What You Really Need To Know About Hecklers

comedian hecklersI know that there are those who fear getting into stand-up comedy because of the prospect of being heckled during a performance.

But I want to provide you with some information that might just change that perspective — and I’m talking specifically about information you will not get from most any other source.

So let’s start out with this:

Most of the heckling any comedian experiences is usually caused by the comedian themselves. But oddly enough, you won’t hear that from most comedians.

The Main Reasons For Heckling

There are certainly exceptions to that when patrons have been over served adult beverages turn into rowdy, obnoxious idiots.

But again, let me reiterate that in the vast majority of instances, it’s the comedian themselves that causes heckling to occur during their show, specifically because:

  • The comedian’s stand-up routine is simply not funny and is not generating laughs.
  • The comedian’s stand-up routine isn’t tight. In other words, there may be some laughs, but they a few and far between.
  • The comedian’s stand-up routine is rude, offensive or otherwise severely turns off an audience.
  • The comedian is riffing by putting down members of the audience [insert put down aspect here].

The problem many comedian have is that they are under the false impression that once they get on stage, it is the audience’s “job” to endure what that comedian has offer no matter how unfunny, rude or offensive they may be.

The reality is that they audience has no such “job” or responsibility – they are simply there to be entertained. And in the realm of stand-up comedy, they expect to laugh.

If anyone has a “job” in stand-up comedy – it’s the comedian, tasked with developing and delivering a show that is funny, tight and gets the laughs an audience will appreciate and respond to.

Audiences are not stupid. As a matter of fact, collectively an audience is smarter than any comedian. Not only that…

Everyone in a stand-up comedy audience is fully aware of what is possible when it come to the laughter levels a pro comedian can generate.

Let me tell you a story that ties into what I am presenting about in this article about hecklers.

A Related Story

For almost 5 years, I taught traffic school at night and and on the weekends when I was in the Navy stationed in San Diego California.

For those who don’t know what traffic school is — it’s some sort of course (usually 8 hours long) that allows drivers who have received a traffic ticket to keep a point off their driving record and keep their car insurance from going up.

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I would start each class by asking each person what was the violation that landed them into traffic school. Want to know what I discovered?

I discovered that 99% of the people in traffic school were innocent of whatever traffic violation they received and were simply pissed that they got caught.

In other words, almost all the people who were in traffic school (and I am talking about having taught many hundreds of people over almost 5 years) never considered themselves at fault in any regard.

And that folks, is exactly how most comedians approach heckling when it happens – it is never their fault. It might as well fall under the title of “an act of God” or unfortunate accident.

There is a movie that I watched awhile back called Heckler (#ad) that blatantly illustrates exactly what I have just presented. The primary perspective of every comedian at every level in that movie is basically that it is the audience’s fault when heckling happens. The comedian essentially has no role or influence in the matter.

As for me — I call that complete and utter BS. Like I said from the very beginning of this article, most heckling is caused by the comedian themselves for the reasons that I mentioned.

But let’s look at this from another perspective.

A Different Perspective

Let say that you are invited to a party that you know in advance that you won’t know but one person at that party. But as soon as you get there, you start offending others at the party — putting them down, calling them names, using offensive language and talking about very personal or intimated things in a very crude way.

Do you think anyone at that party might react to that? Might they say something quite loudly to you to knock it off? Might you be asked to leave?

Well, guess what? That’s exactly what happens to comedians who try to do the same sort of thing on stage under the guise of being a comedian when in fact it’s the unfunny or rude aspects of what they are serving up to an audience that are the cause of the heckling that occurs.

Now don’t get me wrong — there are times when someone who has had too much to drink will heckle a comedian for no apparent reason. You can see that in action (and how a pro comedian deals with it in this article Watch A Professional Comedian Skillfully DESTROY A Heckler!

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Here’s the perspective that served me well when I was actively performing a professional comedian for over a dozen years…

The best defense that I know of for dealing with hecklers as a stand-up comedian is to have the audience laughing throughout their entire show — no matter how long or short that show may be.

No comedian is immune from the occasional heckler, no matter how skilled or talented they may be. But I will tell you this…

While I certainly had to deal with the occasional heckler, it was a fairly rare occurrence overall because I was able to generate frequent laughs from the beginning of my act to the end — leaving no time for heckling.

And when that occasional heckling did occur, it was dealt with swiftly and effectively.

Final Thoughts

It not your job to try to please every single person as a comedian. However it is your job to get the biggest audience laughs possible from most of the audience who are consuming your show.

If you want to try to hide behind some sort of “freedom of speech” argument like many comedians do, just keep in mind that freedom of speech is a two way street.

You can certainly say almost anything you want (in most cases) when you step on stage as a comedian.

But an audience also has the freedom react with heckling to anything they find unfunny, offensive or otherwise hugely unappealing in a comedian’s stand-up comedy routine.

Related Video Interview Segment On How To Deal With Hecklers:

Here’s the bottom line:

If a comedian is able to produce headliner level laughter consistently from audiences (an average of 18+ seconds of laughter for each minute they are on stage), they are going to have far, far fewer episodes with hecklers than a comedian who produces less laughter.

If a comedian wants to suck on stage but not deal with any hecklers…

I would recommend that they try karaoke.

That’s the only performing environment that I know of where a performer can suck, be funny because they suck and not get heckled.

5 Replies to “What You Really Need To Know About Hecklers”

  1. Its really easy to tell if you suck or if the heckler is an idiot. I once saw a comedian where a man in the audience roared ”BUMBUM”, he was obviously an idiot, or drunk, or both.

  2. It is very true “no comedian is immune from the ocassional heckler…” The key word is ocassional. If you are getting heckled most of the time, you probably stink! (You probably could remove probably from the above sentence.) I think the difference is, when you are preforming at the headliner level, the audience is on your side. The heckler sounds stupid. So you could either ignore the outburst or do a snappy comeback (which I’ve seen some pros just give a funny look) and the aufience laughs. When you and your material suck, the crowd is cheering for the heckler.

    • I agree. When good comedians get “heckled”, it’s almost always someone who’s talking to their friends too loud, not really heckling. It still has to be dealt with, of course. If they have a real heckler, the person is probably drunk. But these should be rare occurrences. Someone who gets heckled on a regular basis probably just isn’t funny. They either need to quit comedy, or radically change their act.

      • I read on a professional comedians website that if the audience are talking but half-listening to you, get quieter, than they’ll put their full concentration into listening to you.

  3. That’s actually good advice for a lot of questions in comedy —- “Just Get Funny.” If you get really funny, it solves a lot of problems. “How do I get club owners to book me?” Get Funny. ?How do I get people to shut up during my act?” — Get Funny. “How do I start getting paid?” — Get funny. Good stuff.

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