You know that thing when you finally go out to a comedy club to momentarily forget the world's troubles, and then some person or people yell, distract or otherwise ruin everyone else's nice time? We spoke to two comics about the most common hecklers they confront in the wild, and confirm that they are, in fact, the worst.
By Cory Schachtel | February 23, 2022
Stags and Stagettes
If you’re going out to celebrate your friend getting married, it’s best to avoid comedy clubs altogether. There’s something about being in a big group wearing similar outfits with genitalia-themed trinkets that make people think they’re the stars of whatever venue they enter, because they usually are. And that’s fine — in any bar except comedy clubs.
Celeste Lampa: Drunk women about to get married have no limit on how much fun they want to have. And because it’s their stagette they’re just thinking me, me, me! And then you see the manager or security walk straight up to them, and everybody knows what’s happening.
They just believe that their stagette is the party at the show, and they want to wile out. But it’s like, you don’t have to do this here at the show. Just go to the bar. You can be as loud as you want there. But here, there are other people paying to pay attention to someone who isn’t you. It would be like taking your stagette to a movie and disrupting everybody else’s time. I always say whenever there’s more than one stagette party at a show that they should fight after the show.
Brad Semotiuk: Anytime someone’s celebrating getting married, they’re getting blackout drunk. And, you know, having an existential crisis about their choices and stuff. You’ve got to watch those people. And it’s always gonna be a problem if they bring balloons. That’s the one thing I’ve noticed about stagettes and bachelor parties: They usually all dress up and wear the little outfits with sashes and party-favour things. As soon as somebody brings balloons into the club, you might as well just forget all your jokes, because you’re not getting them out. You have to start focusing on them right away.
A couple years ago there was a stagette party where the whole party got kicked out because they were just on their phones and talking to each other the whole time. But they left all their sashes and tiaras and all that stuff. So I had it all delivered to the stage by a nice young man in the front row and I put it all on and just started taking pictures with it.
There’s a difference between stagettes and bachelor parties too, in terms of how you handle them. Because with a bachelor party, you can tease the guy about how his wife’s gonna regret it and stuff. But I find that if you tell a woman that her husband’s going to leave her, the crowd is all of a sudden no longer on your side.
New Year’s Eve
You’ve just celebrated Christmas. Your spirits are high as you near the dawn of another new year, and you want to end this one with some hearty laughs among good friends. That’s great! But if you choose to spend it at a place where professionals dish out the jokes, make sure to contribute your part — the lols — and only your part.
Celeste: So I did my first actual New Year’s show at a club just this past year, and I was so excited. I hosted, not knowing that the crowd was already hammered, because last call was at 11 p.m. And before I went on at 10, I noticed that the front table was completely empty. I’m in the back room, and then all of a sudden I can hear the crowd getting really loud. And I’m like, Oh, great, they filled the front table. And then I come out, and this table just doesn’t care that there’s an actual comedy show going on at all. It’s like they were expecting to just have a fun party by themselves, and they talked literally the entire time I was up there.
It was such an impossible situation, because they were just blackout, all four of them. I could tell by their eyes they were just so drunk that nothing could get through to them. And they acted as if they were making this funny for everyone. I tried to make it funny while taking attention away from them, saying, “I don’t really get dolled up for anything anymore, but I put on fake lashes tonight for this?” And then right before I was gonna introduce the next comic, I was like, “Hey guys, are we cool? Can we just have fun guys, so we don’t have to kick you out?” I basically treated them like they were children, and then they were nice. But as soon as the next comic came up, they were loud again. Then security came and had to kick them out. What a waste of the front row — and a full face of makeup.
The Post-Show Heckler
Heckling a live show is one thing, but you gotta be a special kind of selfish to go up to a comedian post show to say something stupid.
Celeste: I have this joke about me doing macramé, and how much I love doing it. And this lady came up after, while we were in the green room, and she’s like, “I fucking hate macramé.” Those were her first words coming into the room, looking me right in the eyes. I’m thinking, Did I just trigger this person with the word macramé? She says “All these 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds, they love macramé, and I don’t see what the big deal is.” And I’m like, “Well, I don’t know what to tell you.” And then the comic beside me, Alicia, goes, “Well, her stuff is really nice,” and then we go into my Instagram account and I’m like, yeah, that’s my shit.
Then she goes, “I’m an interior designer.” And I’m thinking, oh, wow, you don’t dress like an interior designer — you don’t look like you make good money. I could have said so many things, but you just let them speak because at that point it’s like, whatever, I got paid.
Brad: There’s this crazy thing that happens with hecklers, where after a show you’ll be hanging out and the drunkest guy in the room will come up to you. Maybe he didn’t say anything for the whole show, but he’ll come up to you with a joke he wants to give you. And the joke is always racist. It’s crazy. It’s like the worst thing you’ve ever heard in your life, and you could never tell it, and it’s also probably a street joke.
I also get another kind of post-show heckler that might be a bit niche to me. My dad’s a cop, and I talk about him being a cop and how that just makes it easier to do crimes. And then every once in a while, there’ll be another cop in the crowd. And they’ll come up to me after with… questions. And I just have to pretend that I’m lying, like, no, I’ve never done a crime in my life and also my dad’s a fireman, which is what I do with any post-show heckler: just lie to get the conversation over with. And the cops usually believe me, which I guess means they aren’t very good cops.
The Guy Who Thinks He’s Funny
Many people are funny among their friends. Virtually no one is funny the first time they go on a comedy stage in front of a room full of strangers. Many people think they totally could be, but they lack the guts to find out, so they yell out from the crowd while someone’s on stage doing something they couldn’t. Occasionally they see the punch line coming and ruin it. But more often, they just yell out something stupid. In both cases, they should just shut up.
Celeste: The best was in Lethbridge, where this guy kept on saying little things in the front row. And he was by himself, which was just so bizarre. I said the word ‘blow’ in a joke. And he’s just like, “You mean, cocaine?” as if I was stupid for saying it. And I’m like, bro, cocaine is blow. Everyone knows that. And then I said, “Hey, if anybody needs cocaine, you know who to talk to.”
The Overly Offended (But Not How You Think)
Most people go to comedy clubs to laugh. Some people go to comedy clubs to laugh — if the comics only joke about the things they find funny, in a way they find funny. Not finding a joke or act funny is fine, but talking about it, while the act is still going on, is rude.
Brad: I would call it “overly offended,” but I might also just call it dumb. I was opening for Erik Griffin, and he was doing all this race material. And this guy in the back of the club started muttering to himself. Usually hecklers yell, but he was not at a level where anyone on stage could hear him, just enough that it was distracting all the other tables around him, apparently about how Erik’s act was “reverse racism.”
And it was getting to be an issue for the other people around him, so they had to kick him out of the club. Then he started yelling, and he threatened to call the police on the club, all because a Black guy said white privilege is real.
The Heckler Looking for Revenge
Sitting front row at a comedy club is like sitting front row at SeaWorld: There’s a good chance some of the show will spill over onto you (for the record, SeaWorld is awful, and you shouldn’t go, but it works as a comparison). That’s why it’s often the last row to be filled. If you do sit up front, know that anything you say or do may be held against you, and it’s best to just roll with it.
Brad: This one I might have started. I was saying how I think it’s lame the way people act like doing mushrooms makes you smart. And this guy and his friend tried to high five for some reason, but they missed, right in the front row. It was such perfect timing that I couldn’t help but make of them for a while. Then he just decided that we were enemies after that, and started stepping on stuff.
Usually with a heckler you can play around with them and get a laugh, but this guy was not even participating in that version of comedy, he was just screaming nonsense as loud as he could every time I was loading up a punchline. So I had nothing else to say other than just being mean to him. Usually you feel bad when you bully a guy, but that felt righteous.
The Therapeutic Heckler
Speaking of righteous bullying, some comics were bullied growing up. And sometimes their bullies, or at least stand-ins for their bullies, show up and heckle (note to bullies: you’re not unique). Comics like when this happens.
Brad: This is probably left over from when I was a kid or something. But I think drunk, really manly men are very funny. Because I’m like five-foot-five and 100 pounds. And it’s always been a lot of fun to make a big, overconfident guy really mad.
And there are so many of them that it happens at least once a weekend where there’s just a drunk guy, or dudes that just wanna get drunk and ruin someone’s night — it’s not really a rare type of guy to find in the wild, you know? And it’s a lot of fun to poke fun at them because in real life I can’t just go up to a guy way bigger than me and start making fun of them, otherwise I’m gonna get my ass beat. It reminds me a lot of when I used to play hockey and you could just say whatever you wanted to anybody because you had a helmet on, so their punch wouldn’t hurt. Now my helmet is eight door guys at the comedy club.
The Male-Female Split
It turns out that men and women can both be jerks — and they are, in roughly even numbers, according to our comics.
Celeste: Oh it’s straight down the middle. Everybody’s an asshole.
Brad: I agree with Celeste. But men and women heckle differently, and I think women are generally better at it. I feel like men try to make themselves seem big, and women try to make you seem small. They’re both trying to put you down, but in terms of hurting my feelings, being called a little weirdo hurts way more than any guy trying to fight me, especially because that woman was kind of right.
Bonus: The Heckler Who’s Actually Right (or at Least Not Wrong)
It’s hard enough doing the most lonesome job in show business, but it’s even worse when someone points out when a comic’s doing poorly, especially because, unlike the person on stage, the heckler doesn’t need to be witty. A well-timed “you suck!” can make the lull of no laughs linger, and there’s not much to come back with when everyone knows the heckler’s right.
Celeste: That’s the worst because, yeah — they’re not wrong. And we just have to keep going, unfortunately. But we still do it, night after night. I’ve been doing this for a while. So if I do get that heckler, I get upset at the time, and then I just get over it. We learn how to get over stuff very easily.
But you have to acknowledge it, because it’s reality. It’s the truth of the moment. You have to point out the elephant in the room. I’ve seen some comics ignore it and just plug through their material, while all this is happening in the crowd. And it’s just like, no, address it — people want you to because it’s actually happening. Otherwise you’re allowing them to go on and disrupt everyone’s time.
Brad: Sometimes someone will hit you with a call back that you never expected. I’ll do a joke, and then I’ll start another joke and somebody will interject with a callback to the first one that I had never heard before. It almost never happens, and I certainly don’t want to encourage people to try, but when it does happen it’s kind of deflating, because you’re just like, damn, I can’t believe I couldn’t write that but this drunk lady just thought of it off the top of her head. You can’t even try to roast them at that point. I’m just like, give it up for this person.