11 Ways to Handle a Heckler

Getty Images
Getty Images / Getty Images

Heckling isn't just rude. The vast majority of comedians will be able to quickly combat anything you shout out and make you look silly. That’s what they’re paid to do. So keep quiet, because they don’t come down to your work and … well, you probably know the rest.

Here are 11 different strategies comedians have used to quiet an unruly audience member.

1. Be Quicker Than the Quick

It’s a comedian’s job to be wittier than anyone in the audience. So, when a woman in the crowd gets off a pretty nice jab, this comedian just bides his time and waits for his chance to throw the knockout punch.

2. Turn the Tables

Some comedians refuse to acknowledge people shouting out from the audience. Comedian Joe Klocek goes the complete opposite direction, bringing his tormentor up on stage to get a taste of his own medicine. Contains NSFW language.

3. Start Crying

Around the 5:12 mark the late, great Andy Kaufman responds to a shouting audience member by simply saying: “If you want to heckle me, you win” and then proceeds to get upset and start crying. But don’t feel bad. If you know anything about Kaufman you know this was very likely all an act.

4. Reassure Them

In this interview with a Birmingham paper, the great Bill Cosby explains how he handles people shouting out during his shows:

I was at Lake Tahoe in the late '60s. I already had the mindset that when people wanted to interrupt to say things, the first thing is to understand what they are saying, and then respond as if you were really interested in what a person was saying. When you listen to that, many times if you stay linear with it, you can get rid of 'em post haste. So I walked out onstage, had on a brown leather suit, and the shoes I had on were high-tops and had sort of like a dark brown mustard color. It was a midnight show, so the people have a chance to medicate themselves with alcohol. The room holds 750—Harrahs, Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful rooms in the world. And a woman's voice shouted out, "I hate those shoes!" And because of the way I think—which is not to challenge, not to beat up the person but to understand what the person has just said and to remain linear—I said, "Madame, you are very, very fortunate, because these shoes will not be performing." And, man, I never heard from her again.

5. Remain Grateful

When Deepak Sethi is heckled by a member of the military he skillfully manages to defuse the situation while still offering thanks for the soldier’s service. Contains NSFW language.

6. Make Them Face the Music

When Zach Galifianakis notices an audience member not paying attention, or even facing him, he immediately abandons his planned material in order to start this entertaining conversation. Contains NSFW language.

7. Get Inside Their Heads

In his recent Reddit AMA, Jerry Seinfeld offered up his approach for dealing with yellers. It’s very compassionate:

Very early on in my career, I hit upon this idea of being the Heckle Therapist. So that when people would say something nasty, I would immediately become very sympathetic to them and try to help them with their problem and try to work out what was upsetting them, and try to be very understanding with their anger. It opened up this whole fun avenue for me as a comedian, and no one had ever seen that before. Some of my comedian friends used to call me - what did they say? - that I would counsel the heckler instead of fighting them. Instead of fighting them, I would say "You seem so upset, and I know that's not what you wanted to have happen tonight. Let's talk about your problem" and the audience would find it funny and it would really discombobulate the heckler too, because I wouldn't go against them, I would take their side.

8. Wonder Who They Are

In the early days of his career Patton Oswalt encountered a heckler that was so calm, rational and full of advice that he was left wondering if the man was magical.

9. Make A Movie

Jamie Kennedy dislikes hecklers so much that he made an entire feature-length documentary on these disruptive viewers. The film features interviews with a huge number of comics, as well as George Lucas. Because, honestly, he probably gets heckled a lot.

10. Encourage Them

Jimmy Carr starts out this clip by explaining that he doesn’t get shouted down nearly as much as he used to. As a result he then allows the audience a free period to shout anything they want—with him responding hilariously to each. Contains NSFW language.

11. Let Your Hand Do the Talking

Okay, Tony Gwynn Jr. is not a comedian. He’s a baseball player. But with this very clever and subtle response to a screaming fan in the outfield bleachers he at least proves he does have a sense of humor.