Alright it’s happening. You’re on stage cracking some of your best jokes and making (most of) the audience howl with laughter. And then a moment of silence encompasses the crowd… you hear some drunk 22 year old finance bro from the fourth row scream “YOU’RE NOT FUNNY!” Then a “YEAH TELL A JOKE ALREADY” from the other side of the room. This sets off the group of teenage girls in the front (who you thought were really enjoying themselves???) to start start hurling tomatoes in your direction.

The most common fear people have when they’re thinking about trying stand-up comedy is getting heckled (with or without tomatoes). Wouldn’t it be great if you could just go up on stage and do your material without any fear of some rowdy audience member giving you a hard time?

Unfortunately disruptive audience members are a fact of life and, if you really want to do comedy as a career, you need to be prepared to deal with them.

They often think that heckling is expected at stand-up comedy shows, and feel like they’re contributing to the night– but instead they are just disrupting your flow and making it harder for you to deliver your material.


Types of Hecklers

Drunken garble: absolutely hammered audience member shouts out something completely incomprehensible. No point engaging with them, they’re too drunk and you won’t get any sense from them. You can try to appeal to their friends to keep them under control, they’ll usually be embarrassed about the situation.

Unfunny banter: usually good natured, they think they’re adding to the show by attempting to shout out their own punchlines, but not only are they not funny, they’re stopping you from being funny by derailing your material. You kind of need to treat them like children– because the audience won’t like you being too hard on them. Acknowledge them and try to persuade them that the show will be better if they stop interrupting you. 

Chatters: a similar situation to the above. They’re not being obnoxious, but they think they’re at the show to have a conversation with you instead of listening to your material. Halfway through your setup they’ll start chatting to you about what you’re saying. Someone who just doesn’t get  how stand-up shows are supposed to work. As above, you just need to keep it friendly, but persuade them to keep quiet.

Attention seekers: usually a certain type of slightly drunk person who doesn’t like being in a situation where they’re not the centre of attention. Sometimes they will pretend to be offended by your material, sometimes they’ll just shout out random stuff, anything to get the room to focus on them instead of the person on stage. Tread carefully with this one – there’s a risk of it escalating if they feel aggrieved. Acknowledge them, let them have their moment and hopefully that will end it.

These are some common situations, but there are always different types of hecklers just waiting to throw you a curve-ball. 

Lance Carter breaks it down here:

Tips for Dealing with Hecklers

You might have seen YouTube videos of pro-comedians “destroying hecklers” which is entertaining (this is my personal favourite, Stewart Lee dealing with a belligerent heckler) but until you’ve got the skill to do that it’s probably not a great idea to go for the jugular every time you get interrupted on stage.

Wherever possible it’s a good idea to just try to de-escalate the situation quickly so you can get on with your set, especially if you’re only doing a 5-10 minute spot and your stage time is precious.

The easiest thing to do is just ignore the interruption at first, there’s a good chance that the audience didn’t hear it and you can just talk over the heckler because you have the microphone on your side. More often than not they’ll just shut up when they don’t get a response.

If it gets to the point where you can’t ignore them, a good tactic is to slowly and clearly repeat back what they’ve said for several reasons:

  • It makes sure you’re clear what they said – sometimes it’s just a simple misunderstanding.
  • It makes sure the audience knows what they said, so that your response will make sense.
  • Sometimes what they said was so stupid, that the simple act of repeating it back to them will be enough to shut them up.
  • Most importantly, it gives you time to think of something to say.

If what they said was genuinely funny and got a laugh from the audience, just roll with it – let them enjoy the moment, congratulate them, and move on with your set. If it was really good, take it and work it into your material for future gigs.

What to do if the heckler is persistently disruptive:

If the heckler is obnoxious and just won’t quit, you need to try and shut them down– but don’t go straight off at the deep end. If you lose your composure straight away, the audience will likely turn on you. They’re at the show for a good time, and they want to feel comfortable that you have control of things.

If it descends into a shouty argument, they’re not having a good time, they’re going to feel uncomfortable and just want your set to end as soon as possible. Keep it good humoured, appeal to their better nature and make them aware they’re ruining the show for everybody.

You can try to use peer pressure from the audience with a line like: “give me a cheer if you’d like this guy to be quiet so we can get on with the show!”

Be preapared.

Spend some time writing a few good retorts and put-downs you can keep in the bag for when you need them – and remind yourself regularly of what they are, because if you’re not performing them as part of your material you’ll probably forget them.

Think about some obvious lines of attack that a heckler might use based on your appearance or persona, and be ready for that. Practice with your fellow comic friends!

Let’s face it– hecklers are the worst. But there are plenty of things you can do to prepare and feel more confident about smoothly dealing with them.

Learn more about Performing Comedy here


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