One of the cruel ironies of being a standup comic is that people are fascinated with the lamest part of doing your job: hecklers. Folks want to know what it’s like to be heckled and how you deal with it and what was the worst heckle you ever got. It’d be like asking a NASCAR driver to describe all the fiery crashes he’s survived. It’s galling, but I can understand people’s obsession with the unscripted drama of a potential trainwreck. Heckler videos go viral while clips of comedians successfully plying their trade go unwatched.
There’s nothing worse than a heckler. If you’re a comic who encounters one, the trick is to neutralize them, turn the audience against them, rip ‘em a new one, then move on with your act. But that’s not always possible, especially with this rogues gallery of infernal interrupters. Here’s my definitive list of the Four Worst Types of Hecklers.
Young man recently home from war who’s convinced you’re his real father
This fellow, barely old enough to grow a beard, has returned from fields of carnage halfway around the world where he saw things no man should ever see. After experiencing such close proximity to death, he’s made it his new mission to solve the central mystery of his life by finding his real father.
Which he thinks is you, our headliner for the evening.
Never mind that he looks nothing like you and the timelines are all wrong and you’ve never laid eyes on the kid or his mom—he’s not having it. He’s standing at attention in full dress uniform and shouting at you before a club full of witnesses.
It’s a tricky situation, because some heckles have no conceivable comeback: “How could you abandon me and Mom?” or “Why didn’t you love me, Daddy?”
STRATEGY: If you deny his accusations you’ll look even more suspicious, so just go along with it. Try something like, “I told you to wait in the car, Timmy!”
Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec god of death
This guy is the king of the lowest section of the Aztec Underworld and he’s got a chip on his shoulder about it. He appears in corporeal form as a blood-spattered skeleton with a necklace of eyeballs and headdress of owl feathers. Spiders scuttle in his wake. He’s usually drunk on pulque. His voice is a bloodcurdling shriek and he only speaks an ancient dialect of Nahuatl, so forget about trying to engage him with witty banter.
STRATEGY: If Mictlantecuhtli makes a surprise cameo on your show, the best you can do is evacuate everyone from of the building before he starts devouring souls.
He’s standing in the aisle in a safety orange vest, making broad gestures with a pair of LED wands as if he’s guiding a 747 down the tarmac. It’s impossible to ignore him. Like most hecklers, he probably thinks he’s “helping the show.” This one is difficult because he’s wearing a tinted protective goggles and a noise-cancelling headset, so it’s pointless to try to address him verbally.
STRATEGY: You have to speak to him in his own language, the Federal Aviation Administration-approved signaling protocol. To denote an “emergency stop,” cross your arms above the head, palms facing forward.
There’s no way you’re gonna get the audience on your side for this one; everyone loves a puppy. Cute animal videos are 73% more popular than standup clips, and for good reason: If we all had access to puppies all the time, we wouldn’t need to pay money to sit in darkened rooms and watch performers share witty anecdotes for validation from strangers. As a comedian I’m glad there aren’t more puppies out there stealing the limelight.
STRATEGY: If a fluffy little flopsy-mopsy cutie-pie interrupts your act, invite him onstage. Ball up a napkin and get him to fetch it, or get on all fours and play tug of war with the mic cord. If you play this one right it could turn out to be an unforgettable evening of pure, innocent joy. Bonus points if he piddles on the stage.