A heckler...someone who harasses and tries to disconcert others with questions, challenges, or gibes.
Some of the most frequently heckled performers of course are comedians. Experienced stand up comedians use a method called "squelching," turning a heckler's interruption into a joke, so as not to lose the flow of their act.
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While at a show at the Laugh Factory here in Vegas last month I saw what could be called the ultimate heckle.
This guy was such a "pro" he didn't just heckle one of the guys, he started with the opening comedian Anton Knight, then threw a few one liners into comedian PK's act after that.
He saved his best or should I say worst for the headliner, comedian Johnny Sanchez. It started out with a few barbs here and there shouted out between jokes. When Johnny tried to bring this heckler into the joke in a positive way, he gave weird and flat answers which dropped the rhythm of the show like lead balloons.
In an attempt to ignore him, Johnny kept on going. Then, again, Mr. Heckler threw one out, and an ethnic heckle at that! Johnny without a beat went into an improv routine using what had been thrown at him. That was until he was a minute or so into it and realized what he was responding to. He stopped right there and said..."You know what? It has been a really long time since I have been in a real fight and if I wasn't on stage it would be happening right now, with this guy."
Then he stopped, took a drink of water and said "damn"....started up again and then stopped, back to the water bottle, stood at the stool on stage, then the water again. He was clearly very uncomfortable.
Sitting in the front row I felt bad for the guy. He is super funny and witty and I also wanted to see more of his stuff. So just to change the mood I asked, "So Johnny where are you from?"...he looked up and answered with a joke which turned into another and another. Nobody after that paid attention to the heckler, especially Johnny who never even faced that side of the room again. In fact I saw Anton Knight, the opening comedian go over and sit very close to the heckler, looking none too pleased. I think it was his way of supporting his friend on stage. I said to my husband on the way home, I guess what I did for Johnny was "positive heckling!"
Of course it's not just comedians that get heckled. We've all been heckled by people who say the wrong thing....relatives, acquaintances, grumpy cashiers, co-workers, bill collectors, and employers. Some are actually well intended but it feels like a heckle, (like the rental car agent who once told me I looked like Tonya Harding).
Are you a heckler? Do you fall into this behavior from time to time, with telemarketers, customer service reps, postal workers, fellow drivers on the road....I certainly have been guilty of this before and I am always embarrassed afterwards.
Sometimes I am even guilty of heckling myself! That voice in my head saying, "Why did you wear this"..."Why didn't you do that?"...."Did you really say that?"
Maybe we could all do with a little less heckling and a little more laughter!
Johnny Sanchez (Excerpt from the Laugh Factory website)
Johnny Sanchez takes audiences on a laughing journey of people, places and life with his feverish energy, detailed characters and spot-on delivery. A former “MADtv” cast member, Sanchez has also appeared on HBO’s “Comedy Showcase,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “Comics Unleashed,” and was featured in his own Comedy Central special. He lent his voice to the Oscar-winning animated film “Happy Feet” and its sequel “Happy Feet Two.” He can be seen in the upcoming independent comedy film, “Taco Shop.”