Different types of hecklers

When it comes to dealing with hecklers you can’t go with a ” one size fits all” approach.  The goal is obviously to shut the heckler up while keeping the audience on your side.  This is tough because as comics, sometimes we’re too mean in our rebuttal for the crowd’s taste.  Let’s face it, the way we talk around each other would be too much for a lot of audience members’ tastes.  So there are a lot of variables when dealing with a show disruption (location, type of gig, how many are there, how long your set is, how tight the crowd is, etc.).  For this entry, I’m just going to focus on the types of hecklers.  There is one thing that 99% of hecklers have in common: They’re drinking.  That means basic logic and etiquette doesn’t always apply (just like when you deal with children).

1.  The fan heckler–I first witnessed this as a doorman when Christopher Titus was perfomring.  With a special out and a sitcom on Fox he was packing the clubs (as he still does, I imagine).  A few guys in their 20s were so excited during his act that they started yelling out bit requests.  Once he could make out what they were yelling he actually stopped and explained to the crowd what they were doing.  He told them he was glad they were fans, but to be patient and enjoy the other material that they hadn’t heard yet.  (Most of us won’t have to worry about this happening to us.)  If you develop a trademark bit and it’s played on syndicated radio show like Bob & Tom, there’s a chance.  Dave Chappelle is the ultimate sufferer of this type.

2.  The loud talkers–This is the most common type of disruption I have to deal with.  The hard part is that sometimes you just have to ignore it.  Sometimes people are just putting in their drink orders which obviously involves talking, so they have no choice.  It could even be a server if the guest is having trouble hearing.  Often times it’s just a crowd member or two who have lost the ability to focus on the show.  They’ll have a private (which becomes public) conversation at their table unaware at how loud they are.  This has been happening a lot lately so I worked on two methods to overcome this in my last week of work.  The first option is just just pause between bits and make eye contact with someone in the vicinity (if you can’t see out that far give it your best shot).  A lot of times someone at the table who is still sober will realize your hint and shush their buddy for you.  The second method is to lower your voice almost to a whisper during a setup.  This gets the entire room quiet and the loud talker will become self aware on their own (depending on their BAC at the time).  Another danger, as they were discussing on Never Not Funny a few weeks ago, is that sometimes the rest of the crowd doesn’t hear people talking up front.  You don’t want to look like a jerk to the back half of the room, so be careful.

Eventually you might have to say something to the table.  “Is everything okay over there, it’s pretty chatty…” is one way.  I’ve heard some comics use a stock line, “Did you learn to whisper in a sawmill/helicopter/etc.”  This will also (hopefully) get the doorman’s attention.  If it’s a one-nighter, you won’t always have that luxury, so you’ll eventually have to start a verbal conflict.  Remember…when people are embarrassed they’re more likely to fire back and make it worse.  This applies in my classroom as well.  The most effective way to shut a student up is to walk over and whisper to him/her.  If I call him/her out in front of the class, it’s on.

3.  The “loud agreement” audience member is having the time of their life.  Unfortunately, they need to verbalize that after every punchline.  They’ll repeat it, add their two cents or whatever.  It’s the equivalent of someone yelling Praise Jesus! or Amen! at a sermon…or maybe a “You know that’s right!” at a movie theater.  This heckler doesn’t mean to disturb you, but it is annoying and can throw some comics’ timing off.  This is really hard to ignore because it can even make you laugh, but at the same time, it’s nice when it’s not there.  For this you just have to make them aware that they’re doing it.  Sometimes they forget or perhaps don’t see anything wrong with it.  Hopefully a friend or doorman will give them the heads up on their habit.  If you’re a comic who can tolerate it and even make it part of the show, go right ahead.

4.  The conflict heckler is the worst because they’re trying to disrupt the show.  It’s usually a drunk male (or a bachelorette party) who directly yells something out.  Even though these should be immediately taken care of by the club or bar, they aren’t always there for you.  As far as how to handle hecklers, there are tips throughout previous entries in this blog, but the two easiest ways are in my book.  With these, the crowd is almost always on your side right away at least.

Part of the thrill of comedy is that each show is different.  You’ll encounter all kinds of odd situations other than just hecklers.  (You’ll always remember your first stage located within a half-block from some railroad tracks.)  For more detailed help on all of these situations, check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

The phase every comic should skip…

A majority of comics begin their careers in their early 20s.  I was in my senior year of college when I first started performing at open mics.  There are exceptions with the occasional middle-aged rookie, or kid who isn’t even old enough to drink yet, but for the most part, 21-25 is the usual starting time for beginner comics.  Some communities have a dozen or so, while others have even more.  There’s another season of Last Comics Standing about to air, so be prepared for a crowded open mic.  Out of all of these comics, most of them will fail to ever get a paid gig.

In a lot of communities, usually one or two comics get ahead and start getting work.  If you’re one of these comics and your town has a solid club, you’ll get to work with some famous comics.  The sold out shows on a Friday and Saturday are a far cry from the barren open mics.  You get to mingle with big names, meet hundreds of people after the show, and you actually get paid.  With this comes the jealousy of your peers.  That’s normal and to be expected.  No matter what level of comedy we’re at, we’re always jealous of the comics at the level ahead of us.  (…from feature, to headliner, to door deal, to theaters, to sitcom, to syndication, to movies and so on…)  Here’s what happens.  Young comic who has now joined the “real” comedy world can’t help feel good about him/herself.  Arrogance might be mild, but multiply that with the jealousy of your peers and you’re going to come off even cockier.  Even if you aren’t, your peers will insist you are because it’s an easy thing to point out and agree on.  So how do you avoid it?

1.  You don’t need to mention your gigs to everyone else in person before open mic night.  Post it on your webpage or Facebook page.  Word spreads quickly on its own via jealousy.  Let them bring it up if they want.

2.  Keep your time schedule like everyone else’s.  Show up just as early and stay just as late at all of your open mics.  Avoid being aloof at these shows.

3.  Don’t name drop.

4.  If peers are talking to you about your big-name gig, humbly acknowledge that it is a big deal and you were fortunate to get it.  Acting like the biggest gig of your life is a casual occurrence won’t help your image.

5.  Give advice only when asked.  You’ve only been doing this a few years so you’re not in the place to correct other beginners.  (Consider yourself a beginner the first four or five years.)

6.  Stay quiet at the pre-show meeting.

Honestly, there’s an epidemic of “first taste of success” comics.  Youth is not respected in this business so don’t remind others of yours.  Stay humble.  In Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage I mention how you must balance being liked by not just the audience, but also the other comics and the club managers.

I often get accused of writing these blogs with specific people in mind who are at fault.  That’s true for this one, 23-year-old Rob Durham.

How to be taken more seriously as a comic…

There seem to be a handful of comics we’ve all run into over the years who take themselves too seriously.  They make ridiculous flyers for their open mic show.  They have super-glossy business cards by the thousands.  They’re posting new headshots every six months.  Their website is above and beyond what they need to handle three hits a week.  They do everything they can to come off as a professional EXCEPT the Facebook postings.  The status updates are so dumb and meaningless that it sucks out any sort of respect one might have for their entire web presence.  Most of the time if a club manager hasn’t seen much of this person on stage, he or she only has one way to judge what kind of comic you are…Facebook.  You might think, “Well they don’t pay attention to me when I’m on stage at open mic, why would they pay attention to me on Facebook?”  You would be wrong about both.  Eventually it gets back to them about how unfunny you are.  People talk.  This is especially true if you’re posting something in a Facebook comedy group.

A good rule of thumb before posting something is asking this:  “Would my comedy hero look down on this?”  Consider that first.  If you knew Louis CK, Bill Burr, or whoever you worship now was going to read your post and get one impression of you just from that single status update, would you post it?  If the answer is no, don’t subject the rest of your Facebook friends to it either.


Sorry the blogs haven’t been as frequent lately.  I’ll admit, it’s not always easy to come up with a topic every week.  Thank you to those with ideas and questions.  Feel free to send questions or suggestions at any time.  To learn more about making money in the comedy business check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage for a book full of other tips besides what I post on this blog.