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When an audience member gets bored, angry or drunk and baits a comedian, the performer onstage either delights in improvising comebacks or hopes security will intervene. We sought out a few experts to share their opinions on heckling: insult comic Lisa Lampanelli, heckler-turned-humorist Donnell Rawlings, and Doug Benson, whose ongoing podcast The Benson Interruption sees him cutting off guest comedians midsentence to riff on their jokes.
RECOMMENDED: New York comedy 2012
What’s your philosophy when it comes to heckling?
Doug Benson: As occupational hazards go, it rarely results in physical injury. The psychological impact is another matter. But when I’m doing it on The Benson Interruption, it’s not heckling, it’s helping. Or trying to.
Lisa Lampanelli: Ninety percent of the time, they’re just annoying douche bags who are not comfortable not being the center of attention, or they’re people who are drunk. Seven percent of the time, they’re likable, because you can get great laughs off the things you say back to them, because usually they’re stupid and you’re the smart one. Three percent is like, Oh, that’s sweet—you’re not going to say “Fuck you” to a guy who’s saying “I love you.”
Donnell Rawlings: A heckler is a person with aspirations to be a comedian, but they don’t have the heart.
What’s the worst heckle you’ve ever received?
Benson: Once in London, the entire audience started chanting, “Get off, get off, get off!” But I did a full set, because I wanted to get paid. It was just them yelling at me, and me yelling at them. It was like an episode of Jerry Springer, without TV cameras or test results.
Lampanelli: It was like my fifth time onstage, and I brought up the next act, and he was so bad that some guy from the back yelled, “Hey, bring back the fat chick!” Having struggled with weight and self-esteem issues for, at that point, probably 13 years, legitimately overnight I turned from just your basic comic to an insult comic: Get people before they get me.
Rawlings: I like to deal with hecklers myself. If a guy is heckling you, you’ve got to destroy him. You know you’ve beaten a heckler [when] they either want to befriend you and buy you a drink, or they want to get into a bar fight.
Is there such a thing as a good heckle?
Benson: Spontaneity is very entertaining. I love it when an audience member’s comment, or my retort gets a big laugh. So, yell something out and take your chances. It’s when a person interrupts repeatedly that it crosses over into heckling.
Lampanelli: Maybe where it’s timed perfectly; then you can just hammer ’em and get some material.
Rawlings: There was a guy who was obviously gay and out of the closet. I said something, and he embraced it: “I’m more man than you’ll ever be and more woman than you’ll ever get!” And then he did two snaps! He had the confidence, the delivery and the performance.