A Comedian Gets Heckled To Death Is A Movie And IRL Heckler Horror Stories

I'm dying up here!
A Comedian Gets Heckled To Death Is A Movie And IRL Heckler Horror Stories

“I’m dying up here!”

Hey movie makers, what took you so long? Heckle, a new comedy-thriller starring Steve Guttenberg (!) and Guy Colmes as a-hole comedians, tackles a premise so obvious that we wonder why it hasn’t been done before -- a comic who gets heckled to death.

Watch it if you want (the crowd is killing it on Rotten Tomatoes), but the slasher tactics in Heckle may not be as scary as the real thing. Here are some IRL examples of comedians battling audience members who insist on being part of the show. 

Beatle Mania

Ringo Starr was blitzed when he showed up at the Comedy Store one night back in the 1970s. He was so gone that the bouncer had to help him into a chair, where the bleary-eyed drummer proceeded to heckle the comic who’d just been introduced.

That was a young Dave Letterman, who had a reputation for obliterating hecklers. Word spread backstage and the other comics filled the room to watch the massacre. Letterman, blinded by a spotlight, had no idea who was razzing him so he fired back with both barrels. That didn’t exactly faze Ringo, who was too drunk to notice how badly he was losing the fight.


Finally, one comic clued in Letterman: “Hey Dave, it’s Ringo!”

“Oh, that makes sense,” Letterman responded before turning back to Starr. “You ruined your career, and now you’ve come here to ruin mine.”

Larry David Laid the Smack Down

Larry David, according to his fellow comics, hated the audience.  And he wasn’t afraid to let his animosity show.

“Whenever there was a heckler (Larry would) invariably get into an argument,” says Kevin Nealon. “From the stage, Larry couldn’t tell if they were big or not … but he’d say, ‘Come on, let’s go. You, me, outside, right now!’” 


“Every time I saw him perform,” remembers Gilbert Gottfried, “he always seemed to hate it … to the point where fights would often break out. Of course, this was the most fun part of watching. I think my hands-down favorite was the time this massive guy who must have weighed over three hundred pounds stood up.”

But David always had a back-up plan.  “I never had any physical altercations with anybody,” he says. “I always made sure I had the bouncers behind me anytime I ever said anything.”

A First Time For Everything

One night, a woman was heckling young Jeff Garlin without mercy. That wasn’t all that unusual, but later a guy approached Garlin to say “My friend wants to buy you a drink.” The friend, of course, was the heckler. 

The club was on a beach and “she said come outside, and then she kissed me,” says Garlin. “I didn’t stop her. I was twenty. She was thirty and a lawyer, and she ran on the beach ripping off her clothes yelling, “Follow me!” 

And Garlin did. He and the heckler got busy in a lifeguard stand (“it didn’t last long”) and while it was happening, a bum walking the beach stole Garlin’s clothes.  Still fully aroused, the naked comic raced down the sand and fought off the vagrant for his pants and wallet. 

Sony Pictures Television

And that is the story of how Jeff Garlin lost his virginity to a heckler.

Andy Kaufman Heckles Himself

Notorious prankster Andy Kaufman had several comedy alter-egos, including obnoxious lounge singer Tony Clifton. It didn’t take long for the press to suspect Clifton was actually Kaufman under a wig and latex, so Andy enlisted his friend Bob Zmuda to begin playing Clifton as well.  

Only three people knew -- Andy, Bob, and Andy’s manager, George Shapiro, who successfully booked Zmuda/Clifton on Merv Griffin and David Letterman. “Everybody involved in the production thought I was Andy, because I would show up in full makeup,” says Zmuda. “Letterman turned to me during a commercial break and said, ‘Andy, if I didn't know it was you, I would swear it was somebody else.’” 

Universal Pictures

Shapiro eventually booked Zmuda/Clifton at Harrah’s Casino in Lake Tahoe, who assumed they were hiring Kaufman. To keep the gag going, Andy showed up at the casino, telling everyone he was there to see Tony Clifton perform. “And they went, ‘Oh, oh, sure, Andy,’” says Zmuda. “He loved it.”

“A couple of times he attended the show in disguise, wearing a long wig and beard, and changed his voice and heckled Tony Clifton, saying, ‘We know you're Andy Kaufman. Why are you doing this to the public?’” says Zmuda. “He'd make an ass of himself until Harrah's security threw him out. The casino people had no idea that they were throwing out the guy they'd hired to perform.”

A Comedian Heckles the Audience

(Caution: Extreme cringe warning)

This comedian recently blew up on social for doing just what you’re not supposed to do while being heckled.  Rather than going after the attacker and getting the audience on your side -- come on, that’s Stand-Up 101 -- this guy decided to go after the whole crowd instead.

Sure, performing for a dead house is really hard. And when an audience member complains about our comic’s profanity, he rightly explains that Karen Ticketbuyer doesn’t get to dictate his act.

But where the comic gets it wrong is blaming the audience for not laughing at his jokes.  “So I’ve done this for ten years and it worked for ten years and tonight is the night I’m going to realize how every other audience was wrong and you’re right?”

“It’s hard, I’m trying, if you don’t like it, you f**k off.”


You pull down the audience’s pants and give everyone a nice public spanking -- and then launch back into your “best joke”?  Nothing like creating the most hostile environment possible, then trying to win everyone back with your burqa gag. 

You know you’re doing it wrong if you’re making Larry David look reasonable.

For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:

15 Annoying Comedy Catchphrases That Somehow Stuck

Quinta Brunson: The Road From Buzzfeed to Abbott Elementary

Saturday Night Live: When Lorne Michaels Set The Cast 'On Fire'

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Top image: Evolutionary Films


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