You’re up on stage. You’ve remembered your material. The mic is firmly in hand, and people are laughing (thank goodness). It’s all good. You’ve got this comedy thing down, my friend. But then, of the corner of your eye, you spot that audience member who’s been drunkenly swaying all night. They cup their hand to their mouth, and you just know a heckle is imminent.
Being interrupted mid-flow is annoying for sure, but learning how to respond to a heckler in a funny and disarming way is an important part of your arsenal as a comedian.
Don’t let that heckler win! Here’s what to do:
- Keep your cool
Audiences are a perceptive lot – as soon as they’ve seen you lose control of the situation, you’ve lost them. As hard as it can be, try not to show any fear or hesitation (even if you have to feign confidence when you’re smarting inside).
Take some advice from 2014 Funny Women Awards Winner, Jayde Adams…
“When someone heckles you, try to kerb your emotions, stay in control and don’t get upset. Take whatever they do with humour, and attack them with your humour. Sure it’s annoying to be interrupted halfway through your favourite joke, but remember that your job, first and foremost, is to entertain the audience. Sometimes it’s those spontaneous reactions that make the most memorable comedy moments on stage, so just enjoy it.”
Ah, the beautiful art of a put down. While you may not know when a heckle is coming, you can prepare a few stock comebacks in advance. Come up with some standard witty retorts and recite until they roll off the tongue with the ease of your own jokes.
- Be quick
Don’t wait for more interruptions, cut the heckler off at the pass. Don’t give ‘em an inch!
- Be specific
Most hecklers are pretty generic with their comments. Usually something along the lines of “you’re rubbish” or “get off the stage.” Hit them in the specifics. “You know what’s rubbish? Your dress sense. Is… is that paisley?!”
- But don’t be too nasty
Keep the tone light hearted, and don’t stoop to heckler’s level by being spiteful for the sake of it. Bringing up a poor choice of tie is fair game, but retorts about the heckler’s weight, looks or gender are unlikely to go well and may not keep the audience on side. You’re trying to embarrass them into keeping quiet and letting you carry on, not ruin their life.
- Learn from the best
Watching as much live comedy as you can is always a good bit of advice for any comic, but it can be especially useful to learn how other comedians handle hecklers.
Check out Andi Osho deftly dealing with hecklers on stage at the Funny Women Awards Final here. Inspiring stuff!