Friday, March 13, 2015

Hey Huff: Help Me Handle This Heckler

Hey Huff is a bi-monthly advice column for stand-up comedians. Please send your anxiety riddled issues to

Hey Huff-
I’ve been butting heads with a loud, obnoxious drunk chick lately and this particular audience member gets under my skin the most. What is the best way to handle such a person without being offensive or mean or hurtful? - Gentleman G.

Kelsie Huff
Hey Gentleman G. - When hecklers hit a nerve it can be difficult, but recognizing why this specific heckler gets under your skin is key. First of all, start viewing these experiences as connections instead of battles. Comedy doesn't have to be combative. You don’t HAVE to be offensive, mean or hurtful to show that you have power. In fact, it’s often more interesting (and unexpected) to connect to your heckler instead of handling them.

Secondly, you’re not alone. All comedians have specific audience triggers because we are humans dealing with our own personal stuff. When faced with these audience members many of us instinctively go into defensive/argumentative mode because it feels like we need to protect ourselves. We lash out. Yes, sometimes it works and we’ll get a few laughs. But when comedians instantly go to this hostile place it often confuses the room. The audience doesn't recognize your internal struggles, they simply see you reacting like a lunatic.

Recognize your triggers. Figure out WHY this “loud, obnoxious drunk chick” gets under your skin. Once you understand WHY you can start responding in an open, honest and personal way. This tactic often silences the heckler and also pulls the audience into your experience.

One of my audience “red flags” are large, white men sitting in the front row with their arms crossed, whilst looking at their cellphones. These dudes set my face on fire and make me want to scream,


That is audience railing. I advise against it. Try the honest tactic BEFORE you lose your shit.

For example, I was performing recently and there was a large, white man sitting in the front row with his arms crossed, whilst looking at his cellphone. TRIGGER. I stopped, took a breath, sat in the silence, looked him dead in the eye and said,

“Excuse me sir, I know you are on your phone right now but you look just like my dad! Could you tell me that you’re proud of me? I mean, look at all these people who came to see me!”

It got big laughs. Often, there is more humor in vulnerability than there is in venom.

Gentleman G, you’re going to get heckled. Sometimes it’s going to feel super personal. Find out why intoxicated females are your trigger. Then stop trying to “handle” them and start trying to connect with them.

Occasionally you will run into hecklers who are beyond reason. If you've tried connecting and they are still interrupting it’s time to call them out. Also, there are people, heck there are entire rooms (Cigars and Stripes - I am looking at you!) where the audience loves to be railed on. That’s HOW they want to connect. Read the room and if they want to be roasted, go get em!

Staff Writer - Kelsie Huff
Kelsie is a producer, writer, storyteller and stand up comedian based in Chicago. You can catch her performing at top clubs and showcases all over town as well as at her own showcase - the kates a bi-monthly show in at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square and now at Laugh Factory Chicago.