Any comedian watching Will Smith’s, uh, physical feedback of Chris Rock’s jokes at the Oscars probably felt a pang of familiarity. Even if they may not have expected it to come to blows, someone who’s done comedy shows, especially but not limited to BAD comedy shows, has come to gain an understanding of the heckler universe. You learn to scan a crowd like a very useless kind of Secret Service agent, and quickly be able to identify problems with minimal warning. Sometimes, you can predict not even just WHO is going to heckle, but HOW they’re going to heckle. Over my time in comedy, I’ve identified a couple specific brands of heckler that crop up again and again.

Pixabay

THE ALPHA

We’ll start with the group Will Smith would likely slot into. The alpha can be spotted on a date, whether first or last, sitting in the audience with his significant other. Almost always male. Early warning signs include signs of insecure dominance, like sitting incredibly close to them, guarding the space, or scanning the room for any perceived challenge to their relationship, which no one in the room actually cares about. The flashpoint for this heckler is usually either a comedian making his significant other laugh harder than he ever has, or any joke about their relationship that’s less than positive. The result will be loud and angry, and you will later see them arguing with their date outside the venue.

Pixabay

THE AUDITION

This heckler truly thinks they should be on stage. However, whether through ignorance or narcissism, they will never pursue this through the normal path of open mics, networking, or building personal relationships. They seem to assume that the way to break into comedy is by being funny in the audience, at which point they will be surely brought into the fold. They’re a particularly persistent form of heckler, desperately hoping to hear “you wanna come up here and do this?” which should be avoided at all costs, because they WILL. Afterwards, they will often slide into conversations between comics, saying things like “that was funny stuff” and “I was wondering, how does someone go about getting on the show?” They often appear in groups of co-workers.

Pixabay

THE ASSISTANT

The assistant performs as if they were an assistant to a magician that asked for no volunteers. The hypothetical question is their primary stomping grounds. Unfortunately, the assistant is the hardest to spot pre-show, as they generally are excited and attentive. They live to bring the show’s momentum to a grinding halt to offer entirely useless information or clarification. Things like “You guys see the new Batman movie” will be met with a helpful outburst of “Robert Pattinson!” I assume this person thinks every book should be filled with footnotes. Addressing them is particularly tricky because in their own bizarre way, they are trying to be respectful. Any further address will usually result in a silent smile and nod, or a gesture to “continue.” Weirdly, this person LOVES comedy, and is very likely to effusively compliment you after your set. Will also occasionally be a blend with the Audition, who thinks every comic is an Abbott looking for a Costello in the audience.

Pixabay

THE DRUNK

This is not a well hidden heckler. You can spot them before the show by either a surplus of empty beer bottles or by a drink unsuited to the show time (e.g. shots or a long island iced tea at 7:30 pm). The Drunk is easy to spot, but hard to read. They could enter the performance with any variety of energies, which have to be adjusted to on the fly. It could be said that the drunk is more of an exaggerated modifier of the other classifications of heckler, with an added level of confusion. A drunk alpha is perhaps the most aggressive and worrying, and is where we get into Getting Slapped territory. The only redeeming quality of the drunk is that they are the most likely to be corrected/dealt with, either by staff or by the people they came with. After the show they will likely offer to buy you a drink, but be aware: that drink is not free. The cost is at least a half hour of conversation which mostly consist of you saying, “oh yeah, for sure.”

Pixabay

THE STAR

The star is, in some ways, the female counterpart of the Alpha. These, often female, often very attractive audience members, are under the impression that everyone they’ve ever spoken to has had a delightful time. There is an underlying expectation and assumption that though the comic may be on a physical stage, they are on a stage in spirit, and that not only is everyone aware of their presence, but would like to hear from them. There is a good chance it is their birthday. Their interjections are usually polite in every way except for where and when they are happening. When engaged, they are the most likely to reach for the microphone when it is their “turn” to talk. Correction or criticism of their behavior most often causes them to spiral either upwards into indignance or downwards into confusion and despair. A star and an alpha in a couple is a deadly combination, as the two will fuel each other.  The Star combined with the Drunk is what is known as a “Bachelorette Party.”

Pixabay

THE ALIEN

A true wildcard. There is no strategy or sense to dealing with the Alien, and they will often only reveal themselves once the show has begun. The Alien has no idea how stand-up comedy or entertainment in general is conducted. They will disrupt the show in new, borderline artistic ways, like starting a conversation with a different table in the middle of the show, or answering a phone call. When addressed, they will respond only with confusion, as if they’re surprised you can see them at all. Again, response must be handled with care, as they never hold an air of aggression, only of mystery. They may raise their hand with questions, or responses to things you’re saying. If they miss a joke, they may ask you out loud to clarify. They luckily usually are easy to react to, and don’t tend to be persistent. They are usually middle-aged, and often from Norway. After the show they will likely give you some sort of strange silent praise, like a business handshake or a bow, or a business card to a industry that has no connection to comedy.

There are surely more, rarer variants of the heckler, but I find that the fast majority fall into one of these common groups. The one thing they all share in common, is that they are, never, never, “making the show better.”

Top Image: Public Domain/Pixabay

Get More Comedy: Sign up for ComedyNerd

The ComedyNerd newsletter is your weekly look at the world of stand up, sketch, and more. Sign up now!

Tags

Forgot Password?