Hecklers are an unfortunately unique problem that exists in stand-up comedy. They are a rare breed as they don’t particularly exist in many forms of public performance. You are seldom going to see a musical act completely derailed by a talkative fan, that is unless you are at a Kanye West concert. Much has been written about hecklers, but here are the bare bones basics of identifying and handling a heckler at your show. First I believe most hecklers can be broken down into three basic categories. The drunks, the clueless and the offended. Often they can combine and form a SUPER HECKLER. This is generally one that you will not be able to shut down through traditional means.
- The Drunks- The drunks are most often folks that just can’t handle their liquor. There are plenty of drunks that enjoy comedy shows in a completely non-confrontational way. The drunks are the most likely to feel they are ‘helping’ the show by forcing an interaction with you. The also can be the most damaging to the enjoyment of those around them.
- The Clueless- These folks have not been to a comedy show many times if ever. They were chatting it up during the part where the ‘guidelines’ about not talking and turning cell phones off was covered. They just act the same as if they were at a live music show and talk to the folks at their table and text their friends and even in the worst scenario, take a phone call.
- The Offended- The offended typically were brought to the comedy show by someone else, but much like the clueless doesn’t have much experience going to live comedy events. So they feel that the person on stage is expressing truly how they feel and worse yet, that this person on stage is challenging their belief system. Quite often this can be one of the worst hecklers to deal with because they are very negative and angry and their attitude can spread like wildfire to those sitting around them. It only takes a handful of offended folks to turn an entire room on you.
So what do you do when a heckler attacks? First of all, you should’t HAVE to do a fucking thing. If a venue is truly dedicated to comedy they will handle that person by sending someone up to them and letting them know politely that their behavior is unacceptable. If that person is allowed to stay in the crowd and make the show shitty for those around them, the comedy venue/bar/club doesn’t really give a shit about comedy. The excuse ‘Well, they are paying customers that bought drinks.’ is pure horseshit. The people around them that didn’t pay to listen to this person spout off at the mouth to the person on stage are ALSO buying drinks and food. Who do you want to come back to your venue? The person that drives others away? Or the person that came to truly enjoy live comedy?
If the venue doesn’t do anything, it is up to the host to take the hit. If that means he needs to go say something directly, then so be it. It is ALWAYS best to address a heckler person to person and NOT over a microphone. If you address a heckler over a microphone it should be solely with the purpose of walking them out of the room. Because after you address them from the mic, they are going to hate every single other person that touches the mic all night long. Maybe even forever. If it comes to it and you as the host have to take the heckler out from the stage, do it without any fear. Do it quickly and don’t let it take over show. This part can be easier said then done. Give them their piece, if it is funny, riff off it and get those around them laughing at them. Then if the person continues, get the crowd on your side quickly before you verbally walk them the fuck out of the room. Don’t play with them like a cat plays with a nearly dead mouse. Kill them and flush them. Be done with it. The quicker the better. Never let a heckler end up having to be taken care of by the headliner of your show. That is a fail in the biggest sense of the word failure. Comics know this happens all the time, but it just shouldn’t.
Don’t Post Heckler Owned Videos
For the love of God, please please please don’t post videos of you ‘owning’ a heckler. Chances are, you didn’t really own them, they just didn’t have much good to say and you are quick whitted. Just because heckler videos get web traffic doesn’t mean it makes you look good posting them. Not to mention, how weird does it look to a booker when 50% or more of the videos of your stand-up online are videos of you ‘owning’ a heckler. My main problem is this. Heckler owned videos DO NOT DISCOURAGE further heckling. It is going to encourage that behavior when the video viewer comes to the show. These folks think they are part of the show, and you are encouraging that by making them think ‘Oh, I could be the guy in the video yelling that has a million views’. They typically are not insulted by what you say. They now think they are part of the winning team. Don’t be an enabler. If you post one, you are forgiven, but again, if half or more of your public videos are of you handling a heckler, you are leaning on this instead of having a solid act.
This advice comes with hosting over 300 comedy shows in the last three years and performing many others in other capacities as well as running hundreds of shows where not a single heckler was permitted to reign supreme by the venues.