Locked and loaded

Spot a potential troublemaker during an earlier comic's set? Eye 'em up and down for something to attack. Then if they decide to keep it up during your set, you'll have a shutdown line ready to go.

Example: At show last night. Host goes up and lady in front of room keeps shouting stuff out. Not heckling per se. Just commenting on everything that's going on. I noticed her outfit was a bit weird but didn't really think about it.

I go up next. After my second joke, she makes a loud groaning noise. The kinda thing you hear in old cartoons when someone falls down.

I go, "Was that the woman in the zebra striped tank top?" Laughter and a meek "yes" in response. "Um, you're not supposed to yell shit out at a comedian if you're wearing something completely ridiculous."

Worked out great. She shut up, crowd loved it.


ECN said...

Beh. If you're that kind of comic, I guess.

soce said...

What if they're not wearing anything interesting?

Matt Ruby said...

ECN: Just one more tool in the belt. No need to use it you don't want to. But nice to have there just in case.

Soce: Move on to Plan B I guess.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

From my Youtube research, plan B is smashing a guitar over someone's head, so yes, do something that will shift the focus back to the stage. I think of it as diffusing a bomb. Some people go for the aikido approach* and agree with the heckle and turn it back on themselves. But you run the risk of encouraging the person to keep participating. I think it's everyone's dream to shut people down Bill Burr style.

ECN, how do you handle hecklers?

*Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on.

ECN said...

In seven years of comedy, I've been heckled six times. Three drunks who were just talking with no intent to disrupt the show, two scenarios where the audience members weren't there for a show in the first place (I wouldn't have done these shows if I had known this -- I don't think it's an ethical practice), and one woman who had seen my act before and was shouting out requests.

Honestly, I usually just keep doing my act. That tends to work. If it doesn't, I just tend to stare at them in a baffled fashion, they get the hint, it's over.

I'm told that one time I said to a drunk heckler, "I don't understand how this benefits you, even." Apparently, it killed, and I was able to get back to my act with no further interruptions. The guy who told me this might have been making it up -- I didn't remember it directly after getting off stage. My short-term memory is poor.

And no, it's not my dream to "shut people down Bill Burr style." I don't even think that shit is an acceptable solution most of the time. It's classless, and sets an adversarial tone for the rest of the show. A mood hangs over the room, like after a fight... even if the heckler leaves, it's no place to get any real comedy done. I prefer to sweep the heckler under the rug in a way that leaves as little mark as possible.

Of course, I haven't dealt with a lot of people who have been actively ATTEMPTING to disrupt shows. I think that's because a) I'm pretty loud, b) I don't tend to bomb, c) I don't turn things into incidents, d) I don't do a lot of rowdy rooms, and/or e) these people are largely fictional. (I've seen maybe two of them in my life. 90% of the real ugly audience incidents I've seen were provoked or escalated by the comic.)

Richard said...

ECN, do you actively try to be make people dislike you or is it that just how you normally are? I seriously can't tell.

ECN said...

By "people". do you mean "embittered comedians who are trying to use their microphones to bully the audience", or do you mean "people"?

Because I'm trying to be helpful here. I'm saying, "hey, a lot of people make this mistake, because they think it's a good idea and/or something they have to do. Turns out, not only is it NOT something you have to do, it's something you're frequently better off not doing."

It's a perspective -- a perspective I've found valid in doing comedy, and in watching comedians do comedy. I'm far from the only comedian who soft-pedals dealing with distractions. It's worked for me, so I'm going to advocate it.

And honestly, I'm not impressed by the success rate of more confrontational strategies, or by their effects on the show if they do work. So I'm going to say that too. Feel free to disagree, but it's what I've observed.

I'm not suggesting that all audience-comedian blow-ups occur because the comedian is spoiling for a fight. But I certainly hope you're not suggesting that none of them do.

And even aside from the comedians who approach some drunk guy in the crowd with relish, like a lion sneaking up on a gazelle, there are comedians who have been told that, when there's a situation in the crowd, you have to drop what you're doing and go after it, thereby magnifying it.

And really, I'm offering up some advice to those comedians. I'm just saying, "you know, I understand that you think this is an unwritten rule, but I've found that it also works a lot of the time if you don't do that. Sometimes you can shift the focus back to the stage by doing comedy and getting laughs, or by subtly acknowledging to the audience member that he should stop in a way that doesn't knock the show out of its rhythm. Just my experience talking -- your experience may be different. But maybe try it, and see how it works?"

If you're seeing that as somehow antagonistic... well, that might explain a couple things about how you advocate dealing with audience disruptions.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

ECN said: "It's worked for me, so I'm going to advocate it."

ECN, this seems like Matt's sentiment in his post too. When you say, "Beh. If you're that kind of comic, I guess." you may be trying to be helpful but it sounds like you're implying that you pass judgment on Matt's decision to advocate what works for him. I think this attitude / tone may be what prompted Richard to ask his question.

I can count the number of hecklers I've had on one hand, and like you, I try to play on through the distractions. If the focus has shifted, and I have to bring them back, I try to ask them questions until they hit on an answer that prompts something from my material. The problem with asking someone questions is they could take it as an invitation to keep on talking.

I've never clowned somebody where the audience laughs and the heckler is shut down, because that's classified in my brain as a confrontation, and I avoid those like the plague. Arguing with a bank teller makes my hands shake.

But I hve been direct: there was a chatty guy in his 60s at a small show who hijacked the first comic's set by talking to him the whole way through, as host I finally shushed him and said, "Bob you've said a lot of important things, and now you're going to listen for the rest of the show. You're not going to keep talking. Thanks." He chuckled and said, "Okay okay I'm done now."

Sometimes hecklers are bored. Sometimes they oppose what the comic says. Sometimes they are desparate for attention. Sometimes like Bob they want to add to the show, and they innocently think you'll appreciate it. Sometimes they hate their job and need to vent about it right when you bring up your joke about crappy jobs.

The Bill Burr thing--his infamous 10 minute rant against a Philly crowd that was incessantly booing him--is an amplified version of how comics feel when attacked. To be able to withstand the opposition and manage to entertain them (see, he got real comedy done) has got to feel like a triumphant victory.

ECN said...

Well, yeah. I am kind of passing judgment on it, because I've seen confrontational approaches to hecklers fail so many times and succeed so few.

And now here's Matt, saying, "hey, don't know how to deal with confronting a heckler? Here's something you could try!" As I said, it's advice predicated on the assumption that this is a thing you have to do.

And that's the kind of thinking that leads to people turning a situation like the one you're describing with Bob into a big spiky incident.

I mean, you've gone up after comics who did that, right? It ruins shows. It's like trying to eat dinner with your family after two of your relatives have just gotten into an argument and someone has stormed off in some direction. It's an ugly, awful mood. Even if the comic got laughs out of the scenario -- and don't underestimate how many of the laughs in a situation like that are nervous ones -- it's going to hang a big weird mood over the room.

Whereas to me, the more important and more responsible message would be, "hey, don't know how to deal with confronting a heckler? Then don't confront a heckler and tear the show apart! Odds are, confronting hecklers is not your thing, and that's great!"

myq said...

I saw Louis CK at Caroline's last year, and the audience was great minus one table, where a rowdy guy yelled something at some point, and Louis basically just said (paraphrasing) "Hey, I have things that I want to say, and they're going to be better than the things you say, and better than the things that I would say in dealing with you saying things."

That's an approach I strive for when possible. When people talk, sometimes I'll just say "wrong" or "shh" or "I will do the talking because I have the microphone" or something to that effect.

And at first, it usually CAN work to try and ignore someone. Giving people attention can exacerbate a situation that might have gone away if ignored. If people persist, sometimes they do need to be dealt with (if you're not in a room where bouncers or management aim to keep order). There is no one right way to do it.

Matt's way certainly doesn't seem unreasonable. Sounds like it worked. It might not for everyone. And I think Erik's concerns are valid give that possibility, where if someone less skilled or thoughtful tries to take someone down, it could turn out less well. Less well than it did for Matt, and less well than if they had tried to deal with the situation in a less confrontational way.

It does depend on the situation, the audience, the comic. If it's not in your character to confront a heckler in a certain way (see other post about staying with your character), then it might be a weird turn to head in that direction. If your character was already a confrontational type, maybe it would be more appropriate.

PS Maybe Erik HAS been heckled a lot but because he's so loud he hasn't heard any of it, so the best answer is "have your act be super loud."

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