Arts and Culture

A field guide to the five worst types of hecklers

At some point during their comedy careers, every standup comic has to deal with a heckler. A truly annoying heckler can derail even experienced comedians, and also make audiences uncomfortable. While most hecklers think they're being funny and can be shamed into silence with a pithy rejoinder from a talented comic, there are a few heckler sub-species that simply refuse to shut up, regardless of the comedian's reaction.

Continue reading for our guide to the five worst types of hecklers.

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5) The drunken princess Gender: Usually female Native habitat: Bachelorette party Drunken princesses often congregate in packs, drawing strength from their numbers. Though more inclined to engage in loud, giggly side conversations, the drunken princess will balk if asked to be quiet. It's her special day, after all, and she believes it's her prerogative to shout slurred invective at a comic, despite the fact that her idea of comedy is limited to novelty items shaped like penises. 4) The shameless lout Gender: Usually male Native habitat: Colfax Clearly identifiable from the moment he lumbers into whatever bar room hasn't 86'ed him yet, the shameless lout may be the most difficult heckler to keep quiet. This pickle-skinned XXXX guffaws at a joke's setup, but stares blankly during a punchline; he spills drinks and shouts non sequiturs. Acknowledging a shameless lout is a fool's errand. While the audience's sympathies typically remain with the comedian during an exchange with a shameless lout, it's impossible to break through to him. He lacks fundamental understanding of the social order and accordingly feels no shame, even when publicly mocked. 3) The offended patron Gender: Either male or female Native habitat: Anywhere The worst thing about offended hecklers is their hypocrisy. While these squeaky wheels were heartily chuckling at a rape joke mere moments ago, they're now outraged when a comic mocks religion, however gently. Also frustrating is the selective hearing of the easily offended. While they may have been ignoring the comedy up until the point when their precious brains had to process unfavorable information, a barely overheard key phrase is enough to set an offended patron off to the heckle races. Be careful making fun of this heckler, however; he/she can easily evolve into the next sub-species.

Continue reading for more hecklers to watch for.

2) The slugger Gender: Usually male Native habitat: All up in your grill I've seen a lot drinks thrown in a lot of faces and even more fights broken up during my short dalliance with comedy (did I mention I'm partial to open mics on Colfax?). Irresponsible drinking combined with the gleeful irreverence of comedians (who are also frequently drunk) is bound to inspire tempers to flare and fists to fly. When hecklers and comedians fight, however, one party is often demonstrably in the wrong, and his more level-headed friends will apologize in his stead. 1) The snark from the dark Gender: Either male or female Native habitat: The shadows of insecurity Of all the heckler varieties, this one may well be the worst -- at least for the performing comic. These shadowy jokesters snipe at bungled punchlines or an awkward stage presence from the anonymous cocoon of a darkened audience. What distinguishes these particular hecklers from their boisterous brethren is that their heckles are keenly observed and funny enough to win the favor of the audience and snatch laughs away from performers. This is also the only heckler type that isn't guaranteed to be pants-shittingly drunk.

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham