13 Tense Moments In Stand-Up Comedy History

From eerily pleasant hecklers to kidnapping threats, these moments in stand-up got tense.
13 Tense Moments In Stand-Up Comedy History

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Most people want to have a good time at a live comedy show, but there can be a select few hecklers that are out for chaos.

Sometimes comedians have a sharp, witty response, but sometimes their jokes were far from great. As you’ll see in these 15 moments, a perfect mix of heckling and bombing can cause things to spiral into downright madness.

Bill Burr's “Philly Rant”

Bill Burr Stand-up

ICM Partners

Viciously attacking a crowd of 10,000, Bill Burr brutally tore into the city of Philadelphia for 11-plus minutes.

"I hope you all f****** die and I hope the Eagles never win the Super Bowl. Let's talk about heart disease, something you're all gonna f****** die of, and I'm gonna laugh at your f****** funerals.”

Later Bill would explain, ”I was just annoyed because I was sitting there going like, this is one of the greatest comedy line-ups, as far as up-and-coming guys, that I've been around. And these f****** people are treating everyone like s***. And, you know, I'm a defensive, angry dude anyways, so it was just the perfect storm.”


John Mulaney

John Mulaney stand-up

Comedy Central

Pleasant… To everyone but John.

Early in his career, Mulaney had a “gig” in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The “stage” was a couple 2 x 4’s laying in dirt at an outdoor campground next to a beer truck.

Mulaney told Jimmy Fallon, “Some would later allege that I was blocking the beer truck.” Then the most eloquent heckler of all time calmly proclaimed, “Excuse me, Sir. I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we would enjoy silence more than the sound of your voice”.


Bob Hope

Bob Hope on The Tonight Show

NBC Universal

This one’s about as tense as it gets.

During the Vietnam War, Bob Hope toured various military bases as an effort to boost morale. Hope was told that for every 5,000 men in the crowd, another 5,000 were on alert outside the perimeter to protect them.

Overall the tour was a success, but Hope thought he had lost favor with the troops when he made a joke about Richard Nixon's plans to save the war. They started booing and rioting, causing a showdown between soldiers and armed guards.

In later years, Hope wrote, “I realized they weren’t booing me or the jokes, but they knew the show was going to be seen at home, and it was the only way they had of trying to let the country and the President know how they felt.”


Bobby Lee

Bobby Lee stand-up

Comedy Central

On his Tigerbelly podcast, Lee tells tale of a great moment in Canadian history.

“I was in Calgary, and I was doing my Thailand brothel story. Everyone was laughing, but this 80 year old Irish man stood up and yelled, “You think that’s funny?!” I said, yeah, everyone else is laughing. “Well that’s not funny!”

I do a lap dance thing at the end, and a bunch of people volunteered, but I made sure to pick that leprechaun’s 22 year old nephew. I go, “I’ll show you funny, leprechaun! Look! And I went so sexual with it, I saw him walk out of the room.


Steve Hofstetter

Steve Hofstetter stand-up

Steve Hofstetter YouTube

We’ll talk about it in the car, Dad!

At the Comedy Palace in San Diego, Hofstetter was doing a joke about the first female broadcaster in major league baseball. Mid-joke, a man yelled, “Next!” As if to say, “Move on to the next joke, because I don’t wanna hear this.”

Steve brilliantly pointed out that the man was with his wife and daughters but didn’t want to hear anything about female inclusion. He should have been embarrassed, and the girls should have had a talk with him in the car.


Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin on Seth Myers

Universal Television 

It’s different. It’s so very different.

In 2017, at a show in Dublin, Ireland, Griffin angered a few hundred people when she mistakenly included Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom.

The overwhelming disapproval from the audience caused Griffin to visibly shake on stage and stumble through a brief performance. She began slumping on stage, and her boyfriend rushed to catch her as she fainted.


Brooks Wheelan

Brooks Wheelan stand-up

ICM Partners

The clear order for tonight’s set list should be Foster the People, stand-up from Brooks Wheelan, then Ludacris. Perfect.

Former SNL member didn't have his best stuff at “Gator Growl” (the University of Florida homecoming festival), and the audience had no patience for it. He said, “I get asked what my worst performance is a lot, and it’s so easy for me to just say Gator Growl without hesitation. It was so bad, it was kind of fun.”

Wheelan also credits his bad performance to his unfortunate set time between Foster the People and Ludacris.

George Lopez

George Lopez stand-up


What do juvenile diabetes and Trump jokes have in common?

At a gala for juvenile diabetes in 2017, George Lopez started testing some new Trump-themed material. As all comedians did back in them days.

Trump supporters (who paid upwards of $100,000 to be there) did not care for the full thirty-minute Trump bashing, and when Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei politely asked Lopez to stop, he replied, “I apologize to your white privilege."

After a few more jokes about the border wall, Lopez was escorted off the stage and replaced by a local newscaster.

Mason Pryor

Mason Pryor stand-up

BRIC Arts Media

Possibly the biggest shoes to fill.

It makes sense that Richard Pryor’s son would try following in his father's footsteps. If comedy was genetic, it wouldn’t take years and years to master.

Unfortunately, Mason’s first gig at the Apollo Theater came with massive boos. After a few failed attempts to handle hecklers, he walked off mid-set, commenting, "I bombed when I shouldn't have. I wasn't funny.”


J.B. Smoove

J.B. Smoove stand-up

Comedy Central

O.M.G you guys, things got kinda un-lit last night.

In 2018, Smoove was a part of Martin Lawrence’s “Lit As F*ck” tour in Atlanta, Georgia. He struggled to connect with the crowd, and after boos and jeers, he told them he performs for too many white audiences, and he may not be this black crowd’s style.

He started pleading with them to laugh at his jokes, then began ranting about hating coming to Atlanta.


Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes stand-up


Man, that whole Trump thing had everyone at odds.

During a 2016 performance at the TD Garden arena in Boston, tensions mounted on and off stage as Sykes cursed at audience members. 

"I am certain this is not the first time we've elected a racist, sexist, homophobic president.” She gave the crowd the middle finger as she walked off stage.


Ronny Chieng

Ronny Chieng stand-up

NBC Universal

At a racial harmony concert in Australia, the correspondent for The Daily Show was having a pretty rough set, and a man in the crowd yelled out that he was going to kidnap him and “f*ck him up”.

Chieng did his best to ignore the threats, but after a while he started egging the man on, saying, “Let’s go,” and repeatedly asked the man to kidnap him.

Not wanting to actually learn this lesson, he ended up ditching class, and ended his set early.


Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld on the Tonight Show

NBC Universal

Man, we’re glad he tried stand-up a second time.

In Judd Apatow's 2015 book, Sick in the Head, Seinfeld says that he completely wrote out his act the night before and rehearsed it multiple times before his very first set.

When he actually got on stage, he couldn’t remember a thing. He said, ”I stood there for about thirty seconds saying absolutely nothing. Just standing there, freaking out.”

Top Image: Comedy Central


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