In my previous blogs Handling Hecklers Parts 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, I’ve given some fairly well known tips for crushing hecklers like the cockroaches they are. In this blog, Handling Hecklers Part 5, I’ll offer a couple of more gentle approaches for helping overzealous audience members to shut up.
Sincerely Ask Them to Stop Commenting
I know this seems too simple to be true, but it really works. Since most hecklers think they’re helping your show, sometimes just nicely asking them to, “Please stop commenting,” can be enough. I’ve even gone so far as to admit that I’m not as good as they are and to please give me a chance. It’s so disarming to have the performer pleasantly request to stop commenting that most people will agree. After all, the goal is to be able to do your show without heckler interruptions. Try sincerity. It works. Really. But if it doesn’t – trash the bastards.
Ignore the Section with the Heckler
This tip came to me by way of the comedian Michael Colyar, who says to overtly ignore the heckler’s section of the audience. Give all the attention to the area of the crowd that’s being respectful and attentive. This creates a kind of rivalry for the comic’s attention. Since the ignored section wants the comic’s attention back, they’ll turn on the heckler and get him to shut up. It’s a smarter choice to get the audience to do the work for you.
After the Show
Take the time to review what you did right and think of some ways you can handle it more effectively next time. If you take the time to evaluate and consider new options, you’ll be more prepared the next time you get heckled.
If after the show a heckler comes up to you, don’t get mad or attack them as this will only help them rationalize that you deserved to be heckled. Then again, don’t let them off the hook by being too nice about it either.
Instead, explain to them how they made your job harder. When I was working the Comedy Store in Westwood, California, a heckler commented through my entire show. I dealt with it well and got several laughs with my comebacks.
After the show, the heckler came over and offered to buy me a beer. I declined. He got indignant and said, “What are you upset about? I helped you get a lot of laughs.” I admitted that that was true. Then I explained that his heckle interrupted me during the setup of a seventeen joke routine. Because I had to stop to deal with his comments, my stage time had dwindled to the point to where I had to cut the entire bit. He created a situation where I got two laughs but had to sacrifice seventeen. That’s fifteen laughs I lost.
He began to apologize. I still didn’t accept his beer, gathered my things, and went home with the feeling that maybe there was one less heckler in the world.
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Only a great deal of stage time will teach you how to handle hecklers, but heeding this advise will place you far ahead of those who just lash out at an audience when someone pushes your show off its rails. It’s important to understand there are many solutions that can get a laugh and put you back on track.