Updated: Jan 5
There are 3 main types of hecklers. Let's explore.
1. The Drunk Heckler.
Let’s face it, most hecklers are intoxicated. It’s the only reason they have the confidence to naively disrupt a whole show with zero remorse. They have lost their ability to read social cues, or as we comedians call it, ‘to
read the room’. This is why the ‘drunk heckler’ won’t notice the audience glaring at them with a silent ‘pleeeeease shut your face, you are ruining this whole night for us!’. They will only notice their handful of friends who are laughing along with them, and this response leads them to assume that they are ‘killing it’ with their off stage material.
Often the audience will be too polite, or too ‘I cant be arsed dealing with this drunk person’ to say anything. This is where the MC role kicks in. When an MC is required to address a heckler, often the ‘drunk heckler’ thinks it’s a game, so all attempts to manage them becomes tiring and uncomfortable for everyone, except of course, the ‘drunk heckler’. When the heckler eventually either shuts up, leaves the venue of their own accord or, in extreme cases, is removed by security, it is usually too late. The vibe of the room will be set and only the most professional of comedians will be able to bring the room back up. It’s an awful feeling for everyone. Like walking into a lounge room of a married couple who have just finished having a serious domestic dispute and one party has just suggested they get a divorce.
If you have just identified yourself as a ‘drunk heckler’, you need to think of some self management strategies. Just like the classic ‘please don’t let me message my ex after I’ve had these 12 tequila shots’, it is important to remind yourself before you go out of the behaviour you expect from yourself. So you have no self control? Ask a friend to let you know when you start acting like a dick.
Or your final options:
A. Don’t drink at comedy.
B. Just stay home.
2. The Disruptive Heckler
The ‘disruptive heckler’ has usually had a bad day. Or a bad month. Or in some instances, a bad life. They feel a sense of power in being able to disrupt other people’s pleasure. And let’s face it, that’s exactly what they are doing. Ruining the performer’s night and bringing other people down so that they can make their pathetic-selves feel momentarily better than at least one other person in the room. These people are the genuine shit c*nts of comedy audiences. A heckler (of any kind) should never yell out ‘You’re shit!!’ to a performer. Comedy is subjective. That is, your favourite comedian could be someone else’s least favourite performer. And vice versa. If you really want a comedian to know that you don’t like them, just stand up and walk out quietly. They will notice you. Don’t subscribe to their You Tube channel and don’t ‘like’ their Facebook page, and obviously don’t ever go and see them perform again. That’s it.
While we know that having a good belly laugh is often the best medicine for someone who is doing it tough, for the ‘disruptive heckler’ we highly recommend psychological therapies and ongoing counselling.
3. The Contributor.
‘The contributor’ has one main goal - to be part of the show. While these kind of hecklers are genuinely there to have a great time, they want in on the action and they will do anything to take the attention away from the performer and onto themselves. One of the main strategies ‘the contributor’ will use, is to try to guess the performer’s punchlines before they get a chance to say them. This is a desperate attempt to get a laugh of their own from the crowd. 9 times out of 10 (or more) the heckler will loudly state the obvious ending to the joke. That’s the ending that a polished comedian wants the audience to think they are about to say, but of course, not the actual funny punchline that the comedian worked so hard to develop. These moments expose ‘the contributor’ for not being of the comedic standard of the performers, therefore proving, that the comedian deserves their space on the stage, and that ‘the contributor’ must learn to bite their tongue and enjoy the actual punchlines which make comedy, comedy!
'The contributor' style of heckler at an Open Mic event will often say things like…. ‘but I would never heckle at a real show!’. Open Mic events are real shows. These are the first opportunities for novice performers to memorise their 5 minute sets, or for more seasoned performers to try out new material. It may look like the comedian is just making up jokes on-the-fly, but that’s just part of the art form. 5 minutes of good material can take years to perfect and to memorise. The nerves, anxiety and sleepless nights leading up to this 5 minutes on stage, for many are almost unbearable.
If you throw an Open Mic’er off their track at one of these shows, the chances are that they will never make it to a big stage. Their confidence will be rattled and they may think their jokes were no good, not realising that the crowd only didn’t laugh because they were too busy being quietly angry at, and distracted by ‘the contributor’.
But, if I heckle at an open mic, won’t that help them become a stronger performer?
No! Well, maybe. But think of it like any job. Imagine a new cafe worker trying to balance 4 coffees and a couple of cakes on one tray to deliver to a table. Do we give them a poke in the guts as they walk past to help them develop their balance? Of course not. The same reason we don’t yell out numbers at the new Coles employee while he’s counting out our change. They have a job to do, so let them do it.
So I can heckle at a professional level show then??
No! While heckling at a professional level show will generally cause less disruption to their performance, as pro comedians will know their material inside and out and will generally have more experience dealing with pain-in-the-arse hecklers, that does not make it ok. No-one bought a ticket thinking, gee, ‘I hope there are people in the crowd who yell random shit out at this show!’. The audience spent money to come and see their favourite comedian perform. They’ve organised babysitters, and have been looking forward to the event all week…. Don’t risk ruining that for them, or for the comedian. Just enjoy the show for what it is meant to be.
But I just want to get involved!
Fantastic! We want you to get involved. If you want to be part of the show, sign up to an Open Mic event and join the only rite of passage to the big stage. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or message Larry Laughs Loud on Facebook. We even have some professional development workshops coming up, so come along to that and we will help you get your material stage ready!
So, is there such thing as a 'good' heckle?
Yes. While heckling is not encouraged, a ‘good’ heckle, is a heckle that was unplanned and just exploded from the hecklers mouth without thinking. For it to be ‘good’ it needs to have generated immediate laughs from the crowd AND the performer. A good heckle that is followed by a quick, clever response from the comedian on stage can be comedy gold. But remember ’good heckles’ are few and far between and cannot be planned.
Another ‘good’ heckle, is to call out a comedian that says something racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, or implies that sexual assault, abuse, rape, domestic violence or any of that other shit that does not fly is ok…… then dear heckler, you have permission to go to town! Tear shreds! BUT…… be very sure that the offence is clear. A well worded and clever joke will take the audience to the line of risk, where you think the performer is going into a dark place, but they snap back into a well crafted, non-offensive banger of a punchline.
Don’t start yelling when you hear the set up of the joke. Wait for the punchline. Take a minute to absorb the joke. Be sure it is actually offensive and not just a risky topic. Better still, hold your heckle and have a positive and proactive conversation with them after the show. Make it a learning opportunity, rather than a show ruiner.
And finally, the golden rule of heckling: If you’ve heckled more than twice in a show, you are being disruptive and/or are probably drunk. It’s time for you to go home.
By Vanessa Larry Mitchell (5/1/2022)