Last night the wife and I went to see Richard Herring at The Wulfrun Hall. For those that don't know Herring is a stand up comic who has been on the circuit for years.
Anyway, the reason I mention this is that Herring got some heckles. Being a comic of many years standing he was able to put these hecklers in their place but it still ruined the flow of the show a bit. Now I've never really understood hecklers. I am writing and practising some routines to attempt to do stand up comedy myself. It's an absolutely terrifying prospect. I've performed on stage before, I've done spoken word gigs, I've bared the deepest parts of my soul on stage but nothing, absolutely nothing comes close to the abject fear of attempting stand up comedy. It is easily the scariest job in entertainment. You are only as good as your last joke. You can't rely on having a well known Beatles' song to play if the crowd get restless like a singer can. It's why stand up comics very rarely win "talent" shows. If you've got a half decent voice it's much easier to sing a show tune than write a three minute routine with probably 10 jokes in it which the whole audience find funny.
Then, you have hecklers. That group of, usually, pissed men who think they are as funny as you because they can shout out one phrase. If it gets a laugh, the comic on stage looks like an idiot, if they don't get a laugh (and they usually don't) they can hide behind the dimmed lights of the audience. Now don't get me wrong, seeing a heckler destroyed by a comic (as they usually are) is funny but this is about why do they feel the need to heckle in the first place.
I've seen several stand up comics over my life and as someone who has always looked at them and thought, "I wish I had the nerve to do that" I've always admired them. If you think I'm being easy on them think about it for a second. You walk on stage to be met by a single microphone and spotlight. It's a comedy night in a pub and this is the open mic section. You walk up to the microphone and see the shadows of 150 people looking at you. Your stomach tightens, your adrenalin is racing, your mouth dries up. You now have 5 minutes to entertain this crowd. They are expecting to laugh. You have to make them laugh. But you see a pensioner. Hang on, maybe they'll get offended at my little routine on minute three that has some swearing in it. Then you see a student. Hang on, maybe they're too young to get the Two Ronnies reference. It's bloody hard.
Now let's look at the heckler. They don't have a 5 minute routine to fill. They have a three second silence left for comic effect by the star of the show and let's be honest, the vast majority of times you hear hecklers they don't even get a laugh for those three seconds. They are, on the whole, drunken wankers who think they are funny and try to prove it by shouting out, "TITS!" during a three second break.
Am I being cruel to say that if these hecklers think they are funny in front of a crowd they should write a routine, find a stand up night and do some stand up?
I don't think I am.
Plus, why does this happen with comedy but not other things? You don't see wannabe guitarists jump on stage and wrestle a guitar from Pete Townshend's hands because he messed up Pinball Wizard. "I can play that better than you Pete. Fuck off." And anyone who did that would be, quite rightly, considered a wanker.
Then, on what seems to be an unrelated note, I went to the cinema on Friday to watch Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire. This movie is an emotional smack around the head with a cricket bat with nails in it. A very serious film which has the potential to leave a great deal of the audience weeping. It's just a great film. Yet during this showing someone decided that they would eat crisps and drink pop. However, these food items were stored in a carrier bag so a few minutes into the film you heard lots of rustling of the carrier bag and then someone eating crisps. A bit later, lots of rustling then slurping of pop from a can and then lots of rustling and more crisp eating.
Firstly, I'm really really fat and even I can sit through a film without the need to eat two bags of crisps. Secondly, what's the difference between Mr Crisp twat and Mr Heckler twat? They are both showing a disrespect of the audience around them and the work that's gone into the entertainment they are watching. Even with films I hate I sit quietly and wait for it to end. I don't walk out, I don't eat, I don't drink, I watch the film. I don't heckle, I watch the comic. If I don't find it funny I sit there and wait until it's over and I leave.
Now this sounds like I'm giving other comics the right to heckle. Afterall, they will get on stage so surely they have the right to heckle. In fact, I've heard that one wanna be comic was once heckled by Jack Dee. I actually find this worse. They know hecklers are a pain in the arse. They know that hecklers ruin the flow of your performance. Hecklers are just wankers who don't know better. Other comics who heckle are wankers who do know better.
In fact, because I've been looking at doing stand up I've been thinking about ways to deal with hecklers. I read something from a comic once that said, "Hecklers are usually pissed blokes who think they are funny. You are the comic, you are sober. If you can't think of a put down for their comments then you shouldn't be doing it." In a way I can agree with that but I feel it's like saying, "If you're a mountain climber I can pull your safety ropes out and throw rocks at you while you're on the mountain. A good mountaineer will deal with that." Yes, they would... but why do it? Why? There's no reason. You either think you're funny in which case grab a microphone and make us laugh with a well thought out routine or you don't in which case, sit down, shut up and listen to someone willing to put the effort in.