If you have ever performed stand-up comedy or attended a comedian’s show, you may be familiar with the term “heckler.” Heckler is a word commonly used to describe a person who harasses or purposefully interrupts another person—in this case, the comedian. Though many comedians have perfected the art of handling hecklers, others still give in to the disruption.
In 2006, a disturbing heckling incident occurred at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood. Michael Richards, best known as Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld, grew frustrated with an African-American heckler in the audience. Reaching his boiling point, Richards lashed out at the man, using coarse language and derogatory words. Audience members proceeded to leave the show, disgusted with Richards’ actions. The actor/comedian’s reputation has fallen significantly since the incident.
While I understand the annoyance a comedian experiences with hecklers, there are better, more professional ways to handle the situation if it should arise.
First of all, be sure to maintain your composure at all costs. Regardless of what the heckler says, you must realize that others are actually interested in your comedic performance. Just because one person is interrupting you does not mean it should affect your stand-up. By keeping your cool, you display a professional appearance and show the heckler that he/she will not change your routine.
Another suggestion is to listen and politely respond to the heckler. Let them know you are aware of what he/she is doing and that it does not bother you. If you find that you can reply to his/her comments, do so, but be respectful. From time to time, good comedy can appear out of thin air, even if it comes from riffing off of a heckler. By properly surviving a heckling, comedians stay in control and continue to entertain their audience.
For more tips on how to handle hecklers, visit comedian Ben Rosenfeld’s blog.