It never fails when you’re doing comedy; you’re trying to get the audience warmed up and you get heckled. How do you handle them? First of all, most hecklers aren’t there to hurt your show. Believe it or not, they usually think they are trying to “help you.”
Each heckle is a new opportunity to hone your ad-lib skills and work in some formula so that a surprise appears in your response and results in a laugh from the audience. The last thing you want to do is spend too much time with a heckler this ensures that the heckler won that battle, because a main portion of your act was focused on giving him the attention that he was seeking in the first place.
I was at the M-Bar in Hollywood last night watching one of my students, Josh Weinstock, do a show. The M-Bar is a lovely lounge with great lighting and sound. The M.C. was working hard to get the audience warmed up. He was doing his set, not getting great laughs and at one point, got frustrated. He looked at a guy sitting in the front and said ”what are you doing here?”
The guy said, ”Pretending to watch comedy.”
Well, the M.C. was stung, but he riffed it away the best he could in that moment. But you could tell that the comment wounded him. He spent too much time trying to respond to the heckle and didn’t get much laughter from it. The best way to respond to a heckler–well besides hitting them with a sledge hammer–is to give them the equivalent of that in a funny response. The more experience you have the better you master the art of heckle-responses. But there is a process that you can use too:
- Listen to what was said. In this case it was “I’m pretending to watch comedy…”
- Process the information. Repeat what the heckler said so you can be assured the audience heard it.
- Use your knowledge and skill in creating surprise to get laughs and respond.
I heard the heckler that night. “I’m pretending to watch comedy…” If I was the comedian I would’ve said, “You’re pretending to watch comedy? (Look at him.) That’s ironic, because at that exact same time I was pretending to watch an asshole…I’m just kidding, dude…I wasn’t pretending.”
That’s going to get a laugh from the audience. It’s simple. It’s a reverse so it creates surprise. And it reaffirms to the audience that you are in control.
In my classes I often quote George Carlin (He was my mentor and still is). He often said that good comedy was about good ideas. He was also a master wordsmith, (pretty impressive for a guy who left school in the 9th grade). I’ve reprinted a piece below for you to read. It’s a perfect example of fun with words and yet it’s a profound reflection on the state of our times. If a comedian were to do a piece like this, it would be recommended that he/she do it in a set lasting 15-30 minuntes or more. Enjoy!
A Message by George Carlin:
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways , but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.
We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just leave it.
Remember; spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.
Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.
Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.
Remember, to say, ‘I love you’ to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.
Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.
Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.
AND ALWAYS REMEMBER:Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
You may have heard me mention before the importance of watching or listening to the greats to develop a thorough understanding of structure, form and style. It’s not only important for those reasons but also for the understanding that by exposing yourself—not in that way—to the varied styles, you will begin to subconsciously—or consciously—adopt some of them. You’ll start with a touch of Louis C.K., sprinkle in a little Lewis Black, maybe add some Chris Rock, and top it all off with some Jon Stewart. Whatever combination you choose, you’ll begin to fashion a brand new style—of your own.
There’s nothing wrong with borrowing from the greats—as long as it’s not borrowing their material! George Carlin once said during a comedy show acceptance speech, that he thanked many of the greats from radio, film and television comedy. He was grateful to all of them because he learned from them and adopted some of their techniques to form his own individual brand of humor.
You might look at this, as you would, a recipe. Whether it’s you or me working from the same recipe, we’re going to add our own unique finishing touches to give it a flavor that is more representative of our individual taste, because our own personality is put into the recipe.
By being aware of different styles, you’ll learn all the ingredients you can use in your own unique comedic recipe.
Jason London at the Comedy Store
It’s always a pleasure to share in the success my students. That’s what I’m going to blog about today. One of my students, Jason London, went out to Toledo, Ohio to visit his girlfriend’s family. If that wasn’t courageous enough, he called the Funny Bone in Toledo to ask for a guest spot. And in taking my suggestion, he told the manager of the Funny Bone that he plays regularly at the Comedy Store. They loved the idea of having a comedian who plays at the world famous Comedy Store, so they gave him an audition booking. He went out there and did his thing putting on a show that was so good, the booker booked him at the club for a week!
That’s a very impressive start for someone who’s only been doing stand up for 24 weeks. He’s already getting paid bookings in an A-Club in the midwest. this is big news for any comic. How did it happen? Well, first of all Jason works hard at writing his material. Despite having a job that keeps him busy, sometimes for 12 hour days, he musters up the energy to write his material. Then he comes to class religiously at the Stand Up Comedy Clinic and gets notes on his routines and incorporates them. He makes sure his material has structure because it’s the structure that get the laughs.
And without belaboring the point, let me just say Congratulations to Jason London for booking his first week-long gig at an A-Club! Let’s keep this up and get more bookings!
Rob Rose Comedian
My first student, and now writing partner, Rob Rose, called me the other day as he was preparing to do a showcase in the main room at the world-famous Comedy Store. We were tipped off that some heavy hitters from the industry were going to be there to watch the talent, so we were both eager that he do well. He started telling me all the new material that he wrote for the showcase. I stopped him. “You’re doing new material?” He said, “Yeah, I want them to know I can write.”
There’s always a temptation to write new material for an important showcase because you want to impress. But the problem with that is you don’t truly own it and it will affect your performance. Jay Leno once told me, “Never do new material for a showcase for an agent.” And he’s right. Always do stuff you are so familiar with that you could do it in your sleep. That way an agent sees it as effortless and that is what will make you stand out from everyone else that stands on stage. You’ll be free enough to play with the audience and that will reflect in your performance.
Doing new material may make you feel fresh but it won’t let you stay out of your head. Once you have to remember to do the material then that puts you into your head to look for the joke rather than in the moment with the audience where you belong. Save the new material for a midweek club workout rather than an important showcase in front of industry decision makers.
He took the suggestion and was spontaneous and playful on stage. As a result of doing the “tried and true” material, he was able to be free and his act reflected that. The agents took notice too and after the show they indicated that he was one of the favorites. We’ll see what happens. Whether he gets signed or not as a result of that peformance, he stood out and they made note of it. When they see him again, they will really take notice.
Jerry Corley (Joke Doctor) is the founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic visit the website at http://www.standupcomedyclinic.com where you can sign up for a class or private coaching.