The ‘H’ word and dealing with it. Heckling 101.

Muppet HecklersThe reason I am referring to the topic of this blog by an initial is for the same reason most words are handled in this manner. It is considered by many to be a dirty word, not by everyone but certainly by many. Brace yourself—the word is heckling. There I said it.

There has recently been a long flare on the Magic Castle Facebook page about how terrible the heckling has become at the Castle and how to deal with it. Some of the solutions range from thoughtful to downright stupid. I don’t want to get into a discussion of that particular situation because it is incredibly location specific.

The Magic Castle is a unique venue that seems to be suffering some audience problems as it has been transforming from an intimate private club into a mega busy niche entertainment centre that marches to a cash beat. Of course, to remain viable as our clubhouse that cash needs to flow in on a very regular basis. However no member should be surprised if the magicians areHeckle cartoon treated less with respectful awe and more as a commodity. This is the trade off.

If you perform for any length of time you will eventually get heckled. It is like that hard drive failure— not a case of if but when. Magic is a particularly delicate area when it comes to heckling. Sometimes a heckler is just saying something that is obvious to everyone—like the outcome of a trick. It can be disconcerting when after burning a dollar bill, the moment you pull out a lemon; someone says, “I’ll bet the dollar is in it!”   If you experience a decrease in interest and a loss of authority then consider yourself heckled—but not necessarily in a negative way.

If this happens more than once, you should try and add a few curve balls and re-construct your repertoire so that you turn the tables on your audience’s expectations. I do this in many routines as a matter of course, and it pays big dividends in reaction. Very often an audience is way ahead of the pace and direction you are operating at and it behooves you to add a couple of twists. You have to do it, while they only have to think it, and thoughts are infinitely faster than actions.

If on the other hand, someone drunkenly shouts out something incoherently during your show then you have received the most classic and toughest to handle heckle. If it is a woman heckling it is infinitely worse. Your job number 1 is silencing the person and keeping them from getting out of control and spoiling the show for everyone else. The strongest tool you have at your disposal is to unite the audience behind you and let the heckler know that they are not appreciated by anyone present and are making a fool of themselves.

hecklingThe easiest kind of heckling to handle, and yet one that I see the most consistently mishandled, is when someone makes a genuinely witty or salient comment during your show.  A simple technique under these circumstances is to register the remark, smile at the person who made it and say, “That’s funny—I must remember to say that next time.” Another approach is to give a rueful smile and say, “I hate it when the audience is funnier than I am!” Don’t treat this kind of heckler as the enemy or they may become one.

What I haven’t discussed is that ever-popular mythical beast of magical booklets, ‘The Put Down,’ ‘Zingers’ or ‘The Zaps.’ Leave them in the outdated ‘gag book’ you find them in, as they can often open a can of worms you don’t want opened. The real danger with hecklers is that they are often totally genuine in their belief that they are helping you out.

As you perform you will develop some genuinely funny and relevant lines that you can use to stop a heckler.  Not to put down, zap or zing him—but to STOP him. These lines are generally ad-libs that are contextually effective, and your job is to make a mental note of the effective ones for future occasions when similar circumstances.

My personal technique when I want to use humor to silence someone is to do three short, scathing and really funny lines in a row directed straight at the heckler and then gazing directly (and pointedly) into his eyes say, “The LAST thing you want is my total attention.” This usually gets a strong reaction from the audience and usually convinces the heckler that I have a very good point.  Never attempt this, or any comedic anti-heckling approaches unless you are armed with a microphone, and never let your microphone into the hands of a heckler. Amen.

I’ve been getting a great reaction to my book ‘Cruise Magic 101’. Check it out on my web site.

~ by Nick Lewin on February 1, 2013.

4 Responses to “The ‘H’ word and dealing with it. Heckling 101.”

  1. Nicely stated, Nick! Agree 100%. : )

  2. Very well said Nick.

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