How to Crush a Heckler Without Ruining the Show

When I first started doing comedy, I used to do these shows during breaks in between sets of my friend’s band when they performed in nightclubs around Los Angeles.

One night I was doing a set and it wasn’t going well. There were these three guys that noticed me failing miserably. I could hear one of them say, “Look, he’s bombing! Let’s get him.”

They approached the stage and stood like four feet from the stage and started heckling me. When one of them ran out of breath, one of the other ones took over. It was like being verbally gang banged by hecklers.

After that miserable set I went to the bar and thought about getting drunk, but then I realized that I had audio recorded that entire experience.

I record every set. Mini-tape recorders, digital recorders or the voice memo app on my iPhone is the technological equivalent of an airplane’s black box. It records every event that leads up to a crash.

I said to myself, “That shit is NEVER gonna happen to me again.”

I took that recorder home, listened to to each line those assholes said to me and I wrote comebacks for every single one of them.

That was totally empowering. It was a true-to-life example of taking a negative experience and turning into a positive one.

During the nearly 30 years of doing stand-up I’ve learned a lot about hecklers and most of the stuff I learned is counter-intuitive to most of the stuff we hear from other comedians.

One thing I have learned is that preparation is essential. Having an arsenal of response lines called “comebacks,” will help you overcome your fear of hecklers.

Some comedians insist that you don’t need to prepare for hecklers. But then you have to ask yourself why the number one joke type stolen from comedians is heckler comebacks?!

How do you Prepare for a Heckler?

Dealing with hecklers is not something that comedians get enough practice with.

Heckling doesn’t usually happen often enough for us to have enough time to get any reps in. Think about it. You can spend hours honing and rehearsing five minutes of material, then you get up on stage in front of an audience and you rehearse and hone that five minutes.

There’s usually no heckles. Once in a while a heckler shows up. A heckle is a blip in the overall stand-up experience. So literally what time do we have to work on hecklers?

Very little, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t get the practice in.

Your overall practice for a heckler comes with the practice you put in writing your jokes. If you have a good grasp on how to craft a joke from scratch on any given topic, you’re already ahead of the game when it comes time to deal with a heckler.

Think about it this way: a heckle response is a comeback to something someone says in the audience. Usually that something comes from somebody who’s trying to somehow disrupt your show.

As a comedian, your writing is usually a cynical comment on a fact, statement or announcement, incident or situation. So if you’ve been practicing your writing, you’re going to be more prepared to respond to a heckler.

The first skill you must acquire when dealing with a heckler is what I like to call active listening. That means really listening to every word the heckler says. When hecklers speak they usually give you enough fodder to develop a quick incongruity response to a joke, a paired phrase response to a joke or a wordplay response to a joke. But it’s not only limited to those comedic comebacks.

Hecklers comments are like any line you might write a joke on. There’s endless possibilities, but when you just give yourself a few structures to work with it makes faster with your comebacks.

The good news is that the tension is so high in the room when there’s a heckle, that the audience will usually give you accolades for coming up with anything that makes sense in response.

Two Basic Types of Heckle Comebacks

There are two basic types of Heckle Comebacks.

  1. Evergreen Comebacks
  2. Ad-lib Comebacks

The Evergreen Comeback

The Evergreen Comeback is a response to a heckler that the comedian uses that may or may not (usually not) have anything to do with the subject matter the heckler is talking about. It’s just a line to shut him/her up. Here are a few I’ve heard over the years. They’ve been recycled by a variety of comedians…

“I remember when I had my first beer.”

“Why don’t you wear a full-body condom? If you’re gonna act like a dick, you might as well dress like one.”

“Has your father stopped crying?”

“Your bus leaves in 10 minutes. Be under it.”

“Your mother could’ve done us all a favor and just swallowed.”

Those are standard lines they are there in case the moment doesn’t provide me with enough fodder to respond to the comedian effectively in an ad-lib situation.

You’ve probably heard comedians use one or more of those lines, but I was never a fan of using someone else’s heckle jokes so I wrote a bunch of my own…

Here’s one I usually use to keep it playful…

“What’s going on at that table? Are these all your friends or are you the only one in the trailer park with a car?”

I might follow it up with, “Because I’ve seen your house and I love what you’ve done with the Michelins.”

The fun part is keeping it playful. Usually after I would say this line and do the tag, the heckler behaves.

Ad-Lib Comebacks

The Ad-Lib Comebacks are lines that a comedian uses that are direct responses to what a heckler has said. It could be prompted or unprompted by the comedian.

I remember being at a show and Howie Mandel had a heckler. Howie just said, “So what do you do for a living?”
The guy said, “I’m a carpenter.”
Howie said, “That’s cool, because I was just thinking, “If I had a hammer…”

It’s not even a put down. It’s just a comeback. But it diffused the moment and as silly and innocuous as that was for a comeback, the audience not only laughed, they applauded.

The audience laughed at the simple coincidence that Howie came up with something that related to the subject of “carpenter.” In addition, the added coincidence that Howie’s response was a song that was relatable and familiar and it fit with the subject matter. Audience’s will not only laugh at the coincidence that those two ideas fit with each other, they laugh because the tension is high and they are craving a release point.

This technique by Howie Mandel is used quite often when the heckler is not providing any fodder. When the heckler says what they do for a living, the comedian now has something to work with. At that point the comedian can choose to go on the attack or be playful.

A Professional Should Keep the Show Playful

I prefer the comeback that keeps the show playful. In my experience being playful is much more effective at quieting the comedian for the rest of the show than going on the attack.

There’s a misunderstood psychology behind the heckler that most comedians don’t bother to understand. It’s a subject that’s beyond the scope of this post, but I will address it in another one soon.

I also cover it in a half-day Heckle & Comeback Workshop that I do.

I think club owners and audiences expect more from a comedian these days.

There are times you can carry something too far. If you corner someone and don’t give them anywhere to go and it’s not comedic, you’re doing yourself, your act, the audience and the club a disservice. If it turns into a fight, you’ve killed the night and probably your chance of getting asked back to that club.

I’ve done all that.

I’ve shredded someone to the point that I had a beer bottle thrown at my head. I’ve humiliated someone to the point where they went out to their truck and got a gun. I’ve burned a heckler to the point where a group of KKK put a brick through the rear window of my car and I’ve throttled a group to where I got cracked in the jaw by a couple of dudes after the show.

I’ve since learned ways to be prepared and keep it fun, while still being edgy. There’s a way to diffuse, deflect & pivot so that you can still “WIN,” while still keeping the show moving and not have a fight or get a bottle thrown at your head.

Preparation is key but understanding the intrinsic nature of the heckler and the audience empowers you to be in charge of whether the night is a night of funny or a night at a bar fight.

There’s more to come on this subject of hecklers, so keep an eye out for my next post on the heckler. In the meantime, check out my Heckle & Comeback Workshop and learn some secrets to crushing the heckler every time.

how to deal with a heckler workshop by Jerry Corley

Email Whitelisting

Email Address Whitelisting 

“Email Whitelisting” is used to describe the act of allowing an email to reach your inbox. This is helpful if you want to make sure a certain business’ email doesn’t go to your spam folder. Whitelisting is typically accomplished by adding the sender to your contact list in your email client. In this article, I’ll give you step-by-step instructions that show how to whitelist a sender.

Below you’ll find step-by-step instructions to whitelist a sender in common email clients and providers.

Apple iPhone / iPad

  1. Open the email.
  2. Tap the sender’s name in the From line.
  3. On the next screen, tap Create New Contact.
  4. Tap Done.

Microsoft Outlook 2013

  1. Right-click on the email that you would like to add to your safe sender list
  2. Hover over Junk and then click the option Never Block Sender.

Android

  1. Tap to open the email.
  2. Tap the icon next to the email address.
  3. Tap OK.

Apple Mail

  1. Right-click on the sender’s email address.
  2. Select Add to Contacts or Add to VIPs.

Gmail

  1. Click and drag the email into the Primary tab.
  2. Click Yes to confirm

Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail)

  1. Open the email.
  2. Click the Add to contacts link

Yahoo! Mail

  1. Right-click the email.
  2. Select Add Sender to Contacts.
  3. Click Save.

3 Cool Ways to get Started Writing Your Comedy Act

how to write a stand-up comedy act

I get this question a lot. How do I write a stand-up comedy act? What’s the best way to start?

That’s a typical dilemma in comedy, isn’t it? Just getting started writing.

The big problem actually arises when people try to write something funny. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. People have a skewed concept of writing funny.

A lot of times when people try to write funny, they wind up with something zany, whacky or implausible. What they should be shooting for is plausible but unexpected.

Now, I don’t know if there is a “best” way to start, but in nearly 30 years on the road and 8 years writing for the Tonight Show and others, I’ve learned a few things about getting started writing comedy for television and writing for my own stand-up act. So I will share some of my techniques for getting started.

Please note that this is by no means the ONLY way to get started, but it one way I’ve used successfully through the years.

This is also part of a concept I learned from one of the best, George Carlin. Carlin said, “I know with 98 percent accuracy that a joke is going to be funny before I step on stage.”  I said, “How do you know that?” He said, “Because it contains all the elements a joke needs to be funny.”

So when I write, I use those elements.
There are two primary ways you can write comedy. Internally and externally.

Internal is personal. It’s about you. External is not about you but everything outside of you.

For this article, I’m going to talk about the internal.

First I write down 50 facts about me.

I don’t prejudge the facts, I just write them down. They include who I am, where I’m from, my heritage (lineage), my parents, family, religion, politics, relationship status, my idiosyncrasies, flaws, failures, etc.

The facts also include what I’ve been doing the last few weeks, days, hours.

The general idea is that a comedian should be able to take any logical grouping of words and turn it funny using structure.

Applying Comedy Structure

Once I have the facts down on the page, I take each one and apply comedy structure by asking 3 questions:

  1. Is there a double-entendre play? (Is there a word that has an implied meaning that I can turn into a comedic meaning using cynicism, sexuality, or sarcasm)
  2. Reverse: Is there something assumed in the statement that I can shatter. Can I take the expected outcome and flip it at the last second.
  3. Incongruity: Are there two or more dissimilar ideas that I can turn into a joke using association or juxtaposition. (most common technique used in comedy; incongruity).

This is the simplified approach using 3 major comedy structures of Double-Entendre, Reverse and Incongruity.

Since there are 13 Major Comedy Structures, I will often see other possibilities in the sentence and use one of them.

For example. If I was to open my act by saying, “I have 5 kids.”
I could turn that into something like, “I have 5 kids…that’s right 5 kids… because I’m only half-Mormon. I have 5 kids from 3 different moms. (audience responds with audible surprise)… Oh, there’s the judgement. One part of you was going “Oh, 5 kids. That’s quite an accomplishment. The other part’s like, “5 kids from 3 different moms? That’s trailer trash…”

Then I might add an act-out… “If I was in an episode of Cops, it would be like, (AO: Cop pointing a gun) “Sir step down from that milk crate!”
ME: (Trailer trash me): “Milk crate? Shiiiiit, that’s my porch!”

There are a lot of different ways to go with that one fact but it all started from the fact “I have 5 kids.”

Keep in mind, that comedy material like this is not meant to be read, but spoken and acted out. It might not sound funny on the page, it has never failed on the stage.

Another way I like to start is by writing what’s happening in my life.

“Yesterday was my wife’s birthday so I bought her a gift certificate for a His and Hers Massage. She was like, (AO: My Wife’s voice): “Jerry, this is a ‘we’ gift, not a ‘me’ gift.” So I returned it and got her a gift certificate for dinner for ONE.”

This particular structure is called Benign Retaliation. I call it the perfect joke structure because it automatically contains an antagonist and a protagonist. And when you have an antagonist and protagonist, the audience is compelled not to just listen to the joke, but to root for the protagonist to win.

Therefore, the audience is emotionally more committed than just laughing at a simple surprise-style joke.

Here’s another example of a benign retaliation joke:

My Ex–who cheated on me–called me on Halloween. She was like, “Jerry, I don’t know what to pretend to be for Halloween.” I said, “Why don’t you dress normally and pretend you’re in a committed relationship.”

Double Entendre Structure

If we look at a simple double-entendre style joke, I might take it and finesse it into a story so it’s more compelling:

“I used to coach soccer and I remember our team got into the playoffs one time—yeah “one time,” that’s how bad we were. But this one time we got pummeled. Afterwards, the local paper interviewed me. The lady was like, Coach Corley, how do you feel about the execution of the offense?” I was like, “I’m all for it… and while you’re at it, do me. We all need to be put out of our misery.” Yeah, that’s what I said. They quoted me on that.

Reverse Structure

Another way to get started is with a quick Reverse. That’s where the fact you wrote has a strong expectation. The human brain is programmed to anticipate and create an expected ending of a story. That’s why you have couples that often finish each others sentences.

So I might say something simple like, “So, I’m in love… don’t tell my wife.”
Or I might say, “Six months sober… thank you very much. (Then take a beer or flask out of my pocket, take a drink) I’m so kidding! But you guys wouldn’t have applauded if I said, “I’ve been drinking since I was 18 and I don’t punch my wife.”

Another reverse might be to talk about my kids.

I’m trying to teach my daughter how to tie her shoes… which is weird, cuz’ she’s twenty-two. I’m just kidding. She’s five. Five years old and I’m trying to teach her how to tie her shoes. She’s like “Dad, I can’t Dad. I can’t!” And I’m like, “How many times have I told you not to use that word. I am NOT your Dad.”

Incongruity Structure

The last technique (but most popular in comedy) is Incongruity or juxtaposing contrasting elements in a sentence by using free association.

Like if I opened with “I’m Irish and American Indian… that’s my lineage, Irish and American Indian.

Now I have two clearly identifiable incongruous ideas. Irish and American Indian. If  I was to list everything I could think about dealing with Irish and do the same with American Indian, I might come up with this simple joke.

I’m Irish and American Indian. That’s my lineage. Irish and American Indian. You know what that means; I pretty much have VIP seats waiting for me at any AA meeting. (Then I might add an act out) I walk into that meeting it would be like (AO: meeting proctor, greeting me walking in) Hey! Running Bear O’Reilly! We have a seat for you in the front row…”

Or something like that.

This is just a simple approach to getting started writing a stand-up act. It’s based in the science of what triggers human laughter, then uses the structures that pull those triggers.

Again there are endless ways to go about writing your comedy. Most people are what I call coincidental comedians. We just wait for something funny to happen then if we record it or write it down, we can remember to tell it to an audience. The problem is, you have to wait for that “coincidence” to occur in order to write an act.

I prefer to understand comedy at it’s intrinsic operational level so that I can write comedy at will.

IMPORTANT: One thing to keep in mind is that learning how to write the way we talk is a skill that has to be practiced. We’re taught to write prosaically, but we speak in broken sentences, use contractions and slang. Therefore, we have to learn how to write the way we talk.

When you write your jokes you have to now get up on stage and perform them by telling them to the audience, like you you’re just talking to your friends.

I hope this helps you get started!

Hannibal Buress Laughed in the Face of Loyola University

Hannibal Buress

Hannibal Buress laughed in the face of Loyola University in a recent performance at the Catholic College in Chicago.

Buress opened his act with a projection image of an email that was sent to him by the university’s show organizers. The email basically banned him from talking about rape, sexual abuse, race and sexual orientation during his set.

After he posted that email and read it to the audience, he launched right into a joke about priests and their long history of sexual abuse. The organizers then cut his mic. The audience booed that his mic was cut and then Buress kept on without the mic. He said, “Bitch ass old people. I can project,” (referring to working without a mic). Then he said, “Ya’ll fuck kids, right?”

That’s when the university increased the volume of the music to the point where Buress walked off stage.

Fifteen minutes later, Buress came back on stage to a standing ovation and went on with his set apparently after students took to Twitter and started requesting refunds.

As a result of this news, I received several questions as to what I thought about this. I want to address the two primary ways I look at this. First the “play-it-safe” way of doing things.

  1. The Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules. When someone pays you to perform and gives you the rules you need to follow, you should follow those rules.
  2. M-A-P: When I started in comedy I learned the rule of the writer and followed the M-A-P, Material-Audience-Performer rule. The material has to be right for the audience and has to be right for the performer.

These are the play-it-safe rules to go by. You want to work, so you don’t make any waves. Probably the safest bet for the new comedian.

The other way of looking at it is that Buress is like comedian Paul Mooney. Mooney built his career challenging the rules and breaking the rules. Mooney’s gotten kicked off stage and had his material cut more than once. But that’s what makes Paul Mooney, Paul Mooney. His willingness to be daring and to laugh in the face of the rules.

To some, it’s what a comedian is about, right?, being the ultimate iconoclast and taking on the status quo. Bill Burr is like that to a certain extent. Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Red Foxx, (and we can’t forget Lenny Bruce who made it all possible), all took chances and broke rules.

Buress is known for his outing of Bill Cosby’s rape allegations and injecting new life into those accusations. Some say it was Buress’s video of doing that on stage that gave that investigation legs and led to the ultimate demise of Cosby.

Breaking rules is what Buress does as a comedian. His profanity-laced material is often off-color, challenges society’s supposed norms, and attacks the powers that be by telling his truth, which in the case of the Catholic Church, (sexual abuse by priests) just happened to be the truth.

Also consider the fact that nobody reaches any level of real success without taking big, bold risks. Buress is a risk taker and his career success reflects that. It has become his brand.

If we look beyond the layers of this incident, we have to ask several questions like why did Loyola book Hannibal Buress in the first place? Did they not know the kind of the material he does? A quick YouTube or Google search would’ve given the organizers an idea. Seems to me that the organizers are not accepting accountability.

The other thing about this story that struck me was that it was reported that Hannibal came back on stage after the students started asking for refunds.

What?!

The tuition for Loyola is $40,000 per year. At any school I’ve ever performed the school had a budget for entertainment. Why were the students paying for Buress?

And if the students were paying for the tickets, the “Golden Rule” doesn’t apply to the administrators, it applies to the students who paid to see Buress. The administration facilitated the event, but the students paid for a product and I’m sure they expected to receive the product they paid for.

That’s like hiring the band Rage Against the Machine and telling them they can’t sing “Take the Power Back” or “Killing in the Name” or booking Cardi B and telling her she can’t do “Bodak Yellow.”

In the end, when Buress gave the students what they what they were paying for, the administration gave the order to silence him, thus screwing the students.

Which leads us back to Buress’s earlier statement: “Ya’ll fuck kids, right?”

Why Wait? Plan your Own Success!

plan your success

A DREAM written down with a date becomes a GOAL.

A GOAL broken down into steps becomes a PLAN.
A PLAN backed by ACTION makes your DREAMS come TRUE.

But a DREAM minus GOALS and a PLAN becomes REGRET.

I know that sounds just like some cliche fluff that you’d find on one of those cheesy motivational posters in an office.

I know, office? Yuck!

But you would be amazed at how many people—especially artists—don’t even write down their goals.

You know how most people go through their lives? They WAIT for something to happen. Writers, Actors and comedians are most vulnerable here.

One of the reasons this happens is because they’re waiting for success, not planning for success.

When you want to be a lawyer, you know you can go to college, then law school. You talk to a counselor and they map out a plan of classes that will get you to a certain number of units of a certain selection of classes and you graduate.

Maybe you’re working as an intern for the last part of school. If you do well in school, sometimes that firm hires you.

Then you take the bar exam with a certain number of questions on that exam and you have to get a certain percentage of answers right so you can pass the bar.

In many cases you are hired right out of college and the firm you’re working for pays the expense for you to take and pass the bar. Congratulations! You have a job. You are a lawyer!

Unfortunately, it is not the same thing with show business. You don’t have a specific amount of classes you need to take, you don’t have to achieve a certain amount of units, you don’t have a test and you don’t get a degree that says you are qualified.

So what are you supposed to do?

As an actor, you go to class, you develop the skills, you do an agent showcase, you get an agent and they send you out for auditions.

But what about comedian or comedy writer? It’s really the same thing, but it’s up to YOU to develop the skills, then submit for the job.

Just as you would with a regular job. It’s really no different except that you don’t have a test and you don’t have a specific amount of units you have to pass and you don’t have to have a degree.

The good news is that you don’t have to attend a specific amount of years or earn a specific amount of credits at a university or trade school.

You just have to prove your competence.

There are two primary ways of developing that competence.

  1. Go out and just do it and do it and hope for the best.
  2. Take classes, get coaching to master the fundamentals from someone with real experience. Learn to avoid the mistakes and have a safe environment where you can workout, receive guidance, have accountability and develop a set faster and more efficiently.

I’ve tried both ways, and trust me, it’s much faster working with a professional.

 

Each method has their benefits and their pitfalls. Getting out and performing is great, but I’ve seen 10’s, maybe hundreds of comedians getting up at the mics regularly doing the same material that doesn’t work, the very next week they come up and do the exact same material and it doesn’t work.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’m sure you’ve heard this: Albert Einstein is credited with saying that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Having a coach or a good teacher,  can help to guide you through the writing of solid material. Can help to give you the extra tip or pointer that can take a joke that’s not working and make it work.

I believe that if you think an idea is funny, but it’s not getting laughs, then most likely it’s funny, but it’s just missing an element that is needed to trigger the laugh.

In my classes, part of what we study is WHY people laugh. What triggers that?

When you understand that at its most intrinsic level you can begin to make changes to a joke to take it from a semi-chuckle (because it’s a funny idea) to a triggered laugh because it a funny joke.

Here’s an example:

One of my students went up and did this joke:

I’m in menopause and I’ve been getting these terrible hot flashes lately. I mean they’re bad. Last night, we were home, the kids are asleep and I got this awful hot flash. I was burning up. So I just peeled off all my clothes. I swear I almost game my husband a heart attack. Thank God we weren’t at Starbucks.

It’s a funny idea. But it’s not quite a joke.

One element that should be present in all jokes is surprise. So I suggested changing the set up to a more assumptive set up by removing one of the elements from the maxim of the five W’s (Who? What? Where? Why? When? and How?). So we removed where, (“we were home”).

So that changes the set up. Keeping “the kids were asleep,” helps support and misdirect the audience to assume  she is home and give her a better opportunity for surprise. So the joke becomes:

“I’m in menopause and I’ve been getting these terrible hot flashes lately. I mean they’re bad. Last night, the kids are asleep and I got this awful hot flash. I was burning up. So I just peeled off all my clothes. I swear I almost gave my husband a heart attack… ‘Cuz we were at Starbucks… 

Now, with the sudden change in location (surprise) and using Starbucks as the punchline, it offers another opportunity for her to add a tag to the joke:

… (Shrugs shoulders) the coffee wasn’t the only thing that was hot…” 

After understanding this concept, it enabled the student to add her own tag after that. She said, “I just took my husband’s coffee cake and said, ‘would you like me to heat that up for you?'”

Fixing the funny idea and making it more of a joke, gave it a much bigger laugh in front of the audience. Also adding the two tags, allowed for her to get three laughs from the idea, instead of just one.

Having the guidance from someone who’s a professional who understands the mechanics of comedy writing and performance can help you learn a lot faster and reach your goal of developing an act in a much more efficient way.

So getting up on stage and just doing it over and over and over the same way is not the most effective way of getting better, it’s just the definition of insanity.

The New Year is right around the corner.

If you have a DREAM…
Set some GOALS…
Make a PLAN…
Take ACTION…

… and make your DREAMS come TRUE!

and may you have an amazing 2018!