On the job hazard. Hecklers. It’s one of those things that only gets better with experience. It’s weird to explain to people you sound like you’re crazy. but when you’re new to standup (or anything similar) 100% of your focus is on what you’re doing. How do I tell this joke. How do I set this up. What’s my next line. What arm motion should I do? but as you get better and more confident. You can tell the joke and have a complete inner dialogue with yourself. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be related to what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s like “what’s for dinner tonight? Mcdonalds again? ugh. I am a horrible person.” Sometimes you start observing weird things going on in the crowd. “hmm. Wow this crowd sucks. These jokes are way funnier. Wow is that guy wearing a superman belt buckle? what a fag!”
All of a sudden someone will yell something. Sometimes you see it coming. You know that you’re doing a topic that sometimes people like to call out like “sports fans in the house tonight?” and people will yell out their favorite team or “seahawks suck” or something. Or you’ve been watching in the back and they’re getting talkative with the other comics. Sometimes it’s out of nowhere. Generally there are warning signs though. As you do it more you start to know what to look for. You get that vibe. You also get time to prepare. The whole thing with comedy. It’s the illusion of spontaneity that makes it so funny sometimes. If you can act like you’re just thinking of something off the top of your head. It makes a joke go from a C joke or B joke to an A joke because people think it was off the top of your head. Of course most of the time with your act, deep down they know everything’s been planned out, but if they start thinking about that or of it as an “act”, you lose them. Which is why part of the act is to deliver it more like a conversation than a script. Which is why you hear pop words or phrases like “The other day…”
A lot of times with hecklers its trial by fire. It’s exactly like the bully on the playground. You have gotten heckled and then you look like an idiot and you get home and think of the perfect response. but you can’t go back to the bully. You can use it on stage again. Different audience. Different bully. It ALWAYS happens again. You do 300 + shows a year. It’s going to happen. This time you know what to say. My friend Susan calls it a utility belt. You’ve got batmans tool belt. You have little ninja stars you can throw out. WATCHOUTNOW!
As you get better, you’ll actually think of funny things on the spot. Because you’re not as focused on what you’re going to say. You’re not nervous. You’re brain is secretly thinking of all these weird scenarios without you even knowing it. I had a couple fun “heckles” recently I thought I’d share. The other night I walked on stage in San Diego and as a general greeting I said “Hey hows it going everyone?” (A lot of advice books and columns or classes will all RAGE against this. They say you look like an amateur. It’s unnecessary and blah blah. I get it. Here’s my few poor justifications for saying it. I’m a comic that is “likeable” – meaning I don’t come out and do weird topics or try to piss the crowd off. It goes better if they like me. They’re along for the ride. This works against me in tough rooms. You deal with it. It works against the asshole comics in good rooms. They deal with it. Some guys get great at not needing anyone’s approval and killing regardless. Im not there yet. A friendly hello establishes in the back of my mind and hopefully theirs a nice “I come in peace”. lol. I also use it as a stalling tactic. A lot of times theres no music intro, the clapping will be dying out before you even get to the microphone. Silence is awkward. I’ve gotta set my merchandise on the stool. Start my timer. I want to distract them. In the same way I say “give it up for the comic right before me” I don’t care. and that comic just sucked. but still make some noise while I get situated. Take the mic out of the mic stand. It gives me another half second. There’s another reason I thought of but I rambled too much now I forgot. Anyway- ONward) So I go up and I go “Hey hows everyone doing” most people just yell good or give a whoo, but a guy right up front says “Inadequate.” It caught me off guard. I said “Inadequate? I wasn’t talking about your penis size sir. I was asking how you’re doing.” It kills. The crowd laughs and immediately everyone already knows I’m funny. Boom. I didn’t even have to tell my first joke to say “look I’m in control up here.” and if anyone was thinking of fucking with me, they probably changed their mind. Or got encouraged because they think they’re helping. That’s a whole other beat to tackle.
That’s an example of quick thinking. I didn’t think of that ever before and I have it at my disposal next time it happens or if a similar situation happens. Now here’s one where I already knew what to say. The other night in Utah I was doing a show and guy’s cell phone goes off. I wasn’t even on stage but I already knew my response when cell phones go off “Who’s that?” “no answer” “Is that your girlfriend/wife/babysitter/whatever is applicable?” “yes/no/no answer.” “Well could you tell her to call me, because she hasn’t been answering my phone calls lately.” – The comic on stage sort of dealt with it. He didn’t get the guy back but he addressed it by going “whos that” (which is basically trying to stall so he can think of something to say) and the someone next to him yells out “It’s his pregnant wife calling.” the comic goes off on a tangent about people calling each other out. Gets a laugh and moves on.
I thought it would be fun to address when I got on stage right away in a similar fashion. Set the tone, let em know I’m funny, blah blah. (results may vary obviously. This show didn’t turn out like that even though I get a laugh) I go on stage I say welcome. give it up for the other guy, etc. “Before I get started I want to say something. If that guy’s pregnant wife calls again. I’m not here. ok? I don’t know why she keeps calling. It’s not mine. I wore a condom.” Gets a laugh. The momentum lasts a couple minutes and the show starts going to hell after that. but it was good. sort of.
Now here’s a funny video of a little bit of both of those combined. Sometimes it gets crazy. You think you nailed someone and they’re embarassed and will shut up. Nope. They keep going. Eventually you run out of lines or you don’t know what to say anymore. This is me throwing out a couple prepared lines and then dancing around while my mind is racing on what to say next. Finally at the end I’m basically like “mercy! I give up. please stop!” and the whole crowd is annoyed too so everyone is clapping and the club intervenes. That happens at good clubs. They will let it play out and then intervene when they don’t shut up. Enjoy.