: Andrew George
A recent article in the Chicago Tribune from Nina Metz and Chris Borrelli in favor of heckling as an important part of stand up comedy has brought the age old debate of when heckling is and isn’t appropriate back to the surface in the comedy world. The article is being highly regarded as being pro-heckling, citing that the way a comedian responds a heckle from an audience member is what separates the professionals from the amateurs.
In the article, they do a pretty good job of distinguishing between the different types of hecklers. They use titles like “the drunk”, “the happy heckler/ fan”, and what is arguably the most annoying and difficult to deal with, “the troll”, who is there to ultimately throw the comedian off of their game so that they can get all of the attention on them, effectively ruining the energy in the room that the performer had created. This last genre of asshole even inspired Jamie Kennedy to make the documentary Heckler, which is about his experiences and the experiences of other comedians as they have had to deal with hecklers. If you would like to see this documentary, it is on Netflix instant… or you could ask your whiniest friend to complain to you for 2 hours to get the same feel.
Almost immediately after this article was released in the Chicago Tribune, Steve Heisler from The AV Club released his counter argument, entitled “Why Heckling is Still Terrible, No Matter What Pundits Say”. In his response, Heisler systematically lists each of the Tribune’s points and offers his difference of opinion. He starts with the biggest point, “Heckling makes shows memorable”. In his response, he states that hecklers make comedy shows memorable in the same way that muggers make vacations memorable.
Another key point that was made by the Tribune that warranted a response from The AV Club is that “hecklers keep comedians honest”. The example that was used in the Tribune came from a performance from Chris D’Elia (of NBC’s Whitney). During the show, a heckler called bullshit on Chris for saying that it was difficult for him to pick up ladies, to which Chris was able address and continue with his set. In just about the best way that he could have responded, Heisler came back to the table with the following differing observation from the event in question:
Nina Metz recalls watching Chris D’Elia perform at 2012’s Just For Laughs festival in Chicago. When D’Elia talked about how hard it was to get dates, an audience member called his bluff. He’s a mildly famous person, after all. This led to D’Elia explaining how, no matter what, it’s a battlefield out there.
But who’s to say that D’Elia wouldn’t have touched on that later in his act? Personally, I’d rather wait and see, because D’Elia is a professional comedian who likely has figured out the exact right time to address that elephant in the room. It is not the audience’s job to keep a comedian “honest.” That is the comedian’s job. An audience’s job is to listen. Anyone who doesn’t like what they hear is welcome to leave, dissatisfied. Would Metz and Borrelli jump up into the lighting booth of their least-favorite black-box theater to tell the actors they were doing a shitty job of reimagining All’s Well That Ends Well?
If heckling is a part of live comedy, then getting thrown out of a comedy club is a part of heckling. Even though we at Mad House Comedy Club encourage audience participation when it is called for, we have a policy that does not allow malicious heckling. At the end of the day, one rude and/or drunk audience member who is starving for attention can ruin a show. So please, don’t be that asshole.