How to Handle a Heckler
Updated: Nov 6, 2019
One of the most common things a comic has to encounter is being heckled by an audience member. It's annoying because interruptions throw off a comic's rhythm and can deflate a whole set. How do you handle a heckler so you can get your show back on track?
We came across this article from Mediate.com about how to resolve conflict in the workplace. It's great for people who work in an office, but comics work in clubs and any conflicts there usually have to do with hecklers. So, we took a few of Lee Jay Berman of Mediate's tips and translated them to the world of comedy.
6 Tips on How to Handle a Heckler:
1. Stay Calm
We've all seen videos titled, "Comic DESTROYS Heckler," and thought they were funny. Especially Bill Burr's take down of the entire city of Philly. Watching comics go ballistic may appear like the comics weren't calm, but remaining in control of their emotions is exactly what they used to hold the room. If the person on stage with the mic gets squirrely then the audience will, too. The intent is to control the situation, shut the heckler down, and put the show back on track. That needs focus which requires you remaining calm.
2. Listen to Understand
In the Mediate.com article this point was made to express the value of understanding where the other person is coming from so you can understand their issue. That's great for conflict resolution, but it's not what we mean here in dealing with a heckler. Listening carefully is a common tip given to performers and it is necessary tool in dealing with a heckler. Listening allows you to know exactly what's going on. Some hecklers have a lot to say while others are just making one random statement. If you aren't really listening then you can't gauge what kind of situation it is. Listen intently to hear what they're saying so you can determine what kind of problem they are.
3. State Your Case Tactfully
In mediating a conflict you want to help people understand your perspective, but in dealing with a heckler your only real perspective is to quiet them so you can go on with the show. The lesson we take from being tactful is about having a keen sense of what's necessary. There's only so much time you have to get the audience back. You'll need to be concise and clear to make swift work of a heckler.
4. Pick Your Battles
Not everything is worth dealing with. As mentioned earlier, if this feels like a one-off statement that wasn't disparaging then maybe it's not worth shutting down. You do have to consider if the crowd is getting encouraged by outbursts, though. If so, you might have to shut someone down to keep the hecklers at bay. Ultimately, you'll want to keep the show focused on you and not on you responding to every sound coming from the room.
5. Be Creative
Sure, you can tell a heckler to, "Shut the f--- up," but is that going to get a laugh? Maybe. But most of the time you'll have to use wit to keep the show funny and keep the audience on your side. Without humor you might come off as a mean, touchy jerk.
6. Be Confident
We don't believe in the overly stated comment that if the audience senses fear they will "eat you alive." The audience just wants to laugh, they don't want to eat you. BUT, they might laugh at (and not with) you if you aren't confident. Without confidence it's tough to control the room. This combines well with the first point of staying calm.
We hope these tips help! Take these tools with you the next time you step on stage and find yourself in need of stopping a heckler's interruptions.
Do you have any sage advice on how you handle a heckler? Share it in the comments!