Incoming comedian Stephen Carlin on why hecklers inspire comedians
Time Out Bahrain staff
‘So how do you deal with hecklers Stephen?’ The perennial question asked of every stand-up comedian.
It is 2013, I am at a gig in Islington in North London and a Greek woman in the audience has been interrupting aggressively for some minutes. She fetches me a drink, which I refuse to have, so now she really turns on me, shouting and swearing to maximum effect. Eventually she storms out, only to return minutes later with a box of chocolates which she duly presents to me as a peace offering. I eat a chocolate and only now does she shut up and let me continue with my show.
It’s not the most conventional heckler, you may think, but I quote this example from my back catalogue just to illustrate that there is rarely such a thing as a ‘conventional heckler’. Hecklers, like Italian gangsters, come in all shapes and sizes. They are a ragbag army as varied as the human race itself. Indeed, it wasn’t until I had started stand-up comedy and encountered them, that I finally appreciated the true variety and complexity of the human condition.
‘Heckler’ is a catch-all phrase that encompasses all manner of interruptions – some good , some bad, some downright bizarre. We are all perhaps familiar with the aggressive heckler – ‘Tell us a joke mate’ – but in truth, many of them don’t want to take you down. They merely want to join in. I have been interrupted to be told that somebody really likes my shoes or to add a salient fact to my routine or to tell me that that experience happened to them too. Sometimes they just want to share!
So how do I deal with hecklers? You may be surprised to learn that that question doesn’t occupy much time in the comedian’s brain. I’ll let you in on a secret: I have rarely heard comedians complain about hecklers. However, they always complain about that guy in the front row who didn’t crack a smile once during the whole performance.
If you really want to upset a comedian don’t heckle them, ignore them. Most comedians would prefer an aggressive heckler to polite silence any day. After all, they give the comedian the ideal opportunity to display their adlibbing abilities and their rapier quick mind. Audiences know that this bit isn’t pre-prepared – it is truly in the moment. Paradoxically, during a bad gig, it is often the arrival of the heckler that turns things around for the comedian, allowing them to display their composure under pressure and their quick footwork. It is usually the heckler who ends up sacrificing himself for the good of the gig. Such a selfless act!
Let’s hear it for hecklers, the most under-appreciated workers in show business. They are invariably volunteers, often with no formal training whatsoever, and frequently poorly equipped for the job. They often lack even the most basic wit and are frequently under the influence at the crunch moment.
Hecklers give up their evenings and weekends to pursue their chosen profession. They are unpaid, with many of them forced to take full time jobs in other professions just to support themselves. And heckling can often end in acute embarrassment for said heckler.
People often tell me they could never bring themselves to get on stage and do stand-up comedy. Personally, I could never bring myself to go to a comedy club and heckle. So spare a thought for the heckler, the true unsung heroes of comedy.
The Chuckle Club line-up
Stephen Carlin ‘Unsettlingly funny with flashes of greatness’ – The List Named by famed English comedian, Stewart Lee, as one of the ‘ten best comedians in the world ever’, Stephen Carlin has a growing number of TV and radio credits under his belt, as well as a growing fan base that loves his insightful style and punchy delivery.
Ian Smith ‘Star of the future’ – Time Out Since causing quite a stir at his 2011 and 2012 Edinburgh Fringe shows, Ian Smith has launched two one-hour solo shows – in 2013 ‘Anything’ gathered a plethora of four- and five-star reviews, while 2014’s ‘Flappable’ proved to be another hit among audiences and critics alike.
Rory O’Hanlon ‘A joke every 30 seconds’ – Irish Times Rory O’Hanlon started off his career in Dublin and is now thought of as one of the rising stars in UK and Irish comedy. He is cited as having a ‘machine gun style’ with brilliant story-telling skills that gets audiences crying with laughter.
This month’s installation of the Chuckle Club runs on Wednesday 3 at The Rugby Club, Thursday 4 at The British Club and December 5 at The InterContinental Regency Hotel. Tickets are BD15 and can be bought at The British Club reception or online at www.amiando.com/chuckleclubdec2014. Call 3666 3509.