Being mercilessly heckled is the third most common fear associated with doing stand-up comedy. Just the prospect of being heckled deters some beginners from getting on stage because they don’t know if they’ll be able to cope with it. But, as with all things, the reality isn’t nearly as frightening as our fantasy. When handling a heckler, your goal is to remain in charge of yourself and your show. Handling hecklers effectively is a skill that is only acquired through a great deal of stage experience. In the meantime, here are some helpful hints to stave off the scourge:
Most Hecklers Think They’re Helping
Most hecklers are misguided, not malicious. They like you and want to help, so they yell out comments they think make the show funnier. They’re not familiar with concepts such as the flow of one joke to the next or the building of a rhythm throughout an entire show. Unbeknownst to them, their remarks can interrupt these invisible functions that only comics know about. All they understand is that they made a comment and got a laugh, then the comic came back and got an even bigger laugh. “Hey, we’re a team.”
Ignore Hecklers’ Comments
It may surprise you, but if you disregard their first couple of remarks, hecklers will usually get embarrassed and shut up, or their friends will punch on them to make them be quiet. This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. As a beginner, I was always of the mind that if there was a peep during my show, I’d tromp on it to get back the control. This almost always turned into a confrontation. But one time, I was tired so I ignored a heckler, and he didn’t heckle me anymore. Once he realized that I wasn’t going to enter into an exchange, he just gave up. It was so much easier, and the show went more smoothly because to deal with a heckler you have to stop your show, do what you have to do, then try to build the rhythm of the show again. If you ignore them, there’s a better chance you can just keep going.
In my next article, Handling Hecklers – Part 2, I’ll offer more advice on this same subject.
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