Tuesday, September 27, 2011
What if I get heckled?! (Silence)
What's the scariest thing about performing stand-up comedy?
Ask a first-time comic, and I'll bet he or she will tell you: "I don't want to get heckled!"
It's true: being heckled sucks. But there's something worse than heckling, and it's far more prevalent in Canada: silence.
Take off, eh!
"The heckler" is by and large an American invention, like cars, fast food, and illegal wars.
In Canada, hecklers are a much less-aggressive species that usually fall into one of two categories:
1. The drunk guy (it's always a guy) who doesn't realize how obnoxious he's being.
These guys are pretty easy to shut down. You simply make an alcohol joke, everybody laughs, and he passes out.
2. The guy (see?) who's having such a good time, he wants to"help you out" by shouting out his agreement.
Strictly speaking, this isn't a heckler. Hecklers try to ruin your show on purpose, whereas these fine fellows ruin your show accidentally.
Usually, you deal with these guys by simply shaking their hand or patting them on the head - the physical contact is a reminder that, no, this isn't the Comedy Channel, and, yes, it's time to move on.
It's not really worth an insult, since these guys love you so much, it might damn well kill them.
Killing me quietly
At a stand-up comedy show, Canadians become as introverted and withdrawn as your average Graphic Design class - they really don't want to talk to you, be noticed by you, or be made fun of in any way.
So, they tend to sit further away from the stage if they can, don't make eye contact, and - if a joke doesn't meet with their approval - sit silently until you say one that does.
I've seen seasoned comics - Derek Edwards comes to mind - construct an elaborate pyramid of hilarity onstage, tell one joke that doesn't sit well with the audience, and go tumbling back down to the base.
To a less-seasoned comic, it can be jarring. Canadians are supposed to be so polite: why won't they laugh?
Not to worry: at the end of the show, the Canadian audience will lose its inhibitions, shake your hand, look you in the eyes, and say, "It takes a lot of guts to do comedy!"
I'll take the heckler.