A conversation between two morons

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on January 5th, 2013

Writing about hecklers is nothing new. And attempting to group them into types is something that The Female Half of the Staff did in a column, “Heckler Alert,” nearly a decade ago. (And that column made it into our book, “The Comedy Bible: The Complete Resource for Aspiring Comedians,” and forms the bulk of our eight-page breakdown of hecklers on pages 102-109.)

We took a practical, pragmatic approach in explaining heckling and hecklers. We knew that heckling was something that happened (though not as frequently as some believe) and that if the comedian understood the motivation behind most heckling, he/she could better deal with it.

One thing we didn’t do was venerate the heckler.

Which brings us to “A field guide to hecklers,” a chirpy, vacuous and ultimately worthless back-and-forth from the Chicago Tribune’s Nina Metz and Chris Borrelli in which they “see if there might be a valid argument on behalf of those of us who are (gasp!) in favor of heckling.”

You read that right. They allow for the idea that there might be a valid argument in favor of heckling. Jacques Deridda’s work is done. We now have what we assume to be two college-educated 20-somethings– writing for a newspaper that has been in some sort of bankruptcy hell since 2008– and their idea of a provocative and entertaining article is to speculate on whether or not interrupting a performance by a professional entertainer might be something that has merit.

As Metz explains it, heckling– for an audience member– “works as a litmus test.” Huh? She elaborates: “The comic who turns hostile isn’t working at the top of their game. (And, we daresay, the journalist who cranks out that sentence isn’t working at the top of her game, either.) As proof, Michael Richards’ infamous Laugh Factory outburst is cited. Yawn. She continues: “But if they can zing back with a really sharp retort– but funny, it has to be funny!– they have my respect for life.”

Which is just what we want– the lifelong respect of this total idiot.

Metz continues:

My favorite flavor of heckler, though, is what I call the Productive Heckler, who’s there to keep the comedian honest. Last summer, during the Just for Laughs festival, I caught a show from Chris D’Elia, who co-stars on the NBC sitcom “Whitney.” D’Elia likes to do crowd work, which makes him even more susceptible to those with heckling tendencies. (Actually, it makes him less susceptible! But we don’t have the time to go into Comedy 101. — Editors) He began a joke with this setup: “Why is it so hard to get girls?” This from a good-looking guy on a TV show. All I could think was, “Yeah, right, you have trouble scoring attention.” And, happily, an audience member (female, though does that matter?) voiced the same thought with a one-word response: “Bull—-.” The audience kept D’Elia honest. He was forced to stop and explain why, even for a guy in his semifamous position, it’s not easy to meet noncelebrity-obsessed women. I love Productive Hecklers.

You know what, Nina Metz? Fuck you. And fuck your “favorite flavor of heckler.” And, while we’re at it, fuck your stupid fucking concept of “keep(ing) the comedian honest.” It’s not up to you or some asshole in the audience to keep the comedian honest. It’s not up to you or your favorite flavor of douchebag to keep anything honest. You pay your money, you watch the show, you laugh or you don’t. You stay or you go. Calling bullshit during the performance doesn’t keep the comic honest. It disrupts the show and it’s stupid and rude.

Nitwit # 2 chimes in:

It also sounds like a genuinely interesting moment of revelation, albeit one that was forced on the entertainer. We are now listening to someone say something they genuinely hadn’t intended.

The tsunami of dumb in those two sentences threatens to cause an immense amount of intellectual damage.

Musicians are viewed as artists with integrity who “don’t take requests.” When a musician states that as his policy, we are generally sympathetic and we understand that he has an agenda (called a set list) and that it’s up to him to take us on the trip he has planned. Why are comedians viewed as puppets that audience members can manipulate? Why, when an audience member attempts such manipulation, is it viewed as “a genuine moment of revelation?”

What arrogance!

We hate to sound like Grandpa and Grandma Comedy, but these two are self-centered, perpetually immature goofs who think that the world revolves around them. And that we are there to serve them. It’s all about Nina and Chris and they have a much better idea about how Chris D’Elia and Zach Galafianakis and the rest of us should respond when some equally narcissistic asshat ejaculates in the middle of one of our well-crafted sets.

Borrelli says:

On the other hand, as someone who wants an event to be memorable, yes, I’m pro-heckling. Who isn’t? I have seen countless comedians and forgotten most of them. But I remember each and every time I have witnessed a performer get into it with an obnoxious audience.

We remember shows where we have gotten heckled. And, we suppose, some audience members remember a show where there was an interesting exchange between a performer and a patron. But we mainly like to remember shows where we smoothly and precisely maneuver through a set and we remember the feeling of competently manipulating an audience into the exact state we want them to be in throughout the entirety of a 50-minute set. And we are certain that those audiences were aware that they were witnessing comedy at its finest and that they recall those performances fondly. Only a boorish egotist like this would encourage boorish behavior so that he might have a “memorable” experience.

When a couple of feeble-minded pop-culture magpies at a major, big-city daily even hint that heckling might, in some instances, be “comedy helper,” we cringe.

Says Metz:

As journalists and critics, we’re trained to stand and back observe (sic), so I don’t think it’s ever occurred to me to heckle. But I am always secretly thrilled (and nervous!) when someone else does it.

So, what we have here is someone who hides behind her supposed ethics when explaining why she doesn’t dare heckle… but who is “thrilled” when someone else does the heckling for her. She’s an odious combination of a coward on a power trip. “All right, everyone– *Clap-clap*– do my bidding! Heckler– spice things up a bit, as they are in need of some sort of edge! Comedy Boy– Respond in an edgy fashion, so that my boredom does not overtake me! You there, eunuch– bring me my goblet!” Get a load of Caligula over here!

What is wildly amusing about Metz’ orgasm over the “Productive Heckler” who “keeps the comedian honest,” is that half (if not more) of those honest moments she’s witnessed were probably just as contrived and locked down as the rest of that evening’s set. (She probably thinks that her favorite comedians who “riff off the top of their heads and bring us on an intoxicating, exhilarating improvisational ride,” are probably about as spontaneous as the flight attendant explaining the safety procedures of the Boeing 757-300 series aircraft. She probably thinks that reality television is “real.”) We hate to burst your bubble, Nina, but most of us have been at this comedy thing for so long that nothing surprises us. Not only that, but the “Productive Heckler” rarely ever says anything we haven’t heard before. We remember such putdowns and we save them in a file (real or virtual) so that we might use them again. (And, believe us, it will happen again– audience members are about as imaginative as big-city journalists.) So those “interesting moments of revelation” are most likely recreations of similar incidents that happened weeks or months or years before. (We just happen to be able to make it look spontaneous… and simpletons like Nina and Chris fall for it.)

On page 109 of our book, under the heading of “Common denominator,” we say:

Some hecklers may be hard to identify or categorize. But there is undoubtedly one thing they have in common. After the show, they will come up to you and say, “I helped the show!” No… you did not.

This article is nothing more than a pre-emptive version of the inebriated hosebag who comes up to the comic after the show and proudly seeks approval for his sparkling contribution to the evening’s proceedings. We have to break it to you, kids– you did not help the show.