[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.
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...
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.'
MORE LINKS, MEDIA, AND INFO ON HECKLERS:
- 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]
Brian states that two things are the main cause of heckling:
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.
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