The last batch of answers from comedians about how they handle hecklers was so raw and funny that we just had to do another round. We asked some more of the most talented stand-up comedians around the following two questions: “What’s your greatest experience with a heckler?” and “What’s the best way to handle being heckled?” And as expected their answers were hilarious and insightful. Read on to learn how to shut a heckler down, and even maybe how to get nudes from them. And remember: You don’t need to be a comedian to glean advice about how to deal with some drunken jerk getting all up in your business. It will happen to all of us in time, whether we ever set foot on a stage or not.
Conan’s warm-up comedian, Never Not Funny podcast
My best way to handle a heckle has changed so much over the years. Early on, I would relish getting a heckler… almost egg some folks on so I could react to them. And boy, would I react to them. I would lash out with a fury that was basically me getting all the anger that I’d kept in throughout my life. For that 3-5 minutes that heckler was a cheating ex-girlfriend, a bully from high school or a boss that I would have loved to tell to fuck off! Now, I truly have no time for them, they are a nuisance that I’d just as well not deal with. I’ll throw a couple of lines at the person to try and tame them… but then I just say “Dude, people spent good money to be here, got a sitter, left the house, maybe had dinner before the show… that’s a lot of money, they don’t really want to hear from you, so just shut up.” and 9 out of time 10 times it works… the other one time, the guy we call “Old Jimmy” shows up and makes this person regret they even thought about speaking up.
Sirius XM Radio’s Opie with Jim Norton, HBO’s One Night Stand
My greatest experience with the heckler might be the drunken woman in Connecticut who was disrupting one of my shows years ago. I ridiculed her for the entire show for being loud, and then at the end she and I talked and ended up exchanging phone numbers. Eventually she sent me nude photos.
The best way to deal with a heckler is to quickly decide what the intention of the heckler is. You have to respond to what they say, but you also have to respond at the right level, and a lot of that depends on what you think the heckler is really trying to do. It also helps to repeat what the heckler said before you respond, do it naturally as you would in normal conversation, this way the entire audience knows exactly what was said and what you are responding to.
The K Ohle with Kurt Braunohler podcast, Comedy Central’s The Half Hour
I don’t know if I have a “greatest” experience with a heckler. I never truly enjoy it.
A memorable one is when I was opening for a band, and that band failed to bill me, and instead just “surprised the audience with comedy.” Music audiences are NOT ready for that. For my entire 20 minute set he just screamed, “Fuck no!” For the whole time. 20 minutes of “Fuck no!” It would have been funny if it wasn’t a living nightmare for me. He would not respond to me when I tried to address him so I just had to do my act while every 30 seconds a man screamed “Fuck no!” from the back. So that was interesting in a “worst venue to do comedy” kind of way.
The best way to handle a heckler is to not get mad. You have to be in control of the conversation at all times. And when the audience sees you actually getting mad, they know you’re no longer in control, and it makes them uncomfortable. I usually try and treat hecklers as if I LOVE being heckled (I don’t. I fucking hate it). As soon as the heckler thinks you’re gonna feed off of it, they usually quiet down. But sometimes they’re so drunk they don’t know what’s going on. Then it’s fun to turn the audience against them and have them kicked out. I try and make it an audience vs. heckler scenario. Most people who pay money for a show actually want to hear the show. It’s just a few drunk weirdoes who didn’t get hugged enough as children who want the attention to be on them for the night.
Comedy Central’s The Half Hour, writer Late Night With Seth Meyers
I don’t know what exactly constitutes a “greatest experience with a heckler,” but I was once heckled for having adult braces a year or two into doing comedy, and the host handled the heckler by then bringing him up onstage after my set. That felt like probably the worst-case scenario where you are essentially handing the heckler the microphone and saying “Here, now you have all the power.” I think in general the best way to handle hecklers is to turn whatever they say inside out, which is essentially just regaining control of the vehicle, i.e., your performance. A heckler is usually not someone trying to be malicious as much as overly participatory, whether due to inebriation or enthusiasm or lack of experience going to live comedy shows. Generally, the audience wants to be on your side when you are facing off with a heckler. They came to the show to see a performer, not to hear the opinions of a random audience member—not to disparage the average random audience member. I’m sure you have tons of great ideas.
Hulu’s Coming To The Stage, VICE
I really enjoyed a recent experience with a heckler. I’m doing a set and this guy is drunk and trying to talk to me while I’m onstage. He couldn’t shut himself up. His impulse control was completely shot. At some point I told him, “I don’t understand what you’re saying and you are not adding value to this experience.” He didn’t say anything for about thirty seconds before he interrupted again at which point I said, “If you continue to do this I think you are going to be a very unpopular person here. I don’t want to hold that over your head but I think you and everyone else here are going to be a lot less happy if this continues.” So now a lot of people are laughing at him because I’m basically talking to him like he’s a child and he’s getting self conscious and shame is starting to creep through the fog of his drunkenness. So he sort of shrugs and says something along the lines of, “I don’t care if people don’t like me.” So I tell him, “Don’t do that to yourself man. Don’t double down on your alienation and play it off like your thing is that everywhere you go you piss people off. Just be cool.” And he stopped. Afterward, he was at the bar and he just said real quickly, “Hey man, I’m sorry. I’m really drunk but you were funny.” Sometimes, after you get offstage, hecklers want to bend your ear for as long as they can, trying to redeem themselves in your eyes after you embarrass them. This guy kept it short which I appreciated.
I think there’s a lot of ways to handle hecklers. Some people can be ruthless and that kind of street justice can be a joy to watch. The key is just not to lose your cool. You lose control of the situation, then you’re fucked.
Comedy Central special, Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch 2015
The weirdest thing I have had happen was when I first started. I was doing a show at a place called The Village Lantern. It is a small room downstairs that we used to do shows in. I think they still do. It could be rowdy at times because they barked people in off the streets. One night I am starting my set. Two couples are in the front row. They are drunk. Talking to each other. No one in the back is paying attention either. Just a bunch of drunks. Then the two girls in the front come on stage and take a picture with me. Mid joke I was trying to tell. They didn’t ask me. They did it and then sat back down as if it was what you were supposed to do. Heckling doesn’t happen as much as people think. It is usually a situation like that. Just a chaotic show. If it gets too crazy, they will get kicked out. Hopefully.
creator of Comedy Central’s 7 Minutes in Purgatory, Chicago Magazine’s Best Experimental Comedian
My greatest experience with a heckler is with a man named Jesus Christ…
No, I would say that my greatest experience with a heckler is when a woman kept telling me to fornicate with my phone (my wording, not hers). She started by yelling it, and then stood up and started acting out what that would look like. I was dumbfounded. What do you do when someone starts updating their iOS mid show? (My wording, not hers.) After the show, she said she just thought I looked like Joaquin Phoenix in the movie where he falls in love with his phone. (Her wording, not mine.)
With heckling, at first I ignore it, then I’ll acknowledge them and try to move on. If it continues, I’ll make fun of them for interrupting the show people came out to see.
literally everything ever
Sometimes life just aligns correctly for you. In 1979 I was working at Catch A Rising Star in New York. Had to be about one in the morning. This woman with a gigantic hairdo was right down front talking loudly with two “legitimate businessmen.” I don’t know what possessed me to engage them, but I asked, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt while you’re talking. I’m just trying to figure out which one is the husband and which one is the boyfriend.” She stopped talking and looked at me and then her two gentlemen callers turned and looked at me. Nobody was smiling. I asked him “Well who is who?” She said “They are both my honeys,” and I said, “Well that would explain the beehive on your head…” And I watched my brief life flash before my eyes before they started to laugh. Dodged that one. Whew.
Read the first part here.
Jimmy Pardo, Jim Norton, Kurt Braunohler, Aparna Nancherla, and header photos courtesy of Getty Images.
Ian Abramson photo by Joanna DeGeneres.
Rick Overton photo by Bruce Smith.
Jesse Fernandez is a half centaur, half man whose comedy writing has been featured on ABC, TED Talks, MSN, StarWipe, eBaum’s World, and Starbucks. Follow him on Twitter @JesseFernandez to see what’s really swirling around that cauldron of a brain.