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I would like all the non-comics out there to try to imagine,
for just one second, what it would be like to do your job
while someone you don't even know repeatedly heckles you.
Picture yourself sitting at your computer, typing up a
financial report when suddenly a little head pops up over
your cublicle and says, "You suck!" What would
you do if you were trying to present your closing arguments
to a jury while a drunk in the back of the courtroom yells,
"Bring on the next guy!" Visualize your surgeon
making the initial cut into your exposed skin when someone
walking past the operating room shouts, "Hey, Doc, don't
quit your day job!" To quote Wallace Shawn in The
Princess Bride "It's inconceivable!" Yet, to
standup comics, it's reality and
while we may not get heckled every time we're on
stage, we always know that getting heckled is a
distinct possibility. Now don't you feel bad for secretly
thinking that we're a bunch of no-talent losers?
"Heckle: to harrass and try to disconcert with questions,
challenges, or gibes: badger" That Webster sure does
have a way with words. Heckle sounds so much
better in the dictionary than it does in real life.
"Castrate: to deprive of the testes: geld" See.
That doesn't sound so bad either. I think this Webster
fellow is on to something.
When you first start out as a standup comic, being
heckled is what scares you the most. It takes years to
develop the kind of confidence it takes not to be intimidated
by folks who want to "disconcert with questions,
challenges, or gibes." "How do you handle
hecklers?" is probably the number one question asked
by people who want to try standup some day. It's a question
that is much easier asked than answered.
One of the things I never get around to fully explaining
is that there is not just one type of heckler. Hecklers
come in many shapes and sizes and if you do standup long
enough you will no doubt encounter them all...and somtimes
on just one tour. What follows is the quintessential heckler
compendium. I will call it The Standup Comics Ten Least
Wanted List. Keep in mind that some hecklers could easily
fit into more than one category and if you ever find a heckler
that fits in all ten, please alert the bouncers and have the
evil human thrown out on his insecure and intoxicated little ass!
1. The Power-Hungry Heckler: Heckling is all about power. The comic has the power and the resentful little heckler wants it dearly. The power-hungry heckler deals with his impotence by yelling, "Say something funny!" even when the rest of the crowd is laughing. The power-hungry heckler is the most common type of heckler and is usually more annoying than dangerous.
2. The Heckler With Bad Timing: Hecklers should
always have the common courtesy to heckle after
the punchline and before the next joke begins.
Hecklers with bad timing will yell out during your
set-up, during the punchline or between the
set-up and the punchline, effectively diminishing the chance of
the joke getting a laugh. Since timing is everything in comedy,
hecklers with bad timing are particularly offensive.
3. The Loud, Drunk, Female Heckler: There is nothing
more nightmarish than the loud, drunk female heckler. Male
comics find them difficult to deal with because society doesn't
like to see a man be mean to a woman. Female comics find them
difficult to deal with because society doesn't like to see a
woman be mean to another woman. In other words, it's a lose/lose
situation. To make matters worse, loud, drunk female
hecklers tend to complain to the management after you've had
them removed from the premises. They also write letters to
the club once they've sobered up. Rating: F-
4. The Non-Sequitur Heckler: The non-sequitur
heckler yells out incoherent nonsense. For example, the
heckler will shout the word, "turtle" for no apparent
reason. It's confusing especially since you weren't talking about
turtles or any other form of sea life for that matter. Non-sequitur
hecklers are an easy laugh since they do most of the work for you.
5. The Heckler No One Else Can Hear: Nothing will
ruin a comic's night more than the heckler no one else can
hear. The heckler no one else can hear sits in the front
row and only talks loud enough for you and his annoyed girlfriend
to hear. You can't retaliate because the rest of the audience
has no idea that he is doing anything wrong. He never stops.
He is unstoppable. He doesn't ruin your show, he just ruins
your life. You can only hope that he and the loud, drunk
female heckler get into a fist fight in the parking lot.
6. The Heckler Who Won't Repeat The Heckle: Here's
the scenario: the audience member heckles, the rest of the
audience laughs, but you didn't hear what he said. So, you
ask, "What did you say?": But, he refuses to answer.
Uncomfortable silence follows. How can you think of a
comeback when you don't know what was said in the first
place? The heckler who won't repeat the heckle is a coward.
He is willing to bask in the glory of the laugh but doesn't
want to risk being topped. That makes him pathetic.
7. The Heckler Who Beats You To The Punchline:
Occassionally there is someone in the audience who
understands your thinking a little too well and consequently
can see where you are going with a joke. Unfortunately,
the heckler who beats you to the punchline chooses not to
keep this knowledge to himself. In many ways, he is like
a puppy who gets overly excited and pees on the floor;
he is doing wrong but it's hard to get mad at him. He's
just having a good time. But, the heckler who beats you
to the punchline can throw off your timing as you rush to
beat him to your own joke. He may be having fun,
but he only ruins it for everyone.
8. The Heckler Who Makes Up His Own Punchline:
You get a laugh and then he gets a laugh. You get a laugh
and then he gets a laugh and so it goes for the entire show.
If he is with a large group occassionally his laughs will be
even bigger than yours, but as long as he isn't yelling out
during your punchline, it's best that you just
leave him alone and let him have get his little moment in
the sun. If he starts jumping on your punchines, however,
you must declare war and let him have it with everything
9. The Heckler Who Gets Personal: For some
hecklers, harrassing or disconcerting just isn't enough.
They want to hurt you in a deep and personal manner.
I'm not sure why they hate the person who is onstage but
they do. They usually make insulting remarks about your
physical appearance. Little do they know that an angry
comic is a dangerous comic. You haven't heard insults
until you've pissed off a comic. You want personal,
you'll get personal!
10. The Heckler Who Gives Opinions: You do a joke and he says, "That was a good one." You do another joke and he says, "I didn't like that too much." One more joke and he says, " Now, that was funny!" After a few beers, he's doing rim shots. If he also happens to fall into the heckler that no one else can hear category, it can make for a long evening.
As I said earlier, some hecklers fall into more than
one category. But there is, without a doubt, one thing
that all hecklers have in common. After the show, they
will come up to you and say, "I helped you out."
No you didn't, and next time I'll thank you for not trying.
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