The banter rolls on into the morning hours at the start of each day. One man reading the news with an accompaniment of working stiffs interrupting, insulting, cracking jokes and debating with choler. Each worker feeling proud, having input their 2 shillings into current events in a time when “heckling” meant to split and straighten hemp or flax fibers to ultimately make things like clothing, upholstery and bedding.
Because of the shenanigans of these “Hecklers” in the early 1900s Scottish textile industry, the word has come to take on the meaning that most people use today.
Embarrass. Harass. Annoy. — Gibe?
I’m starting to think the Hecklers of yore were not well-liked people and perhaps outside of their community, that may have been true. But why continue to take the spotlight in front of your colleagues with the daily news, knowing full-well you’re about to be — Embarrassed? Harassed? Annoyed? Perhaps it’s time we connect this word back to its origins and give its definition a reboot. After all, if we’re still using words like “gibe” in definitions, a word that had its heyday in the 30’s and is invariably gone from present-day American English, perhaps it’s a sign that it’s time.
In this writing, we’ll be exploring various types of heckling, some of which you may have heard or even done yourself and maybe some that you’ve never taken a moment to consider, be grateful for or be amazed by. We’ll hear perspectives from comedians, jugglers and hecklers themselves on what Heckling means to them.
Why do people heckle?
After watching Jamie Kennedy’s 2007 Film, Heckler, documenting the experiences and opinions of stand-up comedians on hecklers, there seemed to be one very clear pattern: hecklers are not welcome at a comedy club. The majority of professional comedians seem to consider hecklers to be disruptive and rude, reducing the overall quality of their prepared act.
But there are a few, a minority, who tap into something altogether different. People like Harland Williams, stand-up comedian and actor in movies like Dumb and Dumber, Half Baked and Freddy Got Fingered who said:
Harland sees heckling as a challenge. And perhaps that’s why many on-stage performers hate hecklers the most— Hecklers challenge the the spotlit.Challenge them to reframe their punchlines, to reconsider their strategy, to change their act from perfectly-written to improv-from-necessity.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
“A heckler is somebody who is wanting to get in on the action”
says Mike White, writer and producer of Nacho Libre. And who’s to disagree? But who’s to say that the spotlight can’t be shared? Who’s to say that hecklers can’t be performers themselves, adding to a spotlit piece in unexpected, yet hilarious ways?
Welcome to the world of Renegade culture, where audience members are invited to willingly participate as hecklers during stage acts in hopes that the audience themselves become an integral part of the show’s merry-making. Where jugglers, musicians, dancers, and comics gather to perform “Renegade Acts” to shock, amaze and slay the crowd in exchange for a shot of hard liquor and a genuine round of applause that is earned rather than given out of polite company’s sake. When the act is done, the performers take their bows and return to the audience, looking to participate from the sidelines in other people’s acts in a large cast of supporting characters.
Let me just get this out of the way so we have some perspective going forward:
And with every art, comes critics. Critics like your writer and host, Kai Sosceles. Not here to call out individuals, just bad heckling. Bad heckling doesn’t automatically make you a douchebag as Joe Rogan would have you believe from his commentary in Heckler, but plenty of douchebags are bad audience members and who wants to take the time to sort it out when your career is the one in the spotlight? Understandable. With that said, let me point out the first bit of audience commentary that the Heckling culture boos.
In the culture of Heckling, these are the lowest of the low. Meow don’t mistake this for the lewd or vulgar, as even those have their place in Heckling. I once heard a call for a “Stunt cock” as a beautiful male/female duo took the Renegade Stage…laughed my ass off. Bigups Alien-Jon. But Obscenities are the value-decreased, mindless criticisms that dribble out of morons mouths as their shark-like attentiveness sniffs a drip of blood in the water.
These are essentially the equivalent of “your mom!” comebacks of childhood, except no one is insulting these audience members (not even going to call them Hecklers at this point). If the entire crowd wasn’t already aware of how much of a jackass this person is, they’ve just gone out of their way to make it known. At first I wrote that Obscenities are “worthless,” but I erased it because this type of audience feedback actually takes away from the show. It is not valued at 0. At neutral. It is detrimental to the act. These people fight against the possibility of an entertaining show. Please don’t be this person.
And now to break up the monotony with Bill Hicks famously slamming an Obscene crowd member: