Heckleitis

Very early in my audience warmup when hosting a show I like to welcome visitors to NY, asking who needed a passport to be there. This gives me a sense of the makeup of the crowd. Tonight, there was a woman from Great Britain who responded to my question. Sitting to the left of the stage in the front row, she dramatically called out, “I am from Great Britain!” I culled a few laughs remarking on her theatrics, but I had the feeling she was going to be trouble. This was confirmed minutes later when she chimed in while I was talking to somebody else. Time to nip it in the bud.

“OK great, but now you have to shut the fuck up for the rest of the show.”

Done. Not a peep out of her after that. In fact, it took her a while to recover and enjoy the rest of the show. Walking past her on my way to the bathroom I saw her sitting slumped in her chair with her arms folded, and head cocked to the side.

People who don’t often go to comedy clubs have an idea that part of the show is audience participation. That might be true for an improv show, but what they don’t realize is the interaction is always on the comedians’ terms. I thought my message was clear and was quite surprised when I heard somebody in the left corner shout out. I couldn’t make out exactly what was said, but it was a co-signing situation. I simply ignored him the first two times, but on the third strike, I had to call him out.

“Whoever that is–this is the third time you’ve shouted out, and that’s not going to happen again, so either you shut the fuck up or get the fuck out, so what’s it going to be?”

Dead silence.

It was awkward for a minute after that, but he said nothing further. From experience, I know it’s better to have that moment than deal with this guy the rest of the show. He had to understand that the audience is not there to hear him. Sure, I could’ve engaged the guy and gotten laughs, but the rest of the acts on the show prefer to do their jokes. He would’ve thought that it was cool to continue shouting out. Timing is crucial in the standup comedy world and audience members that offer their comments during the show ruin it.