How To Handle The Heckler
How to handle an unruly crowd member from the stage. It's no laughing matter.
Hecklers. I very rarely get them. But you're the only one that thinks you're funny. Other people there are trying to listen to the show. You're satisfying some secret wish to be a stand-up comic but you don't have the guts nor the material to actually get up on stage IN FRONT of an audience and do it. Here's how to do it.
No, you could not do any better EVERY TIME and EVERY ONE of you and I can bet you're most likely embarrassing whomever you're with at that venue. When given the mic and thrown up on that stage in front of the audience you have no idea what you are doing and it shows.
I've done that to some hecklers to prove a point. They want to do their "routine" from the safety of their seat. Get up there to be scrutinized in front of everyone else! You will fail every time. So please shut up, you had your chance now go sit down.
It's a fine line
Do I pinpoint a person? Of course not. I never pick on a person... for no reason. Unless they're just "askin' for it" or "got it comin'." I might have some fun with someone who says something to me during my set.
You're also going to "get it" the rest of the night from me and the other comics. Just gives us more funny material for our act that night and it's worked before in past shows.
Oh, and guess what? YOU'RE the annoying jackass of the place. You're going to lose 100% of the time to me, heckler, you inconsiderate interrupter because even though like the jerk or loud person that answers or talks to me (like I'M actually speaking JUST to them is rare,) I've done this before, ya rookie.
It very rarely happens but I've also noticed how people think since you're a stand-up comic it's OK to speak to you in a totally disrespectful manner AS A HUMAN BEING and usually in front of their friends. Hecklers aside, which are easy to handle during a set on stage. I mean when I might be walking through a crowd before or after a show, they know I'm the comic.
I STILL don't know if these people think they're funny, they're getting a thrill out of it, are jealous of me or what. I can only come back with about half of what I'd REALLY like to say because if I fire back too harshly or in the same manner in which they did to me in front of other people, I'm considered an ass.
Off stage behavior is important
Or if I say, "Hey, that's not a very nice thing to say to someone" they might say that I'm a comedian and I should be used to hecklers that say rude stuff to them. I'm a Desert Storm era vet, too. I'm used to the enemy firing at me. Doesn't mean I liked THAT either.
Man, I just wanna put them in their place off mic. I'll give a woman a break (for a while) because (from my experience) she might misinterpret/embellish or maybe even flat out lie about what was said in the encounter to her large BF or hubby for extra affect. Then you get punched.
Then the guy or woman act like a little bitch/baby and usually whine to their friends that "ooh, the bad man comic said a mean thing to me." I'd usually anticipate this and say that I bet they're going to say this to their friends right away so that they don't. Then they stare and seethe at me the rest of the night because they have to stay there with their friends who don't want to leave.
But when the rare times I HAVE done this in front of their friends (and their friends laugh, either at them for having it coming or what I said was funny or true) the guys want to fight me, the woman wants to get up and leave immediately. Then they hate ME. Hey, who started this, buddy?
NOW what's your comeback?
Some people want to know what I usually say to these inhumane people. It depnds upon the situation and the person. It usually just "comes off the top of my head." I DO want to get personal. But not crass or TOO personal. You want the crowd to laugh because they're actually laughing AT the schmuck and that'll usually shut the guy or woman up.
Being the host and producer of a comedy show in a big market of Phoenix, my audience is used to seeing me up there every show. I've mingled, drank heavily after shows with quite a few of them even on my non entertaining nights. I've schmoozed with at least a third of them for the past several months.
I work hard at bringing new faces to the stage for them and keeping my material fresh in case there are people out there that have seen me over and over again. A teammate once asked Joe DiMaggio why he played so hard every minute of every game he ever played. The answer is so simple yet should never be forgotten. "Because someone may not have ever seen me play" was "The Yankee Clipper's" automatic response. With that being said, there are many of the club's regulars at every show, so I must be doing something right.
But there are new audience members out there, as always and I want their experience that night to be a memorable one if not maybe a fun, semi-adventure that keeps them coming back for the next show.
Play to the crowd
It seems between acts is a time for people to discuss the last comic, order more drinks or food and make a bit more noise than for the billed acts.
Now, I can do a stand-up act in a hurricane and not even bat an eyelash or do one for the crickets out there chirping when I'm having an off night. I just keep forging on hoping one joke will stick like velcro to their funnybone.
I like to think there are faces out there waiting to guffaw at any second. But it doesn't always happen. At times, you swear you are entertaining monks that have taken a "Vow of Silence." Not often, mind you, but it happens.
So I asked an experienced local comic on my bill and close enough friend why my usual comedy club people tend to make more noise and pay attention a bit less when I do my "in between acts mini stand up routine." He said, "Dan, they're just so used to seeing you up there or sitting next to 'em at the bar at least a couple of times a month regardless if it's a show or not."
I thought about it and I DO recall new faces yukkin' it up at my jokes and my usual crowd giving their attention just a bit less to my act. But as soon as I announce, "And now ladies and gentlemen, our next comedian..." they bolt right to attention with anticipation at who did I book this time.
So even though I may give them MY undivided attention, I may at least be akin to the "comfy zone" of a spouse that may not send a chill up their spine as often as before but still makes them secure knowing that he or she will always be there, doing what's best for them and one they can rely on to put a consistent smile on their face.
I make sure I grab them occasionally by calling a few out by name, walking into the crowd and messing with some regulars. Everyone likes a little fame and notoriety.
At a local favorite. The longest continually running comedy room in Arizona! The Hidden House from 2011. Enjoy.
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I'm assuming you're all adults out there and probably have heard a few naughty words before. NOT ADVERTISING HERE. Showimg how to work the crowd to your side even when I comedy insult the producer. Have a look, have fun and shut up when you're in a comedy room, please. Thank you!
Dan W. Miller "The Vanilla Godzilla" performs, hosts and produces comedy shows usually in downtown or in the more colorful Phoenix west side gin joints