one?

Well not more steps, but definitely more advice. Like this one:

- Step One (for the Advanced comedian) -

Here's a tough lesson for comedians to learn. Considered it an advanced rule, for those of you who have mastered all the prior rules.

The Rule:

If 50% of the audience doesn't hear it, it was never said.

Well, what do you mean, Lucy?

Let's go through the scenario, to give you some background:

You are on stage doin' your thang. So far, it's been a successful night. People are laughing it up (at all the right moments) and you have never felt more comfortable than tonight. It's your best performance to date. And you're flying high. You're even having this performance be recorded. Plus, you have agents, managers, and producers scouting you ready to sign you up for that Emmy-winning primetime sitcom--maybe even to host the Oscars!

Tonight you have a packed house. The space is so tight, audience members are standing just to watch you. Yet, somehow the dreaded heckler has made his way into the very front row--within in spitting distance. (Yeah, that close to you, but you're not that uncivilized!) The heckler begins to take potshots at you. Comment one has gone by, and you addressed it using 'Step One'. Comment two has gone by and you use 'Step Two'. And now you've hit comment three, your favorite, and anything's fair game (verbally). So now you give it to him, nailing him with everything under the sun. Perfect, right?

No, not perfect.

The members of the audience from the 5th row back have no clue what's happened and simply pick up one side of the conversation---the side of the conversation that makes you look like an unforgiving, insensitive, egomaniacal prick, who picks on random members of the audience. They think they're witnessing a live demonstration of the "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" show. The audience begins to turn on you, and some even beginning to walk out. Agents and managers now see you in bad light, and they walk out complete with the contracts to the new sitcom they had you already to sign up for. You witness firsthand the repercussions of your actions and now, you're wondering

What did I do, Lucy? I followed all the steps!

You did follow all the steps, dear comedian. You did. And right you are. But this is where you went wrong:

You didn't communicate the other 1/2 of the conversation to the audience. The heckler clearly isn't mic'ed (and thank God because that would be hell). So what you need to do next time is: Every time the heckler tries to get away with a sly comment--repeat the comment back to the audience.


Heckler: (whispers) You're a crappy comedian!

You stop in the middle of the joke, turn, and begin to walk towards him. Face him and even bend over a him little because now the audience will see that you're directing your attention to a member of the audience, and an uncouth one at that.

You: (into the mic) You think I'm a crappy comedian, sir?

Heckler: Yeah, you suck!

You: Interesting. And do have any official documents letting us know that you can be a judge of who's crappy and who's not?

Heckler: (now mute)

You: So everyone, this person up front here has a problem with my comedy...

...and so on... and so forth...

Problem solved.

Lucy, why don't you just bring the annoying heckler on stage and let the audience do the justice? Surely, the audience will boo him off stage.

Have you heard the phrase too much of anything will only bring out more of who you are?
Too much money?
Too much authority/power?

Well, the same thing applies for our unruly heckler. Some hecklers feel the safety in numbers. And because they're sitting down, cloaked by the presence of a vast sea of people, they think they're just some anonymous voice. Usually that person is just testing you, and most likely is an introvert. Bring that person on stage, and watch them crumble.

But you could also have "the other" heckler who is ballsy enough to get stage and take over the show--albeit badly, but take it over nonetheless.

That microphone just amplifies who he already is. It gives him more power. And giving him the power, represents your loss of power. Plus, what if was just an asshole while he was seated? Once he's onstage, he's more of an asshole. In fact, an asshole with a microphone! This isn't good for anybody.

Your losing the microphone is the same as taking the pen from the writer, the paintbrush from the artist, or the racecar from the racecar driver. (Yeah, I don't know where that came from either.)

In any case, without the microphone, you're just human. And there's no chance of you getting it back--at least not without some consequence.

Again, the microphone represents power. Why would you want to give away a gift the gods gave you? Or give away the position that you worked so hard to achieve? You're the comedian! Not him!

Well, Lucy, what if the heckler is an inadvertent heckler? What if the person is very vocal, but not mean spirited? What if he enjoys the jokes and very much enjoys the performance, but his enthusiasm begins to slow the show down?

So you're asking about "the vocal conversationalist"?

The vocal conversationalist believes that the show is solely for him--a one-on-one show between you and him, that's being performed solely for his entertainment. After a few too many drinks, he forgets that he's in public and he decides to make the comedy club his own living room. He's watching you on TV, only now he's shouting at the TV screen.

You're right. He or she is not the traditional heckler. He is not there to bring about your demise. He simply feels that you showed up for him and you're there to carry on a personal conversation with him. Your set has moved him to speak, unfortunately at the expense of everyone around him. He is happy to be in your presence and he shows it by uttering add-ons at the end of each punchline.

"Yeah, I hear that!"

"No, you did not!"

"What did you do next?"

In a way, this person is your own personal cheerleader. And, you don't want to smite him down like you would a real heckler. This heckler is not speaking to spite you. For all you know, he's probably your biggest fan (or stalker). Kidding.

So how do you deal with him?

Be kind. And remind him that he's not at home. He's in club sharing a space with other people. He should be able to respect that.

Now at this point he can remain the kind, gentle soul he once was and learn to turn down the enthusiasm. Or he can quickly turn into the antagonistic heckler we are so familiar with. In which case, we would just refer back to 'Step One.'


- Brian Mollica is standup comedian out of Las Vegas, Nevada. He runs his own comedy podcast aired once weekly. I want to point out one show he does on Hecklers, where he talks about the Michael Richards incident which occurred on, November 17, 2006. (Almost a year ago.)

I encourage you to listen to the podcast here:

Podcast Episode: "Boo! You Suck!"
If you're short on time, he addresses the main topic of hecklers which starts at [18min 40 sec]

Podcast summary:

Brian states that two things are the main cause of heckling:

* Alcohol

* Jealousy

The crucial decision you need to make as a comedian is, "Are you going to engage this person?"

Choosing to engage a heckler is a powderkeg-- a completely unpredictable event that is liable to do some real damage.

Brian makes a salient point, "Don't let someone get into your head."

He makes mention of a common stock line - "I don't come to your work and knock the fries out of your hand." (Implying that you work at a fast food establishment.)

He also mentions that "When you engage someone in a crowd you risk "breaking the fourth wall."

Piece of advice: "Never give in: Never let you know that you're beat and your scared."


I've definitely mentioned this movie in 2 previous posts, but you should see the documentary movie, Heckler by Jamie Kennedy for an inside look to what it's like to deal with Hecklers.
This movie goes so far as to profile "the anti-fan," who develops a devout hatred of the comedian and will go out of his way to make your life as an entertainer a living hell. The Anti-fan is not quite a stalker, but pretty darn close.


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


Rhonda said...

hilarious video!

The Mushroom said...

Lucy, what's your opinion of inciting order? Not in a riotous way, but in the addressing of the problem child asking (in the manner that entertainers ask a pretty lady up front who is with her tonight) if the people next to him are friends or family, which they may be, and saying something courteously curbing to them like "Ahh, you're his date tonight? You may have got dinner out of him before the show, but you might want to remind him who's not getting 'dessert' after the show if he continues embarassing you in front of two hundred people."

You make points on sociology about what inspired the bravado to heckle or participate, and that can work both ways: he's out to amuse the crowd, and a comedian should be able to use the double edge of the concept to embarass him into silence (or being outnumbered, the crowd's presence can enforce silence).

thewailer said...

turn the table on the heckler with your own style of thoughts, leave him beg for mercy later hehehe

RAFFI said...

i believe it would be a good idea to have a sniper hiding in the rafters with poison darts. one peep and bammm... problem solved. btw, the video was hilarious.

drips of paint said...

Hi Lucy

The funny thing is I guess the more you encounter heckler the more experience, confindent and flow you develope in dealing with the next one.....sori, a scary thought.

Running workshops on how to deal with heckler is pretty popular I guess... and perhaps throw in a final exam about heckler before the professional comedien diploma can be granted.

I really like the 50% rule have not thought about that one.

Don't they have something similar to no smoking sign or no parking sign in the club?.... or may be hire a few of those big bad looking bouncer wearing T-shirt with no heckling sign on.

Well after these 4 posts I do have respect for your job and hell it is difficult .....

Anonymous said...

This is a long series of posts isn't it - I shall return another time to read the rest...

Rol Hirst said...

Enjoyed the series. Now how do you deal with those people who're not specifically heckling... just engaging in their own full volume conversation as though you're not even there. Because, as an audience member, those cretins really get my goat!

Portia said...

great post! good stuff for other aspiring comedians.

best of luck:)

RockDog said...

Funny video! I must see this movie some day.

This lead to my searching for more heckler type videos on YouTube. Saw one comic get punched after he went off on a noisy guy in the crowd. Joe Rogan seems to be the king of squashing hecklers!

Josh Homer said...

Hey Lucy,
good blog, but the Jamie Kennedy movie. Come on. First off it was all staged (his parts anyway) I was there when he filmed the stuff at the NYC improv. He had a dude come in with him say lines, and Jamie shot back prewritten lines. That's not dealing with a heckler, that's acting.

the main thing qith hecklers is their are no rules, except the audience must know what's going on (great coverage or this in your blog). Other than that you have to go by the audience member's intent. Some hecklers think they are helping you with your act. Other's, like you mentioned, are there to try to destroy you. These types should not get 3 strikes. If their first comment was malicious enough you an skip to your step 3.

something you don't have to worry about, since you are a double minority, is status. As a male comic it's very rare that an audience will let me totally destroy a female audience memeber unless she is out of control. I have to be at least semi-nice, or become a draw. When you're a draw, like in the Joe Rogan clip, you can do almost anything because the audience is there to see you and they are very familiar with your style of comedy and are rooting for you more than anyone (even if they came with the heckler they like you more, think about it. They would not pay $20 and a 2 drink min to listen to their friend talk for an hour).

but like anything comedy there are not hard rules for it. There are clips of pros calling people to the stage and giving them mics. There's even a clip on youtube a comic hitting an audience member with a guitar! (the audience turned on the comic and the show ended). Only thing is don't let them take you out the zone.


Lucy said...

Rhonda - I'm glad you saw the entertainment value in it.

The Mushroom - I'm not sure entirely of what you are asking, but I think using 'Step One' would satisfy what you mention. Being courteous and somehow his family/friends to sort of silence him beforehand can be an effective tool. But if they're all "in on it," your attempt to be civilized can be proven futile.

The Wailer - Exactly.

Raffi - Exactly.

Drips of Paint - Definitely. Experience and more time in the battlefield will help you assess the situation in an expeditious manner. The 50% rule was something that astonished me, too.

And I still have a great respect for patient artists, like yourself.

Mutley the Dog - Hope you make it back!

Rol Hirst - Yes, I addressed the "vocal conversationalist" in this post. Hopefully, the method I mention will clarify that dilemma. Thanks for coming back!

Rockdog - Glad this sent you on a YouTube spree! Good to hear!

Josh Homer - As always, clearly you have the experience to be able to suss out the real info here and educate us all. So thank you.

paddy said...

I go along with you about allowing the annoying heckler on stage and leting the audience do the justice.
In the Heckler by Jamie Kennedy one guy mentions shooting the heckler - I don't go with that except I got a laugh out of it.
I thought though about your advice, if the heckler comes down to the stage; you make a really good point I think, and about: "If 50% of the audience doesn't hear it, it was never said" so you have the advantage if he does come down you can put words into his mouth.
"Excuse me ladies and gentlemen as you bend slightly down, and regardless of what he says you come back up and say: "We've got a delivery here," and then back to him: "Bring it around back will you, I'm on the stage right now! and hammer him till he crawls back up the aisle out of your face.
Just a thought.
Y;-) Paddy

The Daily Rant said...


Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment!! I love comedy almost as much as I love driving. I can't tell you how many times I have the comedy channel on XM in the truck - especially when I'm driving at night. Good thing no one is around to hear me laughing out loud like a lunatic!!!

Hope you see you stop by the blog again and check in on my travels! I will be checking out more of your blog - especially the video posts!!

We are in NY often (I was born and rasied there) to visit family, etc. Do you have a schedule or something of where you perform? It would be great to catch your act sometime! Let me know.

Keep up the funny!

The Daily Rant

The Mushroom said...

Lucy: my "inciting order" thing takes place if Step One hasn't done the trick, and those around the vocal nuisance haven't stepped up to shut him down. What I was saying was -- if ignoring the noise doesn't work, and if comedic criticizing of the noise-maker doesn't work, go to the folks the noise-maker has to answer to (tablemates and neighbors) to get their buy-in that this person must stop detracting from their night.

Indeterminacy said...

Enjoyed reading your series on hecklers.

I wish I knew how to deal with hecklers in real life. Usually I only think of a really clever comeback after it's already too late.

Indeterminacy said...

p.s. Come to think of it, there's always a feeling of satisfaction watching a comedian cleverly put down a heckler. I've always marveled at and looked up to the ability, probably because it's one of the things I'm not good at myself.