A Pro-Heckler Response

Dealing with Hecklers, Mud Slingers and Angst-Ridden 10-Year Old Boys

 

by Brian Wilson

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 embarrasses 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 embarrassed, 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 interruptions, 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 likely 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 punch line. 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 work shopping 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 performer.

Brian 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,

 


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