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“You SUCK, Buddy!” The Art of Heckling Part 2

December 7, 2010

Welcome back to this week’s two part post on heckling (part 1 found here). Yesterday we talked about the types of people who heckle, and why they might be motivated to do so. Today, I want to get a little more practical and offer some DOs and DON’Ts for comics who are confronted by a heckler.

DOs

  • DO stay positive, and keep in a comedic state of mind. Never let anything shake your composure onstage.
  • DO repeat what the heckler says to you. They don’t have a microphone, so the audience can’t hear them and the interaction won’t make sense.  As a bonus, repeating what the heckler says gives you time to think of a response.  Also, you can highlight how stupid the comment is by your tone of voice and delivery when you repeat it.
  • DO get the audience on your side.  This includes resisting the urge to become really nasty.  Make sure they think of you as the victim, not the aggressor, by asking questions like “Call me crazy, but didn’t you nice folks come to laugh?  Or is this guy right and you came to see a buffoon shout crazy at the stage?”  or even “Just by a show of applause, how many people would like to watch a comedy show instead of this old drunk guy?”
  • DO trap hecklers in leading yes or no questions.  (“You’re pretty clever, how old were you when you dropped out of highschool?” or “does your grandma know you make an ass of yourself in the sweater she made you?”)
  • DO work your advantages.  Thanks to your microphone, you can talk over the heckler and interrupt them.  They are also probably soused, and thinking slower than you. Take advantage and run circles around them.
  • DO ask for details about the heckler – try asking their name.  This often gives them that grade-school feeling of “Uh oh, I’m in trouble.”  The more information you gather, the more ammunition you have to make fun of them.  (Asking what kind of job they have is a good question because lots of angles can come out of it.)
  • DO involve the heckler’s group.  Single out their girlfriend or boyfriend.  Embarrassment will motivate them to exercise what control they have over the heckler.

DON’Ts

  • DON’T obliterate a heckler, as Kevin Smith does in this clip. The audience usually won’t appreciate your ruthlessness, regardless of how much it was deserved.  Escalate in steps, and give the heckler opportunities to back out gracefully.  Remember, the goal is to get back on track, not drive someone to suicide.
  • DON’T forget to be safe. Books about the 70s L.A. comedy scene recount stories of mobsters who came to watch a stand-up shows, and were allowed to heckle freely.  The comics didn’t like it, but they liked being murdered less.  Choose your battles if you’re not a scrapper is all I’m saying.  A lot of hecklers are aggressive, stupid people who talk better with their fists than mouth.
  • DON’T encourage hecklers by giving them more attention than is needed.  All the attention should be negative, with consistent reminders about how disrespectful they are being to everyone else in the room.  A heckler should never feel like they are helping the show.
  • DON’T relinquish control of the mike. It might be tempting to invite the heckler up on stage so they can give it a try and see how hard it is.  This can really backfire if they take you up on the offer.  When you have the mike, you control the flow of information. Don’t willingly give up that power.
  • DON’T abandon the stage unless you’re in danger.  It’s your house, stand your ground.  But on the other hand, definitely don’t smash a guitar over someone’s head.

The most important thing is to stay a step ahead of the heckler. You’re the comic, you are by definition funnier than them, or the roles would be reversed. Consider assembling an arsenal of comebacks, like this witty retort that Louis CK talks about in the “I Am Comic” documentary (NSFW language).

We’ll end off the post with one of my favourite comics Zach Galifianakis, dealing with a heckler at The Cat’s Cradle.

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