Punchline Magazine analysis: Is it ever OK to heckle a comedian?

By | May 11, 2011 at 11:28 am | 5 comments | Audio/Video, News, Opinion | Tags: , ,

The implicit agreement when you go to a live comedy show — whether it’s stand-up, sketch, or improv — is that you are there to be entertained and hopefully you do some laughing. Thus, the dynamic of a comedy show should be: the audience sits and listens and the comedian or group of comedians make their attempt, whether it be a failure or a success, to entertain.

In the video below, comedian Jarrod Harris tells a story about being contacted through MySpace; a very drunk-sounding woman felt the need to pipe up to tell him that Facebook is now the preferred social networking site. Keep in mind, this happened at a comedy club where people pay to get in and watch comedy as opposed to a bar or a coffee shop where patrons are “ambushed” with comedy.

The rest of the audience is intently listening to Harris. Even so, the woman in the video, like other hecklers, thought she needed to add her input to the show. Hilarious sidenote: the woman in the video says she’s smarter than Harris while informing him about the popularity of Facebook.

As people pay to be entertained, are they granted any right at a comedy show to call out or comment on the performer because they don’t think they’re getting their money’s worth? Any comedian of any type would certainly tell you that audience members don’t get the right to potentially ruin everyone else’s night because they’re not having a good time or are irked at a specific moment, especially since the option to walk out is always there.

Yet, over the last several months, I’ve talked to several people who say they actively go to comedy shows and take it upon themselves to “help” the show if they perceive the performer is bombing. These real people almost think it’s their right to do so.

In an absolutely perfect world, everyone who took the stage would be funny and everyone who paid an entry fee would laugh, but. But that’s not going to happen.

So, what do you think? Is there comedy show etiquette (as I’ve outlined at the start of this post) to be observed? Or is that thrown out when someone pays to see a show and is not entertained? Is there ever a moment when someone should heckle?

About the Author

Jake Kroeger

Jake Kroeger has dedicated his life, for better or probably worse, to comedy. Starting and continually running the Comedy Bureau, a voice for LA comedy, by himself, he also writes and performs stand-up comedy in LA and watches more live comedy than is probably humanly tolerable. He's been a daily contributor to Punchline Magazine, now Laughspin.com because he loves and believes in comedy so much. Said of Kroeger, "...without his dangerously insane, unhealthy work ethic, certain comics would not have any press at all."

  • nemma hao

    eh, saying facebook is preferred over myspace is not heckling and it would be pretty inattentive/insecure of anyone performing onstage to immediately react to people who speak as hecklers from previous baggage.

    but no, real heckling is never welcomed, whether at a comedy show or a sporting event.

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  • D

    Years ago, around early or mid 90s, I saw Dana Gould do standup in San Jose. No one heckled him, but he wasn’t getting the laughs he thought he should be getting, so then he spent about 20 minutes insulting the audience for being idiots. I think if you’re using the standup forum to be insulting to people unprovoked, then heckling in self-defense would be justified. At that point you’re not performing anymore but firing a shotgun blast of anger at a room of total strangers.

  • http://@jimimack7 Jimi Mack

    If it’s a yes or no question, then no. It’s not ok to heckle; you’re seldom, if EVER helping, and nobody paid to see you, period! If you honestly think you can do better, get your ass up there on a showcase/new talent night, don’t wait until after your fourth Turkey & Coke to say, “Hell, I’m funnier than that, watch this…” Always a bad idea.

    However, if a comic is going WAY over the line by singling you out, unprovoked, making REPEATED, mean-spirited (not funny) slurs regarding your race, sexuality, appearance, etc. then yes, by all means you can verbally defend yourself. This is often the sign of a novice comic who has run out of material before he/she has run out of time. You paid to laugh, not to be insulted ad nauseum.

    I made a living as a road comic for well over two and a half decades, and although I’ve had my share of hecklers, NONE of them EVER got the last word. None of them were ever perceived by anyone to actually be helping the show. None of them were anywhere close to as clever as they thought they were. Many got themselves discretely tossed out. (A club that doesn’t police the room is a poorly run club.)

    If you say it’s sometimes okay to heckle a comic, I say heckle at your own risk. Comics like myself can and will turn the entire crowd on you in less than ten seconds, and if you keep it up we’ll have you thrown out, because THAT would actually “help” the show.

    Peace, love, and puppies.

  • http://youtube.com/Lawsoncomedy Lawson

    If a comedian that’s taken time to workshop material at mics and took time re write it and has been onstage hundreds of times…if that person isn’t bringing the funny, there’s no one in the audience that can do better.

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