A really polarizing story was recently published by The Chicago Tribune that basically was in defense of the heckling of a comedian.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, “heckling” is when someone in the audience becomes disruptive during the time a comedian is on stage performing. This can range from something as simple as talking amongst your table too loud to being drunk and disorderly and yelling back at the person on stage – disrupting both the comedian/show and and making it awkward for everyone in the room.
The Tribune article states that heckling is a time-honored tradition and suggests that comedians get better through having to deal with drunken and disorderly people and this provides for a more exciting experience for everyone involved. It also breaks down the different types of hecklers – like happy hecklers (the fan), ones constantly checking phones, drunk, productive (?) hecklers and so on. Categorize them how you’d like, they’re all a bummer.
While every comedian has their own way of dealing with a heckler including but not limited to trashing on said person until they leave or shut up, asking club security to remove them, to (unfortunately) physical entanglements. Regardless of how a comedian deals with hecklers, it’s pretty safe to say almost all comedians would rather not deal with them and focus on the show.
This is an insulting stance to take against comedians. It’s a live performance and all live performances, especially intimate ones, demand good and respectful audiences. As someone who often finds himself in comedy clubs (and has put on a few shows as well) The Tribune is completely off on this one. I’ve never once thought, “the best part of that show was the belligerent jerk that had to be dealt with.”
On more than one occasion, both on and off stage, I’ve first-hand witnessed comedian’s frustration with unruly audience members. I’ve had my own heckler incidents at Laugh Button Live! shows that required club security intervening. I saw a big name comedian stop a show and try not to loose his cool on an audience member that was taping his set. I’ve stood in green rooms as 20-year veterans of the business got into near physical fights with club owners over how to deal with unruly guests. Like a sporting event or a play, many don’t see see the countless hours of labor and prep it takes for a live event, they just see the finished product.
Any great comedian can handle a heckler professionally, but that doesn’t mean they want or should have to. There is nothing more annoying than knowing people are spending their hard-earned money and taking the time out to see a show only to have it ruined by someone else. For comedians, who spend many hours of their day crafting material and try to hone it night-in and night-out, only to have a drunken fool yell out because they can’t handle their alcohol or feel they’re above the rules; it stings even more. This behavior isn’t tolerated at other live performances like plays, musicals, or speeches. Why on any planet would someone feel it’s any different during a comedy performance? Just because the goal is to get people to laugh? There’s a social contract at play here.
Not surprisingly, this article spawned a nearly immediate and angry reaction from comedians far and wide, most vocally from Patton Oswalt, who’s had many well-documented run ins with people being disruptive at his shows. Others even called out the inability to leave comments on the article as a way the Tribune is aware it will have its own hecklers (aka commentors).
Yesterday, comedian and writer Steve Heisler penned a great and thorough response damning the Tribune article in a point-by-point fashion stating just how wrong the Tribune was.
To watch a comedian deal with a heckler is to watch someone wrestle with the embarrassment that the thing they’ve worked so hard to craft is coming apart in front of them. Some retreat into themselves and ignore the person. Some lash out with anger. Some maintain composure and become the source of stories comedians tell others as examples of how to deal with hecklers. [via]
Heisler’s story has since been shared all over the web by many comedians all who seem to love comedy and comedians. His is also just one of countless videos of comedians dealing with/hating on/damning hecklers. Big time comedians like Chris Rock have stated they don’t like going to comedy clubs anymore because audiences don’t know how to behave. Hell, entire documentaries have been made about the subject. Whatever the story it seems like the comedians are on the side of the comedians while The Chicago Tribune seems to prefer the heckler.
I’ll leave with some statements by Louis C.K. from Live At The Beacon Theater when he gets the show started, he made some stage announcements…
“Don’t yell out during the show. If you have something to say to me, this is what you do, you write it down. And then you go outside in the lobby and then you go home and then kill yourself. Because that’s selfish. This is a rhetorical performance, it has nothing to do to you. And don’t text or Twitter during the show, just live your life. Don’t keep telling people what to do. Also, it lights up your big dumb face. I see this beautiful see of darkness and then there’s one guy… so don’t do that.”
What do you think? Sound off in the comments.