A comic who is somewhat well known among comedians but probably not as much to the general public recently posted a video where he feels he bested a heckler. Among comedians he is probably best known for being a genius at self-promotion. Undoubtedly this video was just another in a long line of such things. He has posted a lot of these heckling type videos over the years. This latest video has gained momentum and has garnered a lot of views and some shares by main stream media. Good for him. But is it good for comedy?
I think these type of heckler videos have an attraction to the general public. We are a society that likes reality tv shows, social media, train wrecks, tinged with the hint that things can go horribly wrong at any moment. Look no further than our politics and how that has become more reality show than process of picking our next leader these days. A heckler video gives as a bit of all of that. One of the dangers of live comedy is that things can go wrong at any moment. You may see a screaming match, a drink thrown, or somebody physically attacked. All of those things are on the internet from comedy shows. A few I have been part of. Can the comedian slay the upstart and keep the show on the tracks or will the loudmouth without a mic hijack the show and take it in a completely unforeseen and presumably negative place? It is quite the adversarial relationship.
Here’s the thing though, you, the audience, is not our adversary. We are supposed to be all in this together. You are supposed to pay money to hear us talk. Nobody paid money to hear the audience talk. I am not talking about when the comedian probes the audience and does crowd work. That is part of the act. We are all still in this together. The comedian is just steering the ship into perhaps uncharted waters but all participants still want to stay on board. When a comedian gets a heckler who is negative either personally or to the comedian’s material that person clearly wants off the ship. The correct way for the audience member to do that is to quietly walk out without making a scene. Trust me, the comedian notices. The comedian is who you were trying to convey your displeasure to. It registered but the rest of people can continue with their enjoyment uninterrupted because they are still into the comedian. No, when you heckle it is a completely selfish act. It is a person crying for attention. It is a person saying their opinion is more important than the performer’s opinion. It is saying their opinion is more important than the rest of the audience. It is saying look at me. Shine the spotlight on me.
When that happens a comedian can go back and forth with the heckler, have them removed from the show, ignore them, or implore the audience to turn on the heckler. We have options. Different comedians and different situations employ these options differently. However, a heckler is not an optimal outcome for a comedian that knows their craft. We don’t get bonuses for walking the room. The clubs don’t look forward to rowdy crowds. They love when a comedian can handle a rowdy audience but ideally they would like you all to stay in your seat and the only words they hear from you are requests for more drinks and maybe some nachos. A good comedian can handle a heckler. It comes with the job. We learned how to do it at open mics and late night shows at clubs. If you handle it well it will get you kudos from all corners but it is not something you put on the resume. “Can really handle rude, drunks.” That does not get you to the next level. That gets you more shows where you are handling rude, drunks.
As I continue on my comedy journey I notice the better I get at stage presence and crafting jokes the less hecklers I encounter. If you are good at this the opportunity to heckle does not present itself most nights. If a heckler happens you deal with it and move on. The topics I cover are not always politically correct and easy to digest. I mean hell I had somebody throw a chair at me recently at a show in a tropical paradise. Crazy is out there and I talk about hard things. However, as I get better at my craft I am able to tackle these hard things and get people to laugh with me even if they don’t agree with me. That is crafting a good joke. I try to present myself as we are all in this together and I certainly do not want to come off as I have all the answers. Why would I do that? I don’t. A smart person knows what he does not know and why alienate all the people that don’t agree with me? If I do that then they shut down and stop listening to my point. Once they stop listening that just opens the door for them opening their mouth during my show.
So no, I do not think heckler videos are good for comedy. I think it illustrates some of the worst traits of current society. I think it shows a comedian who lost at least some of the room at some point. Sure it shows the comedian being dominant but we are professionals. We have been doing this for years. I doubt a person is a professional heckler who has been ruining shows for years. We should come out on top. It is not a great accomplishment. We overcame a shitty situation. Great. That is a good thing for the audience that night and the club and the comedian but it is not something I want to brag to the world about. Plus maybe we are sending the message that your bad behavior will make you quasi-famous in some viral You Tube video. The last thing comedians need is more people sitting at home who then come to the club so they too can be famous. Let’s do this, let me tell my jokes. If you like them laugh, applaud, hoot and holler. Heck give me a standing ovation. If you do all that maybe I will post the video and then you can say you were at that show at your favorite club. I will want to come back. The venue will want me back. Other very talented comedians will see the video and they will want to play your local club. You will gain access to even better talent as opposed to the heckler video which makes us comics think, man what is wrong with this show and how did it get to the point where it became outwardly confrontational. I don’t think I want to work with that comic and I don’t think I want to work that club. I want to play places that appreciate comedy and in return I will damn well make sure that the audience knows I appreciate them.