Monday, September 10, 2007

The Myth of the Heckler (Part 3 of ?)

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

Like a good comedian should, you have been a patient and hospitable host. Up until this point, you've endured two smartass comments from this obnoxious audience member and you can sense that he's not letting up. This fatuous pissant has decided to make tonight the night to satisfy his personal vendetta on you and your dignity.

And out comes the unprovoked comment you were waiting for---comment number three!

Let's put things into perspective: You've worked hard to get here. Hundreds upon hundreds of lame open mics, less than ideal bringer shows, and mildly received guest spots. You've toured. You've traveled. You've worked your way up. And now you're headlining. Finally, you've made your way to this fantastic venue. People have spent money to come see you. That ticket ensures them that they'll see an enthralling fulfilling performance. That ticket ensures that they'll be in the presence of greatness--you. You are the entertainer tonight!

So you're not going to give all that up, are you? To some upstart lame-brain? Have you've practiced, toured, devoted years of your life to this craft, just to be interrupted by some whiny, surly, spoiled troublemaker? You refuse to play "Mr. Nice Comedian," just to appease some soused heckler. You're not going to give the mic up to some person who's only sacrifice was the two drink minimum. Enough of this barracking!!!

By this time, you would have built up your arsenal of "stock lines." So now it's on to, 'Step Three':

- Step Three - Let 'er rip!

Up to this point, you've done your job being a gracious host. You've given him--not one--but two warnings. What else can you do but to "let 'er rip"? He must've saw this coming.

And lucky for you, anything is fair game. You can whip out "The Dozens" and start to make fun of his mother and her cooking. You can rail on his girlfriend, his job, and his life purpose. If you so choose, you can work on your heckler craft so well that he'll leave with a psychological complex. (But I wouldn't go that far. You may end up paying for his health insurance.)

Now, if you want my personal opinion on your 'Step Three' stage rant, then I would at least try to make it entertaining for the audience.

Flying off on a handle, as well-deserved as it might be to the vociferous interlocutor, isn't all that fun for the audience. It sometimes a horror to watch, and takes the audience 'out of it.' The fourth wall inevitably comes toppling down.

Let's explore why adding a little comic flavor is always good in a fight:
Have you ever witnessed a barfight? Or any fight that took place in public? The fact that you even got a chance to witness it in the first place is already humorous. Sometime during the tussle you have to remind yourself that this is real life and that you're not at home on the couch. And being the masochist you are, post-scuffle, you raise your hands to the sky and thank your lucky stars that you were given the opportunity to witness it, secretly wishing (perhaps even going so far as to throw in another prayer) that you can witness another soon.

But do you remember watching a fight where one of the participants threw in a couple japes and jokes in between swings? It made for a much more enjoyable experience, at least on your end, as an member of the gathering crowd. Those cutting remarks also made the opponent that much angrier because the jokes were at his expense, which of course threw off his punches--because he was fighting out of anger.

This same theory applies to the annihilation of the heckler. Make it fun for the audience. Adding a little humor, which shouldn't be hard because that's your job, is guaranteed to make it more memorable and solidify your already popular persona amongst your fans. You'll gain a lot more respect and look good in the process. It's good PR. And you'll be less likely to end your entertainment career. Unlike like what happened to Michael Richards, (R.I.P. July 24, 1949 - Nov 16, 2006 God rest his soul).

[Sidenote to clean comics: If you're not a blue comic, I advise you to remain clean in your 'Step Three' diatribe. Because if there are members of your audience that are in attendance solely because you are a clean comedian (remember there are so few out there), not only do you risk losing them as audience members, but also as fans. Because now you've shown your true colors. You're not as clean and prime and proper as they once imagined you were. You've now sullied your image. So I would advise a clean set of comebacks for those more verbally sensitive audiences members. For example, you can do what Seinfeld does in this clip at about 1:00 min. It's not the greatest example of a complete heckle, but he incorporates it into a joke.]

[To be continued... Yes, there's more!]


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


SQT said...

Oh, I feel for you. I'm a stay at home mom, so the only heckling I get is from the children-- and I can ground them.

BPP said...

On the occasions I've been at a comedy club and some bastard's started shouting out shit, I've never understood why the comedian doesn't get off the stage and lamp him one (it's always a he too). I can't think of many other live events where wankers think it's perfectly acceptable to start bellowing drivel at the act. Fuck 'em. I'd happily watch a bit of violence - comedians should be armed with knives.

Biddie said...

I'm with bpp on this one. I HATE paying good money (as apposed to BAD money?) to see someone and some jack ass from the audience starting flapping his lips. Mr. Ed is more intelligent than most of the hecklers that I've heard spewing crap.
Knives might be a bit much, but a stungun would be funny. Yeah. Arm your self with one of those.

Anonymous said...

Well, I like the IDEA of these heckler posts, but I don't like your execution. I would enjoy it a lot more if you gave specific examples of something a heckler might say, and then a funny/witty/emasculating remark you could make in return. While you are quite verbose in your posts, all I've gotten so far is:

1. First comment - say something witty and ignore/go on.
2. Second comment - repeat #1.
3. Third comment - say something even MORE witty, possibly mean.

These are easy enough 'steps' for anyone (meaning non-comedians) to come up with on their own. Specific examples would help these posts really come alive.

Like I said, I like what you're trying to do here, but I don't feel like you've achieved it quite yet.

Thanks for stopping by my site!


NYCPonderings Chick said...

that is the worst, normally drunk frat boys are the worst hecklers out there, and they are unstopable and continue on forever...its hard to even get a back and forth banter with them cause they are normally pure debauchery..

Metal Mark said...

I am a children's librarian at a public library and have been so for eight years. I do children's programs every week. Normally parents are fine, but I once had a mother who would come weekly and she heckled me for a while at her child's storytime. I ignored her and kept going. She stopped when her son (he was probably under 2 years old) started to really like my programs. It wasn't fun when she was in the back shouting out what she thought I was doing wrond though.

Alexys Fairfield said...

Hi Lucy,
That's a tough job. It's like you're trying to give a good show and someone throws you a curve ball. I've been in enough comedy clubs to ascertain that many, (not all) hecklers are drunk when they throw out those comments. Not that that fact mitigates the comment, it's just something I have observed. I guess part of dealing with hecklers is to incorporate their comments into your routine, like Seinfeld, and others.

Stay positive.

mathew said...

Well I was going through your entries and amusingly you take your comedy seriously..;-P

lot of interesting aspects which generally a rookie like me never knew..

I have always idealised Seinfeld as the best standup..although likes Russell Peters off late..

From my experience in blogs.COmedy sounds good only if it is not forced..It should come spontaneously..A deiliberate attempt to make something comic isnt comic at all..

And the best part of a Standup comedian is that he/she can express comedy by

the act

when all the five blends perfectly the comedy becomes howlarious!!!

Gorilla Bananas said...

Hecklers? I call them 'props'. It makes a change from tossing dwarfs in the air.

Anonymous said...

I think hecklers ruin the night for everyone who's in the audience unless of course the comic is bombing and it serves as a distraction for the audience who are feeling bad for the comic.

Mighty Dyckerson said...


MymaniacalMind said...

I feel you 100%. You can only be nice so long before you regain control of YOUR show and continue with YOUR material. I have experienced that with improv, just because it is an inviting atmosphere people feel they can bogart into your show. It just isn't right. That's when you have to politely step down and take control back from the heckler. Excellent blog.

paddy said...

Anthony Marcus Shalhoub: Monk- one of my favourites, an example of when the comic takes the brunt of his own humour and the opposite like Lenny Bruce a social critic; both to me are - comic - peoples hero's.
Learning to laugh at yourself is a satisfaction beyond words- all of us make mistakes, not everyone has the character and confidence to take responsibility to poke fun at themselves. Comenians (in my book) let others know that they are aware of the mistakes we all make. Relax, have a good laugh at your own expense, and move on. Most people will appreciate your candor. It will create a more comfortable and productive work environment.
Laughing at yourself is a growth of personal understanding, which when is with a group/audience generates a feeling of community; almost a therapeutic healing / acceptance.
Making fun of the establishment helps to relieve the tension from the everyday struggle with the inanity of it all. Lenny Bruce was the master of that, whatever about Bertolt. I never had the experience of one of his plays though I lived for two years in the mid 70's in Berlin and listened to Germans rave about epic theatre / the fourth wall and him..... so I eventually read "The Threepenny Opera" / "Mother Courage," and like Lenny was instantantly hooked. He ripped establishment apart for you and made you laugh at it, and again you were not alone.
Quote:.......laughing and crying
You know it's the same release.... I wish I had more sense of humour
Keeping the sadness at bay
Throwing the lightness on these things
Laughing it all away
Laughing it alI away
Laughing it all away"
I do go on, and I'm not sure what I actually said if I anything was relative. Now you know why I don't have any relatives who talk to me.
I find it hard to relate.
Y;-) Paddy
PS: Did you hear what the guy said who fell off the train.
He said it was a hard station.
Don't worry if you don't get that. I am Irish after all.

Steve said...

You make dealing with hecklers almost sound so delicious that I want to get myself one! ;-)

I guess preparation is everything. I'm not sure I could live on my nerves like that though... but I guess there's an adrenalin rush that more than compensates.

The Mushroom said...

If the comedian doesn't put a heckler back into place, by damn the audience needs to do it. It's their money this goob is wasting. Which spirals back to your comment about public fistfights. Not a fan of 'em but from a safe distance and in that moment of realization that hey, this isn't TV, seeing some gumflapper get knocked off the high horse by a room full of unhappy people... that'd be bliss. The comedian might even tip the waitress, if s/he had any change left after the bus trip there.

Mark said...

There is a thin line to walk here and one must be careful not to crossover.

Lucy said...

sqt - I wish I could ground my hecklers, or at least send them to the corner for "time out."

bpp - Some comedians do. But I tend to believe that's bad PR. And perhaps by the end, that comedian won't have anyone going to their shows.

biddie - The money part is the issue I have with it as well. I don't like to see anyone spend good money and have it be wasted on a heckler.

emmeline - I think you're reading too far into this. This post (along with the rest of the blog) is simply an outline. There's a degree of hand-holding I want to keep at bay. I'm not writing to feed full on examples. That defeats the purpose of creativity on your part as the reader. Why spoon feed it? There are tons of other media out there to gain an idea of specifics how to address a heckler (MTV's Yo Mamma being a bad example.) People have seen it already. I think giving specific examples assumes my readers not to be smart enough to figure it out. My goal here really was to take everyone on a journey by not making stops at every rest area. Although, everybody has a right to an opinion. Thanks for stopping by.

nycponderings chick - I have no desire to deal with frat boys, but I think it comes with the territory. Supposedly, drunk frat boys make up the entire demographic for Comedy Central viewing audience. Yikes. Sorry, Dave Attell.

metal mark - Great analogy! That is the most tangential idea of a heckler, but fits just the same. I think, in fact, you have it harder than we do. Wow! I'm now in awe. Soccer moms and Little League Dads are the worst hecklers, indeed. Not maybe you've inspired me to write another post.

alexys fairfield - Yes, being nimble is very important as a comedian. Not all comments are the result of a few too many drinks. You're right there. But a harsh comment is a harsh comment nonetheless. So dealing with it is pretty much the same in all cases.

mathew - well, it's not the comedy I take seriously. It's more like the job. Any occupation that you love and want to succeed in you would take seriously. And all the elements you mention, given the right mixture, can make for life-changing comedy. And I'm up for the challenge. How about you? Yes, of course you are!

gorilla bananas - how many calories does that burn because I could easily substitute that instead of my daily morning run. thanks for stopping by and taking a break from your busy heckler-throwing schedule.

topcat - hecklers are good for that reason. letting comedians know that perhaps the comedians aren't doing their job. But again, it's a judgment call. Is the heckler being snide for snide's sake, or truly communicating the temperature of the room? That's for you, as the comedian, to gauge.

mymaniacalmind - definitely. we all have to learn when to stand up for ourselves. It's important to at least drawn the line because we need to learn to respect ourselves. The moment you do, everyone else does, too.

paddy - I completely agree. Laughing and Laughter serves a function in society. I think comedians are very necessary to help bridge the gap between society and inhumanity--teaching us all what we need to understand in order to keep things going. Lenny Bruce doesn't go down in history for being a great comedian, but for bringing major issues to the table, and for that he will always have a place in my comedy history book.

steve - I think after being on stage enough and dealing with so many hecklers, you eventually "get into the zone" and everything suddenly makes sense. At that point, dealing with anything while on stage becomes less of an issue.

the mushroom - public fist fights I'm never a fan of. I agree the audience needs to side with the comedian. But I stress that the audience remain and calm and let the comedian do the berating, because you can then have a riot on your hands--never good.

mark - yes, definitely. One must be able to make a sound decision. And I think you'll get a better idea of what I mean, when you read the last post.