What being heckled as a comedian taught me about social media.
“I could never do stand-up comedy.”
“I’d be too afraid of being heckled.”
That was something I heard a lot over the years.
It does seem to be the biggest fear that people have about what they imagine life as a stand-up comedian to be like.
In fact, they’d be wiser to worry about cancelled gigs, seasonal changes and the general unpredictability of your income.
But that’s by the by.
What people don’t realise is that as a stand-up comedian you don’t actually get heckled very often.
Because people are usually as afraid to heckle as they would be of being heckled.
That’s why, when you do get heckled, the heckler is usually drunk.
And therein you have a slight problem.
Because what you want to do is to come back with a put-down, the audience to laugh, the heckler to be silenced and everyone to move on.
But have you ever tried to defeat a drunk with oratory?
Or by embarrassing them?
They don’t recognise or care about any of that.
That’s why you have to pick your battles.
You have to make sure that you’re walking into a battle that actually needs to be fought in the first place.
Because this is the other thing that people don’t realise.
Not every heckle should be responded to.
You’ve got a microphone and a PA system.
A heckler doesn’t.
You’re facing the audience.
But if the heckler’s sitting at the front then they’re just facing you.
And if they’re sitting at the back then they’re just facing the backs of heads.
If the rest of the audience doesn’t even hear a heckle but you stop to respond to it — you only serve to confuse the people who were previously with you.
You’re supplying a putdown to something they weren’t aware of — so how can they judge if it’s funny or not?
How can they even judge if it was deserved or not?
Fighting fire with fire only sounds cool if you can prove that the original fire existed.
Otherwise you’re just an arsonist.
Putting down a drunk person who may or may not deserve it is a risky business if you’re to keep the audience onside.
Especially as the audience’s view and your view are different.
I once put down a heckler who was in the front row of a gig.
They were facing me, muttering to me and putting away an industrial quantity of booze that was spread across the table.
From where I was, I could see this, I could see them and I could make a judgment call.
From where the audience was though, they could see somebody in an awkward pose, slurring, who seemed to have one of the best seats in the house.
So it was that I stood onstage putting down a drunk, while an audience facing the stage decided that I was mocking a disabled person.
What’s real and what onlookers see are not necessarily the same thing.
So why is somebody who now works in social media and content telling you all this?