Comedy Lessons is a series in my comedy blog that deals with individual solutions to problems that arise in the pursuit of a career in stand up comedy or comedy writing. These comedy lessons are a direct response to situations that have happened to myself while performing live or to my colleagues or students and what lessons can be derived from those particular situations. Make sense? Here we go!
One of the important comedy lessons a comedian should learn is about Hecklers. This subject, in itself, should be a multi-part series, because of the variety of conditions that cause a heckler to heckle in the first place and the multitude of ways in which a comedian can respond.
First of all a heckler is any person who calls out something in the middle of a comedian’s show. Why does a heckler do this?
I’ve put together three reasons:
- To engage
- To endorse
- To embarrass
1. To Engage: Most hecklers, in my experience aren’t trying to ruin the show. They want to be involved. They want to engage with you. Most really think they are helping you. Almost all hecklers who have called out something in my show come up to me at the end of the show and say something like, “see, I was just trying to help you…and it worked, huh?”
You want to say, “No Jethro. It didn’t help. If I was seeking help on where to get a new water heater for my double-wide, I would call on you. If I was looking for advice on the nearest crack house, you’d be the first guy I’d go to. If I needed a “how-to” guide to get on the fast-track to gum-disease, I’d already have you on speed dial.”
But I don’t say that because, secretly, I’m appreciative. Any heckler gives me a chance to hone my skills at ad-lib, to be quick on my feet. When a heckler pipes up, I have to realize that I am in the middle of one of the most challenging comedy lessons available. It’s comedy without a net. I’m flying high and I do or die on my own. It’s comedy “Survivor.” And it’s an absolute rush.
2. To Endorse: Some hecklers are in it to espouse their brilliance…or yours! They’ll say something like, “Yeah, I did that!” or “Dude that was f**cking wrong…funny, but wrong! This kind of just adds to the show. It makes it more like it’s you and a pack of your pals having a good time drinking beer together and that’s okay.
3. To Embarrass: Then there comes the occasional heckler that wants to embarrass. He or she is usually drunk, is seeking negative attention or they are nervous. What? Nervous? Yes! There is psychology in comedy that states, “The audience is in whatever state the performer is in…” and we’re not talking geography. What this means is, if the performer is nervous, then the audience is nervous, they don’t know they are nervous, they just feel deeply uncomfortable. They deal with this by calling out something to deal with their discomfort. Picture a good-ole boy sitting watching your show, you’re nervous-he’s nervous. This makes him uncomfortable so he shouts out, “YOU SUCK!” Other people laugh because it was surprising but it helped them feel better as well. Now the good-ole boy feels better and he gets some negative attention.
The comedy lesson to learn here is that hecklers are unavoidable. You can write an prepare some heckle lines to deal with certain situations. Like if someone is with a group of people and says something, I might respond, “So what’s going on there? (Referring to his table). Are these all your friends, or are you the only one in the trailer park who has a car? Because I’ve seen your house and I love what you’ve done with the Michelins.”
I have a bunch of standard heckle lines that I’ve written and used over the years. Some are pretty cutting.
A biker who was sitting in front row at a comedy show wanting to engage, continuously. He was with a very sexy biker chick in a low cut top and he kept referring to her as his “old-lady.” Finally he said something that was kinda mean. Now, because he was directly mean to me, I now have Carte Blanche from the audience to slay him. After the audience groaned at what he said I thought for a moment, then said, “You know, Harley Davidson patented the sound of their motorcycles? The sound has a patent!”
At this point the audience was curious…what’s Harley Davidson owning a patent on a sound have to do with anything?
Then I said, “I wonder who owns the queef. Because I f**cked your wife last night, and I think I owe some royalties.”
That resulted in laughs, followed by a solid applause break and a thumbs up from the biker.
Hecklers are one of the biggest, on the job, comedy lessons you can get for free. In a nutshell, I try to treat my hecklers like my closest friends. Because, if you think about it, most of the heckles sound like something your friends might say to you when you’re hanging out. If you can deal with them with a smile and a clever retort, you can keep the energy of the room at the mood and level for which they hired you—Fun and FUNNY!
**Need some help coming up with some heckle lines? Go to my Comedy Lessons Page and sign up for a Skype Lesson with me and I’ll help you one-on-one!**