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Heckling Defended
January 7, 2013 6:21 PM   Subscribe

A Defense of Heckling. The Chicago Tribune defends the indefensible (link closed to comments). Steve Heisler of the Onion A/V Club disagrees. So does Patton Oswalt. A self-confessed former heckler weighs in.
posted by Joey Michaels (94 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I watched Jamie Kennedy's movie about Heckling and thought it was pretty good, and I did like it when he got to confront his hecklers. Heck, I even love a sport that playfully heckles its own athletes (cyclocross), but it's always playful.

But heckling at comedy clubs is the dumbest thing and not worth any effort defending. It's almost always a drunk guy that thinks he is funnier than he is and it creates a hostile place where you're supposed to be enjoying comedy. I've been to a lot of comedy clubs in California, and every comic no matter how famous would come out basically with a suit of armor on, if anyone so much as sneezed, they would lash out at the audience and start trying to shut a heckler down.

I've also been to a Portland club (Helium) which asks everyone to be respectful and kicks out any hecklers, and I've also watched comedy at MaxFunCon several years in a row, and both experiences are a breath of fresh air. The comics are there to just be funny, so they are. They often remarked in both venues how they got more laughs in weird places than before and generally how amazing the crowd was in venues that greatly discouraged and outright prevented heckling.
posted by mathowie at 6:28 PM on January 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


Scaffolding off of mathowie's comment - Wikipedia link about Heckler, a film by Jamie Kennedy.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:31 PM on January 7, 2013


I go to a really strange alt-comedy night in Sydney, and heckling is just part of the act.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:39 PM on January 7, 2013


The lowest form of life.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:44 PM on January 7, 2013


Don't be an asshole and heckle comedians because you think it's "part of the experience"; don't become a professional comedian if you can't gracefully handle hecklers.
posted by windbox at 6:44 PM on January 7, 2013


It's not part of the act. You're not a professional. Let Daddy work.
posted by basicchannel at 6:46 PM on January 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


A rebuttal: Fuck hecklers, they should be drowned.

The end.
posted by Artw at 6:46 PM on January 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


Note "Daddy" character can be a woman. Meant for h-umor.
posted by basicchannel at 6:47 PM on January 7, 2013


I don't recall ever leaving a comedy show thinking, "That obnoxious heckler who wouldn't shut up the whole night really made this a fantastic experience. Money well spent!"

Heckling is right near the top of the list of some of the worst attention-whorish, "EVERYBODY PLEASE PAY ADEQUATE ATTENTION TO ME" behaviors, supposed expert defenses of its practice notwithstanding.
posted by The Gooch at 6:58 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]




Being able to deal with hecklers is a sign that the comedian is fast/sharp, but not being able to handle one doesn't necessarily identify a bad comedian, either. I liked that the writers made that distinction. I was pretty surprised by Oswalt's angry reception, given that the original piece wasn't a defense for heckling, but more of an exploration of why or at least recognition that it happens.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:18 PM on January 7, 2013


That article fucking sucked.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:26 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fictional heckling is awesome. Take MST3K, or Statler and Waldorf. It's great entertainment.

Fictional heckling is to heckling what first person shooters are to crime scenes.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:27 PM on January 7, 2013 [25 favorites]


Get a job!
posted by Trochanter at 7:30 PM on January 7, 2013


Can I still heckle poetry readings?
posted by ennui.bz at 7:32 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


But if they can zing back with a really sharp retort — but funny, it has to be funny! — they have my respect for life.

Oh goodness, the respect of a heckler! That's like a blessing from Jesus or something, huh.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:33 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fictional heckling is awesome.
posted by Lorin at 7:51 PM on January 7, 2013


I think heckling is a pretty shitty thing to do. I think it is equally shitty when comedians "interact" with the audience. Everyone just...shut up. Live comedy is only good because of the energy you get from the rest of the audience, laughing their heads off. Stuff that isn't funny at all, really, becomes funny in your brainbox because other people are laughing at it. That's all it's about.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 8:06 PM on January 7, 2013


I was pretty surprised by Oswalt's angry reception,

I am never surprised by Oswalt's angry outbursts.

In this case, however, he is correct. Heckling might be a part of comedy, but only because assholes are a part of life. I don't even care if the delicate genius on stage gets their mojo messed up. What is offensive about the heckler is that they don't give a shit about the rest of the audience. They are why we can't have nice things. Sure, a good heckler-put-down might be memorable and funny, but so is a clown slipping on vomit. Doesn't mean we should encourage it.
posted by gjc at 8:07 PM on January 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Eek, that Chicago Tribune article comes off as something of a too-pleased-with-itself circle-jerk.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:09 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heckling might be a part of comedy, but only because assholes are a part of life.

I really like that line. Nicely put.

Also:

Metafilter: because assholes are a part of life.

(That's me heckling.)
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 8:10 PM on January 7, 2013


Heckling’s only funny when the person doing it is Doug Benson.
posted by ostranenie at 8:14 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Only ever seen one exception.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 PM on January 7, 2013


Assholes are part of life. And yet hecklers are not part of the vast majority of entertainment experiences. Hecklers are generally not part of the opera, theater, symphony, ballet, movies, folk and rock concerts (even the quiet ones), and lots of other things. I went to a movie the other night where, a few minutes before the previews started, two security guys came in, sidled down my row to a guy a few seats from me, and escorted him out of the theater, explaining that he had been asked to leave twice in as many weeks for talking during the movie and that he would not be allowed to attend this one at all. Heckling is part of stand-up comedy because stand-up comedy tolerates heckling and doesn't quash it - at all. Guess what happens if you heckle the conductor at the symphony? He doesn't heckle you back. A couple of polite people in jackets take you out of the building.

Want to end heckling in stand-up comedy? Have a bouncer politely but firmly remove the heckler from the building at the very first word. Do it consistently. Done and done. The fact that this is not just expected at comedy clubs tells me that the comedy world has an uneasy cultural relationship with heckling and that it is simply not willing to let it go.

Is that a defense of heckling? Not at all. Hecklers are the worst. They are worthless and they ruin it for everybody. And if the comedy world agrees with every single other type of entertainment in the world, it will just stop putting up with it.
posted by The World Famous at 8:26 PM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


But if they can zing back with a really sharp retort — but funny, it has to be funny! — they have my respect for life.

If a guy getting mugged can knock the gun out of his attacker's hand -- but gracefully, it has to be gracefully! -- he has my respect for life.

A mugging victim who loses his cool and seems hostile isn't at the top of his game.
posted by straight at 8:28 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eat it! Eat it raw!

Rah rah rah, that's the spirit.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:30 PM on January 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


what if they're heckling andrew dice clay or michael richards or something
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:34 PM on January 7, 2013


This post is not complete without not_on_display's amazing FPP from 2011 on the subject of heckling.
posted by barnacles at 8:50 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


This post is not complete without not_on_display's amazing FPP from 2011 on the subject of heckling.

My gods. It's... it's beautiful.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:53 PM on January 7, 2013


I think heckling (and bottle throwing) are pretty common at rock concerts.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:54 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


And though it's been said before and I'm just one more "I agree!" I agree completely with the anti-heckling comments, because hecklers simply aren't good or funny. And even if the comics themselves aren't very good? Still: fuck hecklers. At least the comics are giving it a go and putting themselves out there in front of everyone to at least try.

We want more good comedy in this world, not less, and I don't think we should tolerate hostile atmospheres for comics (both beginners and experienced) as they do their work.
posted by barnacles at 8:56 PM on January 7, 2013


Comedians are almost without exception people with massive insecurities who somewhere along the line decided that THEY were the ones who would be making fun of them... and thereby shutdown other, less charitable voices feeding the ever-hungering void of their existential inferiority crisis. Or they were just really clever at stealing jokes.

The notion that their self-hate, real or borrowed, could be one-upped, or worse, undone by someone in the audience terrifies and revolts.

They need to remember Uncle Milty wrote all of S&W's lines when they mocked him off the Muppet Theater stage. If you are a pro, you know how to shut that shit down, not because you're entitled to be on that stage, but because you are lightyears better and revel in your power. Heckling is never about the heckler, no matter how much the drunken shame-sponges want it to be, but about the comedian. Patton is giving a clinic on it via twitter.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:02 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


It must be nicer to be a professional stage musician than a professional stage comic, considering the instruments prevent anyone from getting a word in edgewise while you take a breath.

Then again, one of my favorite places to listen to live jazz, they stop playing and tell you to shut up if you're not there to listen, and they will kick you out if you don't, so I may be biased here.
posted by davejay at 9:04 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Something about this instance of heckling just works: the sober one-liner heckle delivered in perfect monotone, the moment where you expect the comedian to embarrass himself, and the save!
posted by ru-fi-oh at 9:05 PM on January 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


The best heckle I ever heard was a perfectly timed fake laugh. It was pretty awesome. Never heard anyone else heckle, actually, so I give it 100% so far.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:10 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


As someone (my boss, actually) said today, "Speech from an arsehole is flatulence" — that's how I feel about hecklers.
posted by not_on_display at 9:20 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


If heckling a comedian is bad, is it worse to, say, heckle an old woman who's just won a local poetry slam because you feel that her poetry was too bland and political and you think you deserved a shot at the large cash prizes that come from the National Poetry Slam? Or to constantly heckle shit local poets and comedians? And to eventually just devolve into writing poetry just to make fun of them?

In hindsight, some of those things may have been bad. But then, I was one of the people who never saw the problem with Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift. I am trying to be more polite these days, though, and I've been told to tone it down even at the local alt-comedy night. There, the hosts heckle the comedians through the microphones.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:28 PM on January 7, 2013


Heck, I even love a sport that playfully heckles its own athletes (cyclocross), but it's always playful.

I'd argue that heckling sport is distinct from heckling comedy. Sports heckling is the confrontation of the physical and the verbal, distinct categories that can never truly tread on the other's turf. (Let's leave sledging aside for the moment.) Comedy club heckling is verbal on verbal, the audience trespassing on the comedian's domain.

Sadly, the volume and size of modern sporting events means that stadium artistes like Yabba are largely a thing of the past, so now it's often the brute force and ignorance of Bleacher Creatures and jerks like Pro Patria.
posted by zamboni at 9:29 PM on January 7, 2013


If heckling a comedian is bad, is it worse to, say, heckle an old woman who's just won a local poetry slam because you feel that her poetry was too bland and political and you think you deserved a shot at the large cash prizes that come from the National Poetry Slam? Or to constantly heckle shit local poets and comedians?

Yes. All those things are bad, inconsiderate, horribly rude and pretty much a gross violation of the social contract of performance.

In hindsight, some of those things may have been bad.

Seriously? In hindsight?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:37 PM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


In the interest of defending heckling and putting forward another point of view, I suppose the idea is that if somebody is on stage and they're shit I've wasted my time and money. And I'm just sitting there stewing, as somebody sucks up time and oxygen and space, and I either sit there in silence and stew or just explode at them.

From the other side of it, heckling is more energy to feed off when I'm on stage. Positive or negative - its all a reaction, and I can use it.

The worst heckling incident was when Bjork was scheduled to play before Rage Against the Machine at a festival, and she was heckled so bad in Sydney she didn't make it to Melbourne.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:56 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem is that the exceptions are so few, and those who would heckle are so poor at recognizing them, that the blanket rule has to be repeated over and over in such black and white terms and that it feels churlish to say, "You know, I've actually seen plenty of performances that were improved by a heckling audience."
posted by klangklangston at 10:00 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the interest of defending heckling and putting forward another point of view, I suppose the idea is that if somebody is on stage and they're shit I've wasted my time and money.

I wouldn't necessarily condone heckling someone merely because they are bad. That person is already having a terrible night. Straight up dying onstage is just an awful feeling already. And yeah, most hecklers are drunken buttholes yelling stupid shit (and they are at rock concerts and poetry readings, too, according to my personal observations.)

I DO condone heckling if the person onstage is just being cruel. If you are going to engage the audience in an insulting manner you had better be the funniest motherfucker on the planet right now or you are just a bully with a microphone and deserve to be heckled so hard it leaves second degree burns.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:26 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Heckling is greatwhen it exposes a shit comedian, viz Seinfeld dude and his racist meltdown. Getting too precious or poo faced about it is counterproductive.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:25 PM on January 7, 2013


When I saw Rodney Dangerfield in... 1983? What I thought were crazy hecklers were getting shut down by Rodney like crazy, but in hindsight they were likely plants.
posted by jscott at 11:49 PM on January 7, 2013


"I have seen countless comedians and forgotten most of them," he writes. "But I remember each and every time I have witnessed a performer get into it with an obnoxious audience."

"I don't actually like comedy, but I really like disruptive assholes." I mean I don't like sports, but I don't go to a game in hopes a riot breaks out.
posted by anazgnos at 11:55 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


If your "act" involves mocking the audience & making them feel small, then you deserve to be heckled. If your act involves getting a rise out of my partner and then mocking her "common" accent then fuck you. Sorry if I've spoiled you for the audience, but you shouldn't get paid for being a bully.

I MC a poetry night, and it's rare that we get hecklers, but it does happen. For the most part, they usually start on me. Too eager to get going to wait for the poets I guess. I'll usually tell them. Heckle me, I'll try and come back at you with a snappy comeback, but please don't be shouting at the poets.

When they start on the poets, it's heartbreaking. For the most part, the people up on stage are inexperienced, they're not used to performing and they're terrified. The hecklers we've had tend to realise this pretty quickly and they won't continue to heckle. I believe it's part of the heckler dynamic that they want someone who is a match to them.

(I say a "snappy comeback". For the most part I'll usually stand there for too long and then admit that I've got no response.)
posted by zoo at 11:58 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I either sit there in silence and stew or just explode at them.

Dude, get some anger management therapy. If the comedian is so bad that you've wasted your time and money, then leave. At least you'll get some of the time back.

Some people might even be enjoying the act you think is so crappy, but you've just ruined it for them. And no-one there paid money to hear your jokes and opinions, and they all hate you for heckling even if they agree with you.
posted by harriet vane at 12:05 AM on January 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


and I either sit there in silence and stew or just explode at them.

Yes, the new trend of being chained in your seat for the duration of the performance is certainly troubling!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:06 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was one of the people who never saw the problem with Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift.

Good grief, Charlemagne In Sweatpants. If you honestly don't see anything wrong with someone climbing uninvited onto the stage, and grabbing the microphone from the hands of the award winner, and then telling them that someone else was better and more deserving, well then I suggest that you have no concept whatsoever of appropriate behaviour. Just none at all.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 12:11 AM on January 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Want to end heckling in stand-up comedy? Have a bouncer politely but firmly remove the heckler from the building....The fact that this is not just expected at comedy clubs tells me that the comedy world has an uneasy cultural relationship with heckling and that it is simply not willing to let it go.

The problem with this is that most comedy clubs are not super interested in selling comedy. They're usually more interested in selling booze. From my experiences at alternative comedy venues (in LA this includes: movie theaters, restaurants, black box theaters, clothing stores, bookstores, apartment rooftops), heckling would certainly be handled by immediate removal and then probably future refused entry. When comedians are running a no drink minimum show themselves without a club owner to answer to, the relationship with heckling and hecklers is a fairly solid, "You're not welcome here."

An exceptional example in LA is Largo. People get bounced from there for having their phones out or even just talking in the audience, not even trying to interact with performers. And it's because the owner is selling the performance. There's no drink minimum, in fact there's no booze allowed in the actual theater. So yes, a strict bouncing policy would put an end to a lot of heckling, but for the most part that decision is not being made by the performers.
posted by dogwalker at 12:13 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good grief, Charlemagne In Sweatpants. If you honestly don't see anything wrong with someone climbing uninvited onto the stage, and grabbing the microphone from the hands of the award winner, and then telling them that someone else was better and more deserving, well then I suggest that you have no concept whatsoever of appropriate behaviour. Just none at all.

The other person WAS better and more deserving, from what I remember, and Kanye is or was more talented than Taylor Swift at that time. Kanye was playing out the part of 'arrogant rapper', and he was perfect at it. He turned a boring award show into an event people remembered.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:20 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kanye was playing out the part of 'arrogant rapper', and he was perfect at it. He turned a boring award show into an event people remembered.

At the expense of another person.

I guess if you don't mind hurting somebody else, heckle away. I think there's a word for people who like to hurt other people.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:22 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


The new Largo sucks :(
posted by Kloryne at 12:39 AM on January 8, 2013


The whole Kanye thing was just some more reality TV. Sure it looked real, but it was already planned. George Bush hates black people, on the other hand, I am not so sure about.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:51 AM on January 8, 2013


The new Largo sucks :(

Compared to what? Compared to the old Largo? Yeah, maybe, in some ways. Compared to The Laugh Factory? I don't think so. What about compared to a Zanies somewhere in the Midwest? I don't know if the two are even comparable.
posted by dogwalker at 1:31 AM on January 8, 2013


Kanye is or was more talented than Taylor Swift at that time.

His "talent" has zero bearing on it. He wasn't nominated in the Best Female Video category. He wasn't the presenter. He wasn't the judge. This is like saying that it's okay for me to take my neighbour's newspaper because I'm a better mountain biker. It's just completely irrelevant. I was wondering earlier about your grasp on appropriate behaviour. Well I'm wondering no more.

That statement is utter nonsense. If I went to Nonsense School, and studied really hard, and then went to Nonsense University, and graduated with honours, and then invented a nonsense machine, and built a nonsense factory, and gathered all the matter in the universe, and turned it all into nonsense, I still wouldn't have more nonsense than that.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:40 AM on January 8, 2013 [29 favorites]


I read it as " Hey! People who applauded that George Bush thing? Guess what! I'm an IDIOT."
posted by Artw at 1:47 AM on January 8, 2013


His "talent" has zero bearing on it. He wasn't nominated in the Best Female Video category. He wasn't the presenter. He wasn't the judge. This is like saying that it's okay for me to take my neighbour's newspaper because I'm a better mountain biker. It's just completely irrelevant. I was wondering earlier about your grasp on appropriate behaviour. Well I'm wondering no more.

You were probably sitting at home and thinking the same thing Kanye was, except he actually got out of his seat and did something. He was saying what people thought. Taylor's a performer. She would have dealt with worse if she'd came up through gigs and clubs. I had a giant guy named Carcass grab the mic away from at a show at a punk squat and he had to be lured off-stage with a case of beer.

This is why I don't get the pearl-clutching at the usually astute AV Club. Comedy, live music, live performance - these are combatative, ego-driven arts. You're telling me Louis CK can't handle some drunken asshole? You're saying you wouldn't want to see him do it? If you can't handle it don't perform at a club or a bar or a pub.

This doesn't go for people who talk over quiet music, since the same combatative ethos doesn't apply.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:14 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're saying you wouldn't want to see him do it?

I am infinitely more interested in what Louis CK was planning on saying before some jackass interrupted him.

Your belief that certain performing arts are inherently combative is misguided. They may be for you personally, but to try and force that perspective onto other performers and audiences is totally disrespectful.
posted by dogwalker at 2:30 AM on January 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


He was saying what people thought.

Yes, which is why Beyonce looked absolutely horrified by his boorish behavior. It's why he received a loud chorus of boos from the audience, and gave the crowd the finger. He was ejected from the room because of how popular such behavior is. It's why Beyonce felt it necessary to invite Taylor Swift on stage to finish the speech which he interrupted. It's why he was absent from the Grammy's. It's why he fled the country like a coward and quit music for a year. It's why he said that it was because of alcohol, and that he would never attend another awards show again.

Your perceptions about that event, and how normally-socialized people react to gross rudeness of that ilk are very seriously askew.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:47 AM on January 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


That statement is utter nonsense. [& associated nonsense-related talk].

I just have to call this out; that was very good.
posted by smoke at 3:18 AM on January 8, 2013


You're telling me Louis CK can't handle some drunken asshole? You're saying you wouldn't want to see him do it? If you can't handle it don't perform at a club or a bar or a pub.

This is the equivalent to saying that you shouldn't walk down the street if you're not prepared to defend yourself from muggers. Would it be ideal for you to be able to defend yourself? Sure. But you shouldn't have to. The rules of civilised society do not evaporate when you step in a comedy club.

I had a giant guy named Carcass grab the mic away from at a show at a punk squat and he had to be lured off-stage with a case of beer.


And wouldn't your routine have gone smoother if he hadn't?

Comedy, live music, live performance - these are combatative, ego-driven arts.


Where? In the fucking thunderdome?!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:45 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a bunch of milquetoasts you all are.

Hecklers should be encouraged. In a vast wasteland of bland and mediocre and pretentious art, they often bring a rare bit of risk and danger and rawness and spontaneity and blunt truth.

I'm confounded at how many of you want to treat theaters or performance venues as sacred, hallowed spaces where gifted artists ply their craft. They're often full of bad art, and bad art needs to be opposed. Y'all speak up when a commenter pisses you off in MetaTalk. Why should a shitty, annoying performance poet or pretentious play be any different?

Art is there for us to engage with viscerally, to interact with, to talk back to, to shout at, to weep at, to laugh at, to cheer and to boo.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:18 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Y'all speak up when a commenter pisses you off in MetaTalk. Why should a shitty, annoying performance poet or pretentious play be any different?

Because this place is for debate. A comedy routine, performance poetry, or a play (!) is generally a performance, not an opportunity for interaction. If you want to talk, then get your own damn show.

They're often full of bad art, and bad art needs to be opposed.


Needs to be? By disrupting it? You could critique it, review it poorly, ignore it. If you don't want to be there, leave. But don't ruin it for everyone else - your opinions may not be shared by all. That is jerkish behaviour. (Especially in the case of a scripted stage play, where you can't easily adapt to the boorish interruptions of an arrogant, self-important loudmouth).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:27 AM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Art is there for us to engage with viscerally, to interact with, to talk back to, to shout at, to weep at, to laugh at, to cheer and to boo.

By all means, please do . . . when you rent your own theatre and sell your own tickets. But when I've paid money to watch someone who isn't you, you better keep your mouth shut.
posted by chrchr at 4:32 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


If heckling a comedian is bad, is it worse to, say, heckle an old woman who's just won a local poetry slam because you feel that her poetry was too bland and political and you think you deserved a shot at the large cash prizes that come from the National Poetry Slam? Or to constantly heckle shit local poets and comedians?

I've been heckled at slams before, including one I won. Depends on the venue and the people running it - the worst was in New Orleans where the audience and poets were to a one African-American, save for myself, and very, very political, and, as I found out on stage, fairly hostile to non-political poems and poets. I didn't even get the worst of it, a poor girl was trying to get out a love poem that was a little edgy, and they shouted her right off the stage.

The audience is its own thing, and you need to learn to read it and adjust what you're doing to deal with it. Sometimes it's even fun.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:37 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


In a vast wasteland of bland and mediocre and pretentious art, they often bring a rare bit of risk and danger and rawness and spontaneity and blunt truth.

How much truth can we expect from someone who paid to see a shit comic? Their judgment is just as flawed as the rest of the audience.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:38 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am infinitely more interested in what Louis CK was planning on saying before some jackass interrupted him.

Yep. I think we can judge how Louis C.K. feels about this issue from this clip. (NSFW)
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:39 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reading that Tribune article made me realize that the visual equivalent of heckling is inserting random Google ads in between paragraphs at unpredictable intervals.

Apparently Tommy Smothers loved to be heckled; at least, that's what Harry Nilsson told his buddy, John.
posted by TedW at 4:51 AM on January 8, 2013


More from the Smothers Brothers.
posted by TedW at 4:56 AM on January 8, 2013


He was saying what people thought.

This is only a virtue to people with no internal filters.
posted by DU at 5:20 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Defending heckling is even worse than doing it in my book.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:57 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fictional heckling is awesome. Take MST3K, or Statler and Waldorf.

how much room is there between internet shit like MST3K and LPs and heckling people on their blogs or twitter feeds

is it okay to do when it's not to their face?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:21 AM on January 8, 2013


It's certainly not ok to do it when I paid to see the performer do their thing. Don't ruin my experience as an audience member. No one watches MST3K just to watch the movies. It's 100% part of the experience. If a performer goes on stage and says "heckling encouraged" or the venue itself says its fine, then go on and heckle. Otherwise keep your opinions to yourself until after the show. Save your heckling for your blog if you think your observation is so funny.
posted by Green With You at 7:34 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


How about at the Apollo?
posted by klangklangston at 10:17 AM on January 8, 2013


What is offensive about the heckler is that they don't give a shit about the rest of the audience.

Exactly. A heckler at a comedy show is no different than the asshole who answers his phone at the movie theatre or who talks through the entire opera about how annoying his boss is.

In the interest of defending heckling and putting forward another point of view, I suppose the idea is that if somebody is on stage and they're shit I've wasted my time and money. And I'm just sitting there stewing, as somebody sucks up time and oxygen and space, and I either sit there in silence and stew or just explode at them.

You could also get up and leave. It's still disruptive and rude, but at least you don't ruin the show for those who are actually enjoying it. Demand your money back from the manager once you get out into the lobby if you truly feel that the show was so awful that it was a genuine waste of money. But heckling is not OK just because you're not enjoying the show.
posted by asnider at 10:36 AM on January 8, 2013


This, of course, alludes to you: what if they're heckling andrew dice clay or michael richards or something
Michael Richards' racial comments were in reaction to heckling, so... interesting question.

Kind of like a thief uncovering a murder.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:58 AM on January 8, 2013


How about at the Apollo?

That gets to the heart of the matter, I think. At the Apollo, as I understand it, heckling and the like are understood by the audience and the performers alike to be an expected part of the experience - even an integral part of the show. Is that how it is in stand-up comedy? That's difficult to say. Like I said above, I think stand-up has an uncomfortable relationship with hecklers that the comedy world and comedy culture are, for some reason, not willing to change.

The expectations for any given form of entertainment are created by the long-standing culture of that art form. And that culture is influenced by what the performers and venues do to communicate to the audience what the culture is.

Audience members at some concerts know that the band they're going to see will be cool with stage diving and moshing. At others, they know that the band is not cool with it. Jump on stage at some punk/hardcore shows and you'll be able to strut across the stage and jump off without getting your ass kicked. Jump on stage at a Queens of the Stone Age show and Josh Homme will stop the song, shove you off the front of the stage, and tell security to kick you out of the venue. Jump on stage at a Rolling Stones concert and you'll get hit in the head with a Telecaster and dragged off by a couple of huge security guys. Heckle a Nobel laureate as she is giving a speech and you'll be escorted out of the building by polite, scrawny security people in sport jackets. Heckle Vladimir Putin and you'll be wrapped in duct tape and sent in a shipping container to the Russian equivalent of Eastern Idaho. Go to a Ryan Adams concert and shout your request that he play "Summer of '69" and you'll get kicked out of the show and maybe get your ticket price refunded. People know these things and their expectations shape their conduct.

So what are audience expectations at a comedy show? Heckle the comedian and three things happen: 1) The comedian either says something funny or something dumb; 2) You get attention and legions of assholes think you're cool; 3) Patton Oswalt whines about it. You don't get kicked out of the show. You don't get the crap beat out of you in the alley behind the club by a guy who spends the rest of his days at the gym. You don't get booed and shouted out of the room by the other audience members. The comic doesn't even ask you to leave or ask anyone to kick you out.

Heckling happens where assholes understand that heckling is "part of the show." It does happen elsewhere, but with less frequency and without the same magnitude of detriment to the entertainment, because other venues deal with it differently. And hecklers think it's "part of the show" because, unless the world of stand-up comedy actually does something about it other than make it part of the show, it is, in fact, part of the show.
posted by The World Famous at 11:05 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]



In the interest of defending heckling and putting forward another point of view, I suppose the idea is that if somebody is on stage and they're shit I've wasted my time and money. And I'm just sitting there stewing, as somebody sucks up time and oxygen and space, and I either sit there in silence and stew or just explode at them.


OR JUST FUCKING LEAVE, YOU ENTITLED ASSHOLE.

Comedy, live music, live performance - these are combatative, ego-driven arts. You're telling me Louis CK can't handle some drunken asshole? You're saying you wouldn't want to see him do it? If you can't handle it don't perform at a club or a bar or a pub.

DRUNKEN ASSHOLES ARE THE SHITTY PART. STOP BEING THE SHITTY PART, YOU TOTAL ASSHOLE.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:31 AM on January 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


I suppose the idea is that if somebody is on stage and they're shit I've wasted my time and money. And I'm just sitting there stewing, as somebody sucks up time and oxygen and space, and I either sit there in silence and stew or just explode at them.

The only time I've ever really felt like heckling was a preview performance of the Tales of the City musical. Man, was it horrible. And since it's a preview, it's loooong with all the shitty songs included.

Of course, the polite option is just to leave, but I understand the feeling of wanting to yell "THIS SUCKS!"

Hecklers are fine and enjoyable when they are funnier than the comedian. But that happens so rarely that a universal "no hecklers" rule at performances is fine by me.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:40 AM on January 8, 2013


His thoughts were red thoughts:

Because this place is for debate. A comedy routine, performance poetry, or a play (!) is generally a performance, not an opportunity for interaction. If you want to talk, then get your own damn show.

This is just circular logic: "a performance isn't an opportunity for interaction, because it's a performance, which isn't an opportunity for interaction".

Actually, for a great deal of theatrical history, audiences have interacted with the performance in diverse ways, from boos and catcalls to, yes, even on occasion throwing tomatoes. It's only relatively recently that the audience has been forced into this role of the passive, disempowered observer.

You could critique it, review it poorly, ignore it. If you don't want to be there, leave. But don't ruin it for everyone else - your opinions may not be shared by all. That is jerkish behaviour. (Especially in the case of a scripted stage play, where you can't easily adapt to the boorish interruptions of an arrogant, self-important loudmouth).

If heckling or audience interaction "ruins" the show, that's a problem (the tomato incident from the 1880s above would likely qualify). But most of the pearl-clutching audience members in this thread seem to feel that a show is ruined by anything but stony silence and, perhaps, the politest of titters at officially sanctioned pauses. Theater has survived and thrived for hundreds of years with robust audience interaction. The "what is the world coming to, there were no hecklers in my day" rubbish in this thread is just ridiculous.
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:50 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's weird I haven't read that here. I've seen plenty of shows ruined by hecklers in my day, and plenty almost ruined but saved from being ruined. Sure comedy will "survive" but I'd prefer it thrive. It thrives when that comedy club 80s combative drunk bullshit stays in the 80s and people laugh and enjoy the show (or leave if its awful or just deal with it because other people might be enjoying it) so that the comic can trust the audience and lead it down the path to something truly interesting and human rather than "Slap the dick out of your mouth or hmmm or etc". Heckler defenders are like the teenage punks at Fugazi concerts insisting things are better if you're allowed to mosh. Sure, maybe, for you, it is fun to dancefight if you're a big strong boy, but what about the small, unviolent folks who just like Fugazi and want to dance and be near the band? Actually you're even worse because you don't even mosh, you're the old crust punks who sit at home watching BBC America calling Fugazi a bunch of pussies.

Well, sorry, I'm not clutching my pearls anymore, I'm actively telling anyone who might be able to hear me that if you heckle a comedian, for any reason, you are an asshole, and that includes people who are actively heckling comedians in front of me. Which I have done. I have walked quietly over to a heckler, knelt down in front of him and whispered "Hey, could you be quiet? People are trying to enjoy the show." Despite being wasted, they apologized and left. Simple as that.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:11 PM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


When the comedian interacts with the audience, he/she gives an impression that the audience response is going to be considered in stride. We he welcomes applause/claps from them, he also leaves the door open for boos/jeers. A big part of heckling is the based on the environment that is being constructed by the performer.
posted by asra at 1:15 PM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


But most of the pearl-clutching audience members in this thread seem to feel that a show is ruined by anything but stony silence and, perhaps, the politest of titters at officially sanctioned pauses. Theater has survived and thrived for hundreds of years with robust audience interaction. The "what is the world coming to, there were no hecklers in my day" rubbish in this thread is just ridiculous.

I think there is a difference between somebody shouting out a stupid comment or being overly enthusiastic about the show they're seeing and the heckler who things he's funnier than the person on stage and keeps shouting throughout the performance.

The former is usually ignored and doesn't really do any harm. The latter does, generally, ruin the show.

Sure, theatre used to involve a lot of audience interaction (whether welcome or not). This is not generally the case anymore, though. We've developed a new social contract for how to behave at (many) live performances.
posted by asnider at 3:18 PM on January 8, 2013


Jump on stage at a Rolling Stones concert and you'll get hit in the head with a Telecaster and dragged off by a couple of huge security guys.

And that is precisely what you deserve. Always loved this clip. Here's Richards on the incident.

It's worth pointing out that many celebrities are the object of obsessive behaviour. It's not something that gets discussed very much, because our understanding is that any acknowledgement of aberrant behaviour serves as validation in the minds of some of the more disturbed. We've all heard of John Lennon and David Letterman's stalkers of course, but the list of entertainers who face a genuine threat from the unhinged is far longer than most realize.

Not equating mere heckling with assault, but pointing out that those who think that there can never be any harm from outspoken and obnoxious behaviour are ignoring a genuine anxiety that this might trigger for some performers.

One trait that seems to be shared amongst the commenters here who insist that boorish interruptions are a part of the experience is a focus on themselves, and an exclusion of others. They mention their own experiences as performers a lot, as though this proves that everyone loves these disruptions. That this flies in the face of the evidence presented by successful and respected performers is ignored. In researching the Taylor Swift VMA event travesty, a theme that kept popping up about Kanye West was his overwhelming egotism. This was specifically mentioned as the reason for his conspicuous absence at the Haiti relief event ...

"Kayne has to make everything about himself," the source added. "He will do anything to steal the spotlight and, well, this night it's just not about him."

Those who insist that they are part of the show when they actually aren't might well ponder this.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:12 PM on January 8, 2013


In researching the Taylor Swift VMA event travesty, a theme that kept popping up about Kanye West was his overwhelming egotism.

Egotism is a desirable quality in rock stars, rappers, and high-profile performers. He's good and he knows it, and if he wasn't good that egotism would help make him more flamboyant and more interesting. You need a healthy ego just to get up on stage in the first place, and there's no reason to be a shrinking violet when you are, after all, an ENTERTAINER. Egocentric behavior like that is entertaining. We seem to have developed some odd idea that being self-deprecating, shrinking, or 'nice' is more desirable than being interesting or confronting.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:17 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is just circular logic: "a performance isn't an opportunity for interaction, because it's a performance, which isn't an opportunity for interaction".

You are being deliberately obtuse.

Metafilter is a forum expressly established as a place for debate. That is a core attribute.

A performance such as a stage play, or an opera, or a musical, are not forums for debate. Rather, one of the core attributes is that the performers do their thing, and the audience watch. There's a reason that theatres ask people to turn of thier mobiles phones - they don't want disruptions. If you don't understand that, stay out of theatres. If you don't like the show, leave.

But pointing out that different things are different is hardly circular, especially when you do not appear to understand the distinction.

It is clear some some kinds of performance and some venues do encourage heckling, like Charlemagne In Sweatpants's alt-comedy night. They are the exception, not the rule.

Actually, for a great deal of theatrical history, audiences have interacted with the performance in diverse ways, from boos and catcalls to, yes, even on occasion throwing tomatoes.

In the days of Shakespeare, women weren't allowed on stage. Performance culture has evolved. Deal with it.

The "what is the world coming to, there were no hecklers in my day" rubbish in this thread is just ridiculous.

No one said this here.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:33 PM on January 8, 2013


Egotism is a desirable quality in rock stars, rappers, and high-profile performers

While this may or may not be true, here is the part that you seem to be incapable of grasping. Hecklers are none of those things. Hecklers are not a part of the performance. Hecklers are just loud-mouthed egotistical sociopaths willfully ruining the event. They are so caught up in their delusional self-love that they are incapable of realizing that the performers and audience are vehemently opposed to listening to their drivel.

What part of "shut the fuck up, you cork up the asshole of human entertainment" is lost in translation here? The top comedian in the world telling hecklers that they are worse than 9/11 and Pearl Harbour combined isn't an invitation to join in. Tommy Smothers saying that hecklers destroy the very careful timing of jokes isn't amateurish theorizing. When Louis CK tells a heckler that doctors committed malpractice by not ripping her head off at birth, he isn't condoning the practice. Bill Hicks pleading for 40 days of rain to "please wash these fucking turds out of my life" isn't a vote of confidence. Seriously.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:38 PM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


If people didn't pay money to see you, shut the fuck up. I came to see the performer, not you. You're not a champion of good art or robust performance. You're not contributing to the performance. You're a socially-oblivious idiot with delusions of grandeur who is wrecking everyone else's good time.
posted by harriet vane at 8:58 PM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hell, it's even bad when the heckler loves the performer. I had a woman sitting behind me at a comedy gig who felt the need to shout out "I love this! You're hilarious!" in the middle of jokes. Eventually the comedian couldn't ignore it anymore (although he dealt with a negative heckler quickly and easily) and joked about it. She took this as a cue to start a conversation with him that he couldn't get out of for a while. Meanwhile, the audience is bored and we've all lost the momentum of the comedy. When he finally managed to cap it and get back to the act, she continued to talk in a loud not-whisper to her boyfriend about what clothes she needed to buy for the summer season.

I don't blame the comedian for not knowing how to deal with someone who's wrecking the act with their positivity - it was really weird and unexpected for everyone. She just had no fucking clue that she'd derailed the whole thing we'd come to enjoy, because she felt like she was participating. Well good for her, but if looks could kill her autopsy would have had to list "fellow audience members" as the cause.

Imagine what it'd be like to go to a comedy gig where the whole audience shouted out whatever "funny" thought they had, or their assessment of the act. You wouldn't be able to hear the performance at all, complete waste of time and money. It'd be wrong for everyone to do that - so how on earth can a heckler justify it, except through being selfish?
posted by harriet vane at 9:07 PM on January 8, 2013


Q) What's the secret to good comed...? TIMING!

A)
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:15 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


A) YOU SUCK, GET OFF THE STAGE
posted by flabdablet at 6:34 PM on January 9, 2013


i don't get it
posted by not_on_display at 9:21 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hecklers are hilarious.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:24 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


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