A Comic’s Life: The Hustle and the Heckle.
Over the last few summers, my buddy Justin Bourne and I (www.jtbourne.com) took a liking to our budding local stand-up comedy scene that a local pub in Kelowna had initiated. What started as a night of amateur-hour at best, slowly migrated into a stop on the Yuk Yuk’s tour, a stage with its own faux-brick wall, and appearances by some top notch talent that has appeared on various TV shows. After nearly memorizing Jerry Seinfeld’s “I’m Telling You For The Last Time,” and various other comics’ material, we had basically proclaimed ourselves connoisseurs of stand-up comedy; knowing what’s good, and what’s worth changing the channel in hopes of better entertainment.
It’s always been so hit and miss; between the opening act and the “headliner” (in a few instances, the opener should have been the headliner), you never really know what you’ll get Forrest Gump’ed at you. One night, both acts could be comedic gold, the next night one might leave the unnecessary sexual material in overdrive (male and female performers alike), and the next would have to clean up the mess, and some nights, both just stink. It’s incredible how often a comedian will sense that his clean material isn’t working, and will auto-pilot into his dirty stuff as a failsafe, because it’s the lowest common denominator will get some sort of reaction.
Despite all the variables however, there is always one constant that can always be counted on. Every single time you show up at a stand-up comedy act, there will always, without fail, be that guy…that one guy—drunk enough that he’s been cut-off by the wait-staff–that insists on heckling, shouting incoherent and irreverent comments that inspire a chorus of “SHUT UP!!” ‘s from everyone trying to enjoy the show. It’s incredible to try and understand what’s going through the mind of a person whose brain is telling them the smartest and funniest thing they could do at that moment is to shout the name of the comedian loudly, or offer a few inappropriate and off-topic words (not full sentences or coherent thoughts, just a few assorted words) at that moment in time. Sometimes you’ll even hear an attempt at a joke similar to one that the comedian has already told that night; only this version does not get over in the least, and the amateur funny-man gets lit up like a Christmas tree by the one that’s actually being paid to tell jokes.
The comedian’s ability to deal with the hecklers is nothing short of amazing. I can’t recall seeing a comedian crumble under the onslaught of idiotics. It’s always deflected rather impressively; and the heckler quickly becomes the heckled (only this time, the comedian has the whole audience on his or her side). Think you could do this at your job, when a customer complains about your service?
There also always ends up being one audience member that ends up as indirect target of offence. To avoid this, never, EVER, under any circumstances, should you ever put up your hand or offer a response to a question that a comedian is looking for one person to answer. Trust me on this one, it is only a gateway to your own embarrassment. As tempting as it might be to inform the talent about anything regarding yourself, keep in mind, it’s all being stored as ammunition against you. You’ve been warned. Further, never sit in the front row either; keep a comfortable viewing distance. It’s for your own good.
I’ve come to respect the comedian greatly. If you haven’t, consider some of the factors with me. According to
Seinfeld (I’m sure there’s some actual research for this), most people are more afraid of speaking in public than of death; meaning they’d rather be dead in a casket than giving a eulogy at a funeral. I know everyone thinks they can tell a few good jokes here and there, but to lace together a solid set of material that any generic audience will respond to positively, and have it last around an hour is pretty daunting when you think about it. I’m sure most comedians could tell you more than one story of nights they thought that they had been booked at a cricket convention. The time, effort, successes and failures accumulated and required over the years would likely break most people.
You’ll never hear an up-and-coming comedian brag about how much money they’re making either. They’re out there, night after night, small-town after small-town, telling their jokes about the last city they were in that the current city hates, peddling their merchandise… I respect the hustle. They’re (usually) doing it because they love to perform. Getting the kind of passion in a performance that is driven from “love of the game” is worth the $10 cover and my applause any night.