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TRACI SKENE has appeared on VH-1's Standup Spotlight, A&E's Comedy On The Road and Lifetime's Girls Night Out, all of which has done her absolutely no good.

Traci Skene


Traci Skene

SHECKYmagazine Chief

Heckler Alert

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 you've got.

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. HOME Back to the Top