Sometimes the show happens off-stage.
Ask any comedian what they think of hecklers, and you get the same response: "They're the scum of the earth." Indeed: to comics, hecklers are the single worst breed of human ever to suck air—the type of people who can't shut the fuck up, even when they're politely asked to.
On the other hand: Hecklers also make for good stories about the abject pain and humiliation of trying to make a living in show business. We asked some New York City comedians to share the most brutal, bizarre, and humiliating heckles they've ever experienced. Here are the best stories of the audience members who've ruined shows from coast to coast:
I flew down to Florida Atlantic University for a show, and as I walk toward the mic, somebody yells out, "Hey, look at this fag!" It gets a huge laugh. I grab the microphone, and I replied: "Jesus, man, what if I was actually gay?" He replied, "No, you are!" Which got about eight minutes of applause.
A black woman stood up during my act and yelled, "What are you trying to say? That black people are stupid?" I'll never forget that—because I'm the blackest person I know.
I walked onstage in Atlanta, and someone in the back was talking, so I said, "Be quiet, the show just started." During my first joke, he started talking loudly again, so I said, "Shut up, it's a long show, you're going to ruin it for everybody." Then the sound guy yelled, "Medical emergency!" The guy who was talking was escorted out clutching his chest—we found out later he had a heart attack and died at the hospital.
Back in the day, I worked at a Lower East Side comedy club called Ha!. I was booked on Halloween, but I also wanted to go to a party afterwards, so I wore my Tiger Woods costume onstage and opened with, "So I'm Tiger Woods for Halloween. Hopefully I can find a hot blonde to complete this outfit." Nothing. I bombed the rest of my set hard, and as I left the stage, I heard someone in the crowd yell, "Tiger Woods? More like Tiger COULD!" It got the loudest laugh of the night.
I was playing a bar show in Andover, Massachusetts, and a jacked-up bro wearing an Affliction shirt was sitting alone, front row and center. It was several days after Halloween, half the audience members were still wearing their costumes, and everyone was shitfaced. Halfway through my set, the bro yells, "Shut up and tell me jokes about Boston!" Then, an older woman in a witch costume said, "Stand-up is horrible. Why are you doing this to us? We just want to drink."
I was struggling to tell jokes in the corner of a sports bar when, suddenly, the previously bored audience burst into laughter as an audience member pointed at the speaker next to me. A kitten was crawling out of it, and the show producer yelled, "There you are!" and scooped it into his arms. He'd been looking for it all day, and apparently it was sleeping in the PA system until my crappy jokes woke it up. My ten minutes ended, the crowd still hated me—but the cat got adopted.
I told a joke, and a woman yelled, "My son would've loved that one!" I asked about her son, and she replied with very little emotion, "Oh, he died two months ago."
I was the only white comic on the bill for a tribute to Richard Pryor at BAM during Black History Month. I was bombing—hard—and then a woman in the front row calmly pulled out a Sharpie, drew a Zorro mustache on her face, unbuttoned her top, and let her boobs hang out. I was the only one who could see her—that is, until she jumped onstage and started yelling while filming herself.
In Ocean Springs, Michigan, a large, intoxicated man said the following to me: "Hey now. When you said the queers deserve the right to get married, I agree because, by golly, I believe in the constitution, and I got a gay cousin. When you made fun of the Bible of my Lord and personal savior, I, for one, admit there are some holes in that story. But when you said Duck Dynasty is scripted, you got my vote to fuck right on off, man."
During a show in Plymouth early last year, I was called "pedestrian" by a woman who was double-fisting beers while breastfeeding.
I did a show on Staten Island where a waitress from a previous shift had been napping and doing drugs in the crawl space behind the stage. She crawled out during my set and heckled me as she walked to her seat in the front row to make a phone call. When I tried to address the situation, she said, "Stick to your prepared material."
One time at a club in Midtown (Manhattan), I got onstage, started to speak, then immediately heard someone yell, "Shut the fuck up, nigga." I said, "This is what Martin Luther King Jr. must've gone through," and he replied, "But can I at least tell you 'bout my dream?" Weirdest heckle ever.
When I did musical comedy, a homeless man called me and my partner the N-word (we're white). I ended up having him jump onstage and play spoons with me until he fell asleep.
The worst heckle I ever got was complete silence. Right when I got onstage—before I even opened my mouth—a woman sitting in the front row picked up her chair and slowly turned it around so her back was to me, tossing her head around in defiance and crossing her arms. She stayed that way for the entire set. My mother and aunts were in the audience, and they walked out because it was so awful. My mother asked me afterward why I was ruining my life. I sobbed myself to sleep that night.
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