• 5 Ways to deal with Hecklers

  • January 20, 2020

  • When it comes to hecklers, there are two main kinds, active and passive hecklers. Active hecklers are the ones who first come to mind, the loud abusive and often belligerent drunk who feels the need to interject his pearls of wisdom into your performance. The second type is the less invasive, but all the same disruptive kind of hecklers and they take the form of passive hecklers who “heckle” by not paying attention, being on their phones or talking to someone else nearby.

    Both kinds can be very off-putting when trying to perform, though if you have the right mentality in regards to how you view hecklers, there is no need to be thrown off, (see my last article). Having a positive mindset towards hecklers can be tricky, but it will make “handling” them much easier for you.

    1) Maintain emotional control

    This is probably the hardest part, even if you have managed to change how you view the heckler. It is very easy to feel attacked, and I don’t know about you, but my emotions always screamed to get angry and lash out. This is not the best course of action, the heckler wins, and you end up embarrassed and may well lose the entire audience. So instead, try and...

    2) Single them out in the audience

    There are a few ways of doing this, but my favourite way is with a small high powered torch I keep on a reel. I can pull it out in an instant and get rid of it just as quickly, (which in itself can seem a bit magical!) but upon getting it out, if I shine it into the audience directly at the offending party and ask them to identify themselves and repeat what they said, they have a tendency to go very quiet. For the far majority of cases, this brings the matter to a close.

    In a close-up performance, this doesn’t work quite as well, since they weren’t hiding in a crowd anonymously, but were already within arm’s reach and still felt that this was an acceptable way to behave. As such, in a close up situation, I try a different tactic.

    3) Use a standard “hack” magician line

    There are plenty of these in existence, and I still use them in my performances. I know many magicians swear off these lines because they are so prevalent, but as long as they work, I don’t see the problem:

    “It’s funny; I don’t remember seeing your name in the script quite so often...”

    “You realise this isn’t television and I can hear you, right?

    “I remember my first beer as well....”

    These are a great starting place to use while you find your feet as a performer. Over time though, we can...

    4) Use improvised comedic lines based on the performance

    This is a much more complicated way of handling a heckler, as it requires that you have a better mastery over improvisation, timing and situational awareness. This will only come with practice, and I would not recommend trying it straight out of the gate. However, start getting into the habit of trying to improvise funny or witty responses to everyday situations, and spend some time reflecting on “what would have been a good response”. With time, you will find that you get faster and faster at reaching that “a-ha” moment where you suddenly know what the perfect thing to say would have been.

    Not only will you start coming up with your own lines after the fact that you can use should a similar situation arise, but you will also be able to think quickly on your feet and eventually be able to come up with an appropriate response that is just perfect for the troublesome person in front of you.

    5) Be nice

    Jerry Seinfeld came up with this way of handling hecklers and has used it throughout his very successful career. Jerry would behave as a “Heckle Therapist”, taking on a sympathetic mentality towards them and would try to resolve whatever the cause was and try to understand them. Often the line he would use was:

    “You seem so upset, and I know that’s not what you wanted to have happen tonight. Let’s talk about your problem.”

    The audience would usually laugh, and it would disorientate them, they would often be preparing for a fight, so to suddenly have you on their side would catch them very unawares!


    Alright then, I think that’s enough for today, I’ll have some more reasons for you tomorrow!


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