Top 3 Ridiculous Myths About Hecklers


There’s a post in Dave Schwenson’s newsletter “How to be a Working Comic,” about hecklers. It’s worth a read and you should definitely check it out. I’m a huge fan of Dave’s and I have a lot of respect for him. He was the manager of the Improv when I got my first T.V. spot and he was largely, (if not entirely), responsible for all my bookings in Vegas.

But I’ve got to address some myths about hecklers and attempt to put them to rest. So in this post I will attempt to bust the top 3 ridiculous myths about hecklers.

You, my devout blog readers (all three of you), will help me get the word out by hitting the like button and tweeting the the post to all your comedian friends and other friends of comedy… right? :-)

Considering that most of you also have about three friends, we can easily paper the world with this important info!

So let’s get to it.

As stand-ups,we deal with a dynamic that almost no other entertainment professionals deal with. That dynamic is the heckler.

I receive lots of questions about hecklers. The information culled from these emails is interesting. The new comedians have a fear of hecklers and the experienced comedians want advice on how to properly handle hecklers. 

Over the years, I’ve heard hecklers called “jerks,” “A-Holes,” and even “the ‘cancer’ of comedy.” But in my 27 years doing stand-up, I’ve learned a lot about the heckler and here in this post I want to give you some tools and bust the top 3 ridiculous myths about hecklers.

The heckler is, of course, the person in the audience who yells out something during your act. The yelling out has a tendency to throw off a comedian. Comedians can be thrown off their game, forget their material, get all riled up, angry, yell, scream profanities at the heckler.

I don’t believe that helps the show at all.

Not that the heckler should do the talking out in the first place, but the comedian should be able to handle a situation like this comedically.

Once in a great while the occasion arises when you do need to be a little more brutal in your heckle responses, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” said “know thy enemy.” And although I don’t necessarily consider all hecklers my “enemy,” it’s a good rule to follow because it’s far easier to understand and handle this situation if you, as the comedian, understand the heckler.

So first, let’s deal with that.

Myth #1: “It’s Us Against Them”

In a comedy documentary called “Alone Up There,” filmmaker Sean Patrick Shaul interviews many comedians and other comedy professionals to find out what makes a comedian tick.

In the documentary, veteran comedian Bobby Slayton, (The “Pit Bull of Comedy”), bobby slayton comedian boldy says to the camera, “It’s us against them.”

Isn’t that a little dramatic? I have a lot of respect for Slayton. He’s one of the fastest comedians on his feet today and he’s a super helpful guy with other comedians. But the theory that it’s an “us against them” dynamic is shaky at best.

Let’s bust this myth, right now.

I don’t think that theory has been examined even at the most basic level. I mean think about it. You’ve sat in those seats watching a comedy show, right? Have you ever thought it was an us against them thing? Have you ever sat there, as the next comedian is being introduced saying to yourself, “Make us laugh, idiot?!”

Probably not, right? I mean, I usually wait till the comedian is several failed jokes in to say, “Oh boy, this guy doesn’t get it.” But that’s about as close as it gets to us-against-them.

When a comedian is introduced and while he is taking the stage, I’m curious. I’m thinking something like, what’s this guy got? or something like that.

In other words, the typical audience member is rooting for the comedian to do well, not hoping they’ll wanna throw down.

We’re at a comedy club because we want to laugh, not because we want to fight.

I’ve run into very few situations where there was an us-against-them mentality. And the closest it ever got was more of a ‘it’s a me-against-him mentality, or it’s a me-against-that-table mentality. But that situation was rare.

So the “us-against-them” thing? Let’s get rid of that idea right now. The audience is rooting for you to make them laugh. They want the ticket price to be worth it.

Myth #2 “Hecklers are Jerks or A-holes”

Some people automatically jump to the conclusion that hecklers are jerks or “a-holes.” That’s not necessarily true and the comedian has a huge advantage in keeping that interaction with the heckler positive and funny.

First the comedian should understand that the overwhelming majority of hecklers are not trying to ruin your show. Most hecklers are just wanting to embellish or engage. There’s a psychology behind this that may help support this notion.

There’s an old saying, “It’s impossible to dislike anyone who makes you laugh.” Also, when someone laughs they released the same hormones someone does when they fall in love. So when you’re making them laugh they actually have an innate thought that the comedian is their ‘friend.’

So when you have a heckler, think about it this way: Who in your life insults you the most? Probably your best friends. They know everything about you. They do it in a teasing way because they love you, but they can certainly get pretty brutal at times.

Most hecklers are not brutal, they just want to engage or embellish. Sometimes they even tag a joke. If you just treat them like your best friend, (usually with a stinging response and a smile on your face), they will usually laugh with you and you keep the show at a level that can still be identified as “comedy” and not “barfight.”

Myth #3: Hecklers are the Cancer of Comedy

Quite the contrary! Don’t fall so much in love with yourself as a comedian or performer that you forget you wouldn’t exist without that audience. You’re on stage in front of people. It’s a live a event.

Part of the nature of this business is that comedy is a conversation. It’s supposed to be a one-way conversation, but it’s still a conversation and if you say something that offends or something that someone in the audience disagrees with, then you might get a response. It’s your job to be prepared.

Some people don’t have a lot of experience with comedy. Some hecklers think it’s “part of the show.” And some hecklers actually think they are “helping” you.

I don’t know how many times I had a heckler and had to deal with them then after the show they’ll come up to me and say, “I really helped you out tonight, huh?”

To call them the “cancer of comedy” is counter-productive. Think about it. Each time you have a heckler you have to deal with, you become faster on your feet. You learn how to engage with the heckler, while keeping the audience laughing. When you have a heckler you have a great opportunity to engage some of the most powerful laughter triggers in comedy. Embarrassment, Superiority and Release.

  1. The audience feels superior to the heckler you are addressing.
    These psychological laughter triggers working together can create powerful laughter and applause from the audience
  2. The audience recognizes how embarrassing that situation would be if it was them, and…
  3. The audience is releasing tension because it’s not them!

All of these working together can actually make the show more memorable, more energetic while adding a totally unique dynamic. This gives you a chance to be a rockstar. But you have to do the work and prepare for hecklers.

What do you do to prepare?

In my early days, I was heckled once where I couldn’t recover. Three guys were heckling me and when one ran out of breath, the other one picked it up. It was brutal!

I went home that night and vowed that that would not happen again. I did a few things to be more prepared for hecklers. You can do some of these too.

I sat down and wrote about 30 generic heckler responses.

One of the most memorable heckle responses in memory is from Steve Martin. Someone in the crowd shouted something out and Martin responded by saying, “I remember when I had my first beer.” So I thought to myself; how can I respond by insulting the hecklers ability to be out in public?

I wrote: “Looks like someone’s wife gave someone back his balls for the night.” If it seems like that alone won’t work, I might pile on a little by saying, “I’m just kidding, he’s not married. I mean, look at this Dude. That would have to be one rude bitch to be able to tolerate a grown man who has yet to learn how to behave in public.”

Keep in mind. I’m not being too brutal. Just stinging a little as I would my best friends.

If it’s a table of people the guy is in I might ask a rhetorical question like, “So what’s going on here? Are these all your friends or are you the only one in the trailer park with a car? Because I’ve seen your house and I love what you’ve done with the Michelins.”

These lines are time-tested and usually work to shut the heckler up. They’re not brutal lines. They’re playful and they don’t put the heckler into a corner where they feel the need to retaliate.

What happens if you get too brutal?

If you’re too brutal, things can get ugly. I’ve gone too far a couple of times, because of my stubbornness and I’ve gotten a beer bottle thrown at me, gotten punched in the face and threatened by a heckler I brutalized who wanted the last word so badly, he went out to his car and returned with a gun.

Fortunately, the bouncers kept him from returning.

One thing you can do to write heckle lines is to watch YouTube and search hecklers. Write down what the hecklers say and write at least 10 comebacks, because odds are you’re going to hear that same heckle from some other heckler at some point.

The second thing I would highly recommend is to read outside your comfort zone. Comedians should be more well-read than the audience. In reading stuff outside your comfort zone, you open yourself up to new ideas.

I read Popular Mechanics while at the dentist and the article talked about how Harley Davidson patented the sound of their motorcycles.

About a month later I was the hired comedian for the Laughlin River Run where about 10 thousand bikers show up for a retreat and take over Laughlin.

At one point during my show, there was this biker who kept spouting off about his “Ole Lady.” At random points in my act he would respond by always referring to “My Ole lady!” At one point some of the other bikers didn’t want to hear it so one guy shouted to me, “Git ’em!” (Meaning he wanted the comedian to deal with the heckler).

I didn’t know what to say at first. Then I remembered the article from Popular Mechanics and said, “Did you know that Harley Davidson patented the sound of their motorcycles? They own the sound!” Then I looked right at the dude who was heckling and I said, “I wonder who owns the queef, because I fucked your ‘ole lady’ last night and I think I owe some royalties.”

The entire place exploded with laughter and the heckler raised his hand in a fist and said, “Good one!” Then he shut up for the rest of show.

Sometimes hecklers just want to be acknowledged. He wasn’t trying to be mean, but he was being annoying. When the audience let me know that they were tired of him, I hit him with a response that was related to the niche of the audience I was performing for.

The point of that story is that I wouldn’t have had that information available if I didn’t read outside my comfort zone.


In the end, it’s your job to keep that energy in the realm of comedy. Not turn it into a fight. It’s better for you, it’s better for the crowd and it’s better for the comedy world in general.

Think about it this way: If there are people in the audience who’ve never been to a comedy show before and the energy of the show turns from the positivity of a comedy show to the negative energy of a bar fight, then odds are they will never come to a comedy show again. That’s bad for all of us.

So remember to do your work and keep it funny.

Love to hear your comments and if you enjoyed this piece, give it a “like,” okay?

Look Who’s Doing College Gigs!

Tony Quach & Jason London

Imagine doing stand-up comedy for only a year and booking your first paid stand-up gig at a University…

One year? Can it be done?

Oh yes it can! And it can be done well!

Tonight at Cal State Northridge, the university students put on a comedy show for like Greek week or something like that. Not many Greeks attended the comedy show because the Greeks were doing what Greeks do; party!

But no Greeks were needed. The room was standing room only and my students: Byron Valino, Tony Quach, Joe Dungan, Jason London and Adrian Herrera put on a fantastic show and got the room greased and ready for headliner Brian Kiley, the Emmy-award winning writer for The Conan O’Brien show who batted clean-up and knocked it home!

Some people say that college kids are hard to make laugh, but the show was filled with laughs from the first comic to the end and Jason London got a standing ovation. Sure it was by one person; his mom, but–

Actually it was from one of the CSUN students in the audience. Jason had one of his best sets yet.

You could actually see the structure of comedy pay off time and time again at this show.

The beauty of this whole thing is that these guys (except for the headliner) have not been doing comedy all that long. Some have been in my classes for less than a year, but it proves that when you learn the craft of humor writing and stand up, you can make even the toughest crowds laugh.

The ‘beautier’ part? They all got paid to do the gig. That’s right; PAID… in L.A.!

Whaaaat?! Who does that? Who pays in L.A.?

Uhm… colleges!

I think my guys are on to something. The University event organizers really loved the gig. They recorded the entire show. So now each of them have a solid video clip of them doing a college comedy event.

Now they can organize that and take it to the other campuses and book some more shows.

How Did They Do This?

I’ll just beat you to the punch now, because I know I’ll get a bunch of comments asking, “how did they get this gig?” It’s a comedian’s nature to ask how to get the gig.

They got it because Tony is an advisor on campus. He asked around, pimped and prodded and finally got the ASB to agree to put on a comedy show.

Because Tony had a relationship in place, he utilized it to pitch his show. Most everything in this town is done because a relationship is in place.

Do you have a relationship in place that you can utilize to pitch a college gig? A corporate? A fund raiser?

Some of you might be thinking… “Man I don’t know anybody like that.” And you might leave it at that, never bothering to try to make a connection. But you don’t need to have a connection.

If you don’t have any connections, make them!


How I Got My First College Gigs

When I first started doing colleges, I didn’t know anyone, but I had a solid tape.

I purchased Peterson’s guide to the college market and I started contacting colleges via letter and phone. (Yes, I said, ‘letter!’ It was before e-mail!).

I received some responses. I pitched my shows and low and behold (“low and behold” what does that even mean?), I started booking gigs.

My first year doing this, I only booked three college gigs, but after that it was five, then ten; partly because I spoke to some of the same people I tried to pitch the previous year. They remembered me.

See? Relationships!

Each gig was paying $750-$1500.

When I started, I didn’t have any connections and I didn’t know anyone. But I did have a relationship in place. It was a relationship with Peterson’s guide to colleges. Each one of those contacts, became leads. And each one of those leads became relationships.

Then it was just a matter of getting them to say “yes.”

So when you say, “how do you get these college gigs?” There’s an answer: Build relationships!

Relationship to the next power

Tony Quach, who booked this comedy show tonight at Northridge’s campus, took this relationship idea to the next level. Not only did he book his friends (fellow comedians who were also classmates at my Comedy Clinic), he also reached out to Brian Kiley, (head monologue writer on Conan), and offered him the headlining spot.

Prior to this, Tony was not even on Brian Kiley’s radar. Know what he is now?

A relationship.

–Great work guys! Can’t wait to headline your next college show! 

C’mon! I thought we had a relationship?!

Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” is Available Online

comedians-in-cars-getting-coffee-597x325 One of the things I love to do, (and I highly recommend to anyone in this business), is to read biographies of other comedians. Love to hear their stories.

It’s a great way to understand, first, that they went through similar situations that you went through or will go through, and, second, how they dealt with them.

But what’s better than reading about these comedians? Watching them!

Jerry Seinfeld has put together a wonderful little show called “Comedians in Cars, Getting Coffee.”

And it is a show about exactly that. It’s just a quick distraction that is certain to entertain; especially if you’re a comedy fan!

The beauty is, it’s now available on

You want to tune out? Then tune in to “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” Have a laugh and learn something about comedians who have been there, done that; and are still doing it!

BUSTED! Comedian Caught Stealing Another Comic’s Material During ‘America’s Got Talent’ Taping?

America's Got Talent

The Greg Wilson is Accused of Stealing Another Comedian’s Material while recording America’s Got Talent

According to the story that I first read on, comedian-contestant, The Greg Wilson, was performing on “America’s Got Talent.” He went to his closing bit which was an act-out of a mimed argument of a couple arguing in a car.

The crowd loved it, the first two judges loved it. When they got to Howie, he asked the contestant, (The Greg Wilson), “Did you write this, or are you performing someone else’s material?”


Right there in front of the audience and the cameras at the Pantages in Los Angeles, he gets asked if he stole material!


To top it all off, Howie says that he knows the comic that does the bit in question. Then he reveals the name of the comic: “Frank Nicotero.” Some of you may say, “Who the hell is Frank Nicotero?” Well, Frank is a comic who has been around for quite a while. He’s smart and funny… and he also just happens to be the warm-up comedian for… (drum-roll please)…


So The Greg Wilson is being accused of stealing a bit from a comedian who (unbeknownst to him) is in the SAME ROOM!


Being accused of stealing material is a big deal in this business. It’s scummy. It’s pathetic. And it can ruin a reputation and possibly a career… isn’t that right Carlos Mencia?

But to be snagged while doing it for a television show that gets to broadcast out to tens of millions is epic!

Here’s where it gets a little gritty:

I watched both comedians performing the bit:

Here’s Frank Nicotero:

Here’s The Greg Wilson: (The Bit starts at 3:43)

See The Differences?

When I watched both of the videos my initial reaction was this:

This bit is a high concept bit that could easily be performed by two different comedians. We’ve all seen couples fighting in a car and I could see that two comedians could come up with similar bits on that concept.

Based on the two versions, I thought that Greg Wilson did a more concise job defining the different characters and acting them out, but…

Jay Leno said to me: “There are no ethics in this business. You have to write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”

Your reputation will precede you…

That’s where this conflict begins to sort itself out; and we can begin to answer the question of if the idea was stolen.

If we consider the fact that Frank Nicotero is a seasoned professional who has hosted a television show called “Street Smarts” for 5 years and has had additional success and has a reputation that is super solid in this business, the origination of the bit in question starts to become clear.

But this is what settled it for me…

According to people who know both guys, It’s said that The Greg Wilson KNOWS Frank and Greg has SEEN FRANK PERFORM THAT BIT for years. I mean the bit goes back to 1993 for Frank Nicotero. It has been Frank’s closing piece for a very long time.

That’s where it’s No Bueno.

It boils down to this: Having a reputation for being a solid writer and comedian with fresh ideas by actually doing the work and writing on a regular basis is crucial in developing your reputation.

By doing a comedy bit that is known to be a signature bit of another comedian, The Greg Wilson has created a dilemma for himself that he now needs to overcome. He has seriously tainted his reputation and that is now being spread via the internet and social media.

If this story continues to have legs, it could really have an impact on his career and what other people in this business think of him.

Also consider this: America’s Got Talent is a reality show. It stays on the air as long as the ratings stay high. Much of the ratings are driven by conflict and drama on the show and although Frank was told that The Greg Wilson’s bit will never be aired…

A decision might be made by the show’s producers to air the segment just for the sheer drama and conflict. It’s bound to drive ratings and new blog posts, shares on Facebook and tweets on Twitter.

This story doesn’t die here. It reanimates when the show airs in about 6 weeks for potentially tens of millions of viewers watching on T.V. and potentially millions in the blogosphere and social media all pointing to the headline of The Greg Wilson allegedly stealing Frank Nicotero’s routine and performing it on Television.

Your reputation precedes you, indeed.

Love to hear your thoughts on this situation pro or con…

“This Audience is Mostly Mormon”

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So one of my favorite students Skyped with me today.

He was upset about a comedy show he did.

It was a show he produced.

It was a show he emceed.

And it was a show that he didn’t do as well as he wanted.

“It was especially rough because I put the show together and I didn’t go over as well as I would’ve expected.

What gives?”

There’s no ‘magic’ solution to knowing how an audience will respond but it helps if you understand a little bit about comedian/audience dynamic.

There are a lot of reasons to why an audience doesn’t respond well to certain jokes.

In front of one audience one night a joke might rock, the next night, in front of a different audience, that very same joke might get groans or nothing.

That’s not uncommon and it happens for a reason.

Fortunately we can get a handle on the reasoning.

We might not be able to solve the problem all the time but we can at least understand why so we can make an adjustment, either during the show or at another show.

Sometimes the reasons are right in front of us. Sometimes the reasons are not visible.

Indulge me with a quick scenario:

In the middle nineties, I was doing a gig in Utah for a little known company called Hewlett Packard. We were at a restaurant, upstairs. The audience was well-dressed, some were keeping the bartender at the open bar busy, so I figured, This is going to be fun!

I started my show and I figured since we were in Utah I did a riff of jokes about Mormons that culminated with…

[gn_quote style=”1″]…for years I thought RV’s that had those bikes on the front of them… were Mormon hunters… is that wrong?”[/gn_quote]

It received a mediocre laughter at best, but it was nervous laughter and that was only from a select group of people– If you guessed, the ones who were drinking… you’re right!

I couldn’t understand why the audience wasn’t laughing. I mean I just did this round of jokes the night before and got screams and applause!

In the eighth minute, someone in the audience handed me a note.

It said: “This crowd is mostly Mormon.”

That explained it!

They had a background, experiences and an understanding about being Mormon that wasn’t going to allow them to look at my point of view about Mormons and see it as “funny.”

According to Dan O’Shannon in his book, “What Are You Laughing At, these are called “Reception Factors.”

Other ‘Reception Factors” might include:

  • Physical Health
  • Social Situation
  • Feelings about source
  • Method of Communication

There are others, of course but this spreads a vast umbrella over the “Reception Factors” of an audience.

Once I received that note, I was able to adjust. But I don’t just adjust, I acknowledge. I’m about transparency on the stage.

One of the things I learned is that complete candor can save you in moments of discomfort–like this one.

So I read the note out loud and then said, “Wow did I just step in sh–” then I stopped short of saying “shit,” giggled, looked at them as coyly as I could, and said “Poop,” in an overly cute way.

And although that doesn’t sound funny, the situation was funny.

In fact, the audience didn’t just laugh, they applauded…and for different reasons…

The people who were Mormon laughed at my embarrassment and candor, while the people with the cocktails laughed, because the way I delivered it could have been read as a sardonic mocking of the Mormons’ strict adherence to not using profanity.

Or I’m pretty sure that’s what was going on…

Bottom line is this. Use the simple formula of M.A.P. Material-Audience-Performer. The material should suit the audience and should suit the performer.

And when you don’t know what’s going on acknowledge then… ask…then…

Make a joke about yourself, switch gears and do some material that’s not designed to insult the intelligence of that particular audience’s “Reception Factors.”

What are some of your worst experiences with material and audience?