To Deal with Hecklers, Mud Slingers and Angst-Ridden 10-Year Old Boys.
A pro-heckler response.
Some performers try to avoid hecklers. I enjoy being heckled because of the
challenge posed to myself as a comic performer. If you are able to turn the
heckle around in such a way that it benefits the performance or embarasses
the heckler then it makes your show that much better and shows your versatility
as a performer. Every act should have a few heckler lines in their head just
in case something goes amiss with a heckler, so that the ass in question doesn't
ruin the show. But the best lines are created on the spot.
There are certain groups of people whom you can not shame into silence. Most
hecklers, once embarrased, will assume a quiet voyeuristic approach to the
show except for:
1) drunk teenagers
2) groups of unattended children with no parents to be seen
3) homeless drunks
These groups of people apparently have no shame. For example, one year at the
Kingston Busker Festival we (THE COWGUYS) were doing our show and some kids
(unattended 13 year old boys) had just watched our show and followed us to
our next show. They were saying our lines before us, teasing me personally
and saying "now this happens" and irritating both us and the crowd. I'd been
grating them down with a few lines since the beginning of the show but my (and
the crowd's) patience were wearing thin. Finally i came back with "If you guys
don't shut up I'm going to duct tape you to something......... like a moving
truck!" The line killed and people were actually cheering for the kids to either
shut up or leave.
Once you have a crowd, and they are watching your show, the majority of them
will be keen on seeing your show, with minor interuptions, straight through
to the finale. So if a drunk stumbles into your show, it is likely that the
audience will be on your side. The best lines are those that don't shoot down
the heckler, but block them, seat them and quiet them down, or get them to
leave your crowd.
For a drunk, lines like "Dad, can you come back after the show?" work well.
Of course if the drunk starts yelling obscenities then you have a carte blanche
to take the return heckle as far as you'd like. It is always best to work out
your favorite heckler lines that suit your personality. If you're playing a
vulnerable character then being harsh and offensive with a heckler probably
will not work to your advantage, in fact it will probably alienate some of
your crowd. Although sometimes a momentary break of character gets laughs.
The Butterfly Man is probably the king of hecklers. The thrust of his act is
the heckling interaction that he creates between himself and the members in
his audience. He has some cutting, sarcastic, and very funny lines. Robert
makes hecklers and heckling work for him. Personally, I'd love to have him
heckle my show and see where it goes... probably write some new material.
Robert "Bitterfly" Nelson suggests that you repeat what the heckler says. Usually
the show is being interrupted and it is likley that the entire crowd didn't
hear the line, so it's good to repeat the line you're being heckled with, provided
it isn't extremely crass. Repeating also gives you time to think of a comeback,
and really sets up your punchline. Sometimes just repeating the heckle will
get a laugh. The best comebacks turn what the heckler has said around so that
it relates to him/her.
For example, Team show with Checkerboard Guy and Robert Nelson: A drunk stumbles
into the crowd and mumbles "f---ing show, f--k you" Robert retorts "F--- me
and you'll never go back to women." A bit crass but very effective. So effective
that Checkerhead laughed so hard he fell off his ladder. (So I heard anyways.)
Heckling isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact many lines are created by the
crowd. It's great when the crowd comes with its own material, and as a performer
you should write down the funny ad libs that either your audience or you come
up with. Constantly workshopping the show is the best way to honing a better
act. Embrace the differences in each show, because lets face it, it's what
keeps things exciting for you as a performer, or even better, keeps your arsenal
fresh as a heckler. Personally I like sitting on the fence; being a heckling
Wilson is a performer, writer and entertainment consultant. He is one half
(usually the bottom half) of The Cowguys. Bri is based in Ottawa, Canada, but
has recently been traveling alot. And writing about it. There's more to come.
Phone: (613) 248-8940
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