As a standup comic, I've had to deal with a lot of hecklers: audience members who feel the need to give me on the spot, negative feedback about my work -- usually starting with something constructive like, “You suck!”
When you’re performing the same shtick every night, for sometimes two, or even, three shows a night, having a heckler isn’t always as scary as it sounds. In fact, sometimes it’s a welcome opportunity for spontaneity.
After all, the odds are in my favor: I have skills developed from 35 years onstage, and hundreds of comeback lines in the joke Rolodex of my mind. Even more importantly, I have a mic in my hand. I might not always be clever, but I will be louder. When it’s me and the power of a sound system versus a really drunk person with nachos spilled in their lap -- I say, “Bring it on!”
But -- there is one heckler who still frightens me – because it’s the one heckler who usually whips my butt: the heckler in my own brain. She’s an inner voice that degrades me daily, and without mercy.
In the morning, I’m barely waking up and she’s in full force. “I thought you weren't going to have that cheesecake... and weren’t you supposed to stay away from tequila? Charlie Sheen has more self-control.”
“Oh – and, seriously – you have THIS splitting of a hangover from three shots of Patron? News flash: you’re a lightweight.”
I try to stumble to the bathroom, but we’re not done.
“P.S. -- watch out for that scale, jumbo. None of your clothes fit for a REASON.”
As I get ready to do a gig, with each joke I think of I hear, “Really? That tired bit again? You’re like a 1950s vaudeville comic – except you’re still alive.”
Right now, she’s trying to convince me to stop typing my blog.
“Stop frittering with this jibber-jabber and write something useful -- like a recipe book for breakfast cereals.”
As the day goes on, no wonder I feel depleted and defeated.
Lately, it occurred to me, why not use the same anti-heckler techniques I use onstage ... offstage? Why not have a comeback?
So, I say, “Breakfast cereals? That doesn’t even make sense. Who writes your material? Oh wait – I do ... bitch!”
“Prozac is your kryptonite ... isn’t it? One tablet and boom -- it’s a writer’s strike. No answer? Hmm ... maybe your teeny tiny portion of MY brain doesn’t have a comeback for that.”
Quiet. She's gone. It works!
You don't have to be in comedy to have hecklers. Hecklers can be your family, your customers, or even your boss. And in many of those cases, you can't really say out loud what you want to say. But – you can think it.
And, to those of you whose worst heckler is in your own head... don't let them have the last word.
Fight back. You’re building your sarcasm muscles. And just maybe, if you really get good at those heckler comebacks, you might want to use your skills to pay some bills.
Check out our free teleseminar on “How to Write for Late Night” with Gabe Abelson, former head writer for “Letterman."