I’ve dealt with enough hecklers over the last 15 years of performing on stage and believe me, I’ve asked a lot of other performers for advice about dealing with the annoyance from the stage. After working at it for about 10 years with mostly success (but definitely a few failures), I came to some very interesting realization that you may have never thought of…the heckler is rarely ever heard. That’s right, as hard to believe as it sounds, even though you may have heard the heckler loud and clear, most of your audience did not. Why is that?
1. The heckler doesn’t have a mic.
Ok, I know this is obvious, however, you might not be thinking of the reason they don’t have a mic…THEY DON’T WANT ONE! Most of the hecklers I’ve interacted with are generally wanting some attention from the people they’re with, but certainly not from other audience members and most definitely not from you, the performer. In other words, they’re trying to avoid the spotlight.
2. They’re Facing You
Remember, their mouth is aiming right at you. Sound from a heckler will typically be directed toward you. Think about when you’re at an event where there’s a Q&A. Ever have a presenter that missed “Speaking 101” not repeat a question by an audience member and you have absolutely no idea what the presenter is referring to in his answer? Well, same thing with a heckler. Unless you repeat what the heckler said, most of your audience will have no clue anything was even said.
3. They’re usually not talking loud.
Like I said, most hecklers only want some attention from the people they’re with. I remember performing for a small group of people one time and a guy was being a pretty big distraction to the girl he was with. She was trying to enjoy the show, but every time I did a trick, he would whisper something to her, obviously some kind of an explanation he put together with duct tape in order to look cool. Well, I have to be honest. It wasn’t just distracting to the girl. It was distracting to others and to me as well. And that brings me to…
I will preach this for the rest of my life. If the heckler is so quiet that no one is distracted, the best thing is to just ignore. Acting like they don’t exist will either cause them to abort their mission of making your job harder or speak audibly enough to distract others. Because the heckler is trying their best to avoid the spotlight, the absolute worst thing you could do is turn the spotlight on them. So here it is. When the audience hears the heckler say something that he/she thinks is clever (ie. **inaudible mumbling**), I stop what I’m doing, look right at them and say, “Pardon?” Every eye in the room has now shifted from me to them. This stops hecklers in their tracks. Well over 90% of the time, the heckler will immediately say something to the effect of, “Nevermind.” My immediate reply (with a smile!!!) is, “That’s what I thought.” It’s not too threatening, I’m smiling when I say it, and it shows the heckler that I’m in control. Typically, that’s the last thing I’ll hear from them.
This one is so unfair to a heckler, it makes me laugh. If the heckler says something and it just happens to be one of those rare times that it is clever, I will say at least one more sentence before I turn to them and say, “Pardon?” The reason is, if they repeat it, the moment has already passed and what they’re saying is usually so far out of context, the audience believes the person has lost their mind. So what do I do at that moment? I repeat what the person said so everyone can hear it. That’s the equivalent of gluing their mouth shut.
Remember that your job is to entertain the people and get as many of them as possible on your side. I rarely have hecklers anymore in my show, but when I do, my job is to try to win them over. If I put down their looks and intelligence, I’ve completely lost them with no chance of ever getting them back. Respect your hecklers and you just might win a few of them over. It’s a great feeling.