Try picturing this: you're on stage, with dozens of people who have paid to watch you staring expectantly and you have to do one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Make random people laugh. And while you're trying to concentrate, there is this one person in the audience who keeps distracting you -- by constantly talking, heckling or boo-ing. It's a headache most performers have to deal with.
We asked a bunch of stand-up comedians about the times they have gotten heckled and how they managed to overcome hecklers.
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At a private show I was doing, there was this drunk guy who just wouldn't shut up. He wasn't violent, but someone who thought he himself was very funny. I answered him thrice, but finally, I got irritated and said, "You might not realize, but I am trying to ignore you right now." Everyone thankfully was on my side and clapped. His wife pulled him and took him out of the party. I can just imagine the dressing down he would have received next morning from the wife for embarrassing her.
A drunk middle-aged man at a pub show missed the punchline because he was talking (rather loudly) with his friend. When everyone laughed, he yells out me, "Once more!"
My response - thanks for sharing what your wife never asks of you!
Mostly they don't mean to heckle. They just think they're adding to the show by being funny. Once a Sardarji kept interrupting me by adding his own punchlines to my jokes. And no, they weren't remotely funny. It was very distracting but because I could see he was enjoying himself, I didn't say anything for a while.
Then I was doing a joke about North Indian men truly believing in gender equality as the only thing they touch as much as women are themselves. And immediately my heckler started going, "How do u know?" My response was: "Because you're sitting right in front of me and that table cloth is not as long as you think it is.
During one show, this guy kept heckling me and when I asked what his name was, he said it was 'Shalini'. He looked very pleased with himself and probably thought it was funny. At the end of the show, there were gifts to be given to the members of the audience who were the most fun. I distributed the gifts, and then I said, "As for you... Shalini... I want to give you something but I ran out of fucks to give."
Another time, there was this one heckler who just wouldn't shut up. I called him on stage and said,"You think you're funny? Come crack a joke." He came on stage. I said, 'Okay here is his joke' and put the mic near his penis. And then said, "Okay, thanks, you're done. You can go now."
Honestly, I haven't faced hecklers in the true sense of the term. In India, most audiences don't really heckle. They indulge in 'participative heckling' like they will shout out "Nice Joke" or "Well Done".
I was once in a private show when actor Sanjay Khan was in the front row -- enjoying my show and saying "Wah! Kya baat hai". I didn't have the heart to tell him it was a standup comedy and not a ghazal show. He was too cute.
Hecklers are still okay to deal with, but I had an annoying crying baby at my show in Delhi last year. Our shows usually have restrictions due to which people below a certain age cannot attend. Yet, this couple got in the most Delhi way -- they must have known someone important or someone in the organising committee.
The baby started bawling in the middle of my set. I acknowledged it once saying something like, "Hey my jokes aren't that bad." He cried again after five minutes and that almost disrupted the flow of the show and even then I tried to ignore it. The third time he cried, I got a bit irritated and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is why you should always use a condom." That got a big applause break from the crowd because even they were getting irritated. Then I saw the parents walk out with the baby, and felt bad for saying such a mean thing. I approached them to apologise after the show, but they turned out to be sporting enough to meet me later and laugh about it.
Once, when I was maybe about three open mics old, I got accosted by a bunch of goons who had taken offence to certain jokes I'd made. They told me to fuck off from the venue or else they'd send me back in a body bag, more or less. I paraphrase, of course - their speech was way more gangsta than this. On the bright side, it was the worst show I have had and I knew that the only way forward was up. So I left that venue with a sense of optimism and also soiled chaddis. Fun times.
To be honest, I have not done enough shows to be heckled at. Actually, in some cases, I myself have been the primary heckler. There used to be this concept open mic night called Stress Mic where the audience is supposed to deliberately heckle the comic and the host is supposed to egg them further. Except that the audience was too nice. So they wouldn't heckle. But I was hosting and I'm full evil. So I started heckling from backstage with the spare mic. Commenting on every faux pas that the comic made and even if they didn't I'd be doing a running commentary on the general quality of their content. Like if someone started a joke with "girls are like that only" I would say "dhamasaan sexist uncle" in my Delhi metro voice. And if someone was doing a done premise ("Gujjus in the house, engineers sex nahi karte") I would keep interrupting with the worst, most gibberish interjections: "Paad shakti", "Mulayam akhrot" and "dilkash loljokes" were my favorites.
I also remember hosting this one time where Biswa was supposed to go up on stage and I said: "Our next performer looks like Vicks ki goli." Basically what I'm trying to say is I'm bad at hosting.
I had this one heckler when I was opening for Abish Mathew. But it was fun. I went on stage and said, "I know you guys are expecting Abish, don't worry he is coming, I am just the host." One girl said, "Then why don't you just call him out and go like a good host".
She was in the front row to the left and it was damn funny at that moment but very few heard it. So I had that one second, either I take her down for talking in between or acknowledge her joke. I did the latter, repeated what she said to the entire crowd and everyone laughed and I said I have no comeback for that. Then she responded, "Maybe I should do stand-up". And I said, "Now that's pushing it a little too much."
If you've done comedy long enough, you're bound to run up against a fair bunch of hecklers. Heckling is sometimes criticism on cocaine: loud, immediate, cutting and entirely your fault. Other times it's just a cry for attention, an ego seeking a boost or a person so drunk you know they're going to throw up in the car on the way home.
I've had a rare case where the heckling was totally deserved and actually ended up making me a better comic and person for it.
The first time I got majorly heckled was back in 2009. There's some stuff to keep in mind:
1. I was 18.
2. I was new to stand up and desperate to get any stray laugh I could.
3. This is an important one - I was extremely stupid. I was in H.R. College and took part in a stand-up competition at Sophia College which is an all girl's college. Now for some reason (refer to point number 2) I decided it would be a great idea to make fun of women at an all girl's college. It was a great plan until the booing started which was almost immediately after I said my first sentence. Being a novice, I had no other material to fall back on so I ploughed on with my groundbreaking insights about how long women take in the loo and some revolutionary quips about women's cricket. Three minutes have never been longer. If you've not had an auditorium full of people yelling at you to get off stage, let me tell you, it isn't pleasant. I fully deserved it and I realize how idiotic and ignorant I was. I couldn't get the courage to return to the stage for months after. The only silver lining: the announcer had mispronounced my name, introducing me as, "Kartik". So a batch of girls from Sophia have gone around hating a sexist, non-existent comic called Kartik. Until, now of course. Thankfully, I'm more thoughtful, considerate and scrupulous with my material now. And not in small part thanks to that sour evening at Sophia college.
And old Indian uncle was there just for a pasta. The room's capacity was 450. People in the room were 23 including this man so I'd count it as 22. Now people aren't laughing anyway but this guy after every punchline does "Hmm". I said that's why I carry a portable charger... he said "OK".
Now this is not a heckler, this is an asshole, he's not saying a complete line or engaging with you so that you can take him down. He's just making sounds and throwing words out for which you can't hold too much against him.
My worse heckle on a joke is after the joke ends none of the audience laughs and buddha goes "HMM".
I have been performing stand-up comedy for 8 years now and I still remember the first time I got heckled. It was at a pub in South Delhi. Two drunk girls sitting in the front row were repeating my jokes, mostly slurring. The other two comedians who went on stage before I had, cut down their performance in between because of these girls. I used to do a routine where I used to talk about "porn". The moment I started my set, they again started repeated my punch lines. The comedy scene was so new that none of us comics knew the concept of hecklers and how to handle them. So like everyone else I also decided to ignore them and started talking loudly on the microphone. Then at one moment, they screamed "we love porn" to which I replied, "Oh now I remember where I have seen you before...no wonder you look so familiar." The crowd applauded loudly and the comedians were happy to see me giving it back to them. Honestly, I felt that I had swung my bat in the air and accidentally hit a six. It happened subconsciously and from then on became a part of my defence mechanism. Now I do a special one-hour solo show which is called "Please Interrupt" where I invite the audience to heckle me for over an hour and I don't use any script or material while replying.
PS: I love hecklers :)
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