How To Deal With Heckling During A Stand-Up Gig

Benjamin Franklin famously said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. But for a stand-up comedian, there are actually three: death, taxes and being heckled.

In short, it will happen. A lot. And it’s not just ‘You suck!’ or some variation – heckling can be anything at all from the audience that interrupts your flow, disturbs a punchline or otherwise takes the ‘funny’ out of your hands.

So, how do you deal with heckling? Like most things, there’s more than one way to shake a carbuncle.

1. Ignore it

As Dory says in Finding Nemo, ‘Just keep swimming’. Of course, depending on your stage persona, the perception that someone in the crowd can steamroll you and get away with it may not be ideal, but a brief pause followed by a potent quip could be enough to shut them up, can the moment and move on.

2. Be Inquisitive

Buy yourself some time by repeating back to your heckler what they said. This will bring the rest of the audience up to speed (because it’s you who has the microphone), probably bring them on side, clarify that you really heard what you heard, and buy you time to think about how (and whether) to hit back.

3. Embrace it

While comedians will rarely say they like hecklers, some are brilliant at using unwanted interruptions as fuel for their comedy. The good news is that, unless you actually deserved the heckle, the rest of the audience is probably on your side. So that’s effectively carte blanche to unload on them and get away with deviating from what you’ve really prepared for. If your response is good, the audience will love it.

4. Be confident

Never forget, you’re on the stage because (hopefully) you’re funnier than your heckler, and probably better than them at thinking on your feet. The chances are that they’re drunk and incredibly unprepared for taking on a stand-up at his own game, so don’t be shy to let them know you’re up for a verbal fight and fully intend to win. Egg them on. Invite them to say more. Hand them lots and lots of rope.

5. Plan ahead

The clever stand-up is more than ready. Load some bullets into your gun before you ever get out there. And make sure they’re armour-piercing ones. Need inspiration? Learn from the best.