How To Deal With A Heckler

Occasionally, in your stand-up or spoken word career, you may have to contend with a difficult audience member. This need not spoil your set. Indeed, it may offer you an opportunity to develop as a performer. Just follow these simple rules*.

1. Remain Calm

It’s easy to become flustered when someone interrupts your performance. Stay cool. Remember – you have the magic talking stick, you are the person the audience is here to see. You have all the time in the world.

2. Repeat The Heckle

Repeating the heckle serves two purposes – one, it ensures that everyone in the room hears what was said. Often the heckle will be so moronic that repeating it will be enough to raise a laugh and silence the culprit. The second purpose of repeating the heckle is to buy yourself thinking time. As you echo the heckler’s words back to him, you can be simultaneously composing a retort.

3. Don’t Lose Your Temper

Screaming abuse at a heckler only proves that he has rattled you, and risks alienating sympathetic audience members. That’s exactly what he wants. Hold your counsel. Appear to take the knock in good humour, while tendrils of loathing bind your heart.

4. Continue With Your Set

If you’re not careful, a small interruption can derail your entire performance. Get back into your material as quickly as possible. Occasionally glance at the man who interrupted. He’s laughing. That’s good. He has no idea.

5. Follow The Heckler Home

Ask any pro, and they’ll tell you that apparent moments of spontaneity come from months of preparation. If you are male, you may wish to maintain a beard which you can shave off in a toilet cubicle after the show. Spectacles may be added or removed as appropriate. For female performers, removal of makeup and the donning of a heavy jacket are often enough to effect a radical transformation.

Our watchword is inconspicuous. Dark glasses, while useful at disguising the eyes, are likely to draw attention. Having a selection of drab, shapeless garments on hand can mean the difference between success and an embarrassing confrontation in the street.

In all likelihood, the pursuit will take you through areas of decreasing population density. As this happens, so should the distance between you and the heckler widen. Where possible, position yourself on the opposite side of the road. Try to avoid staring directly at him – reflections in shop windows, or in the wing mirrors of parked vehicles, can help facilitate discreet observation.

As he approaches his flat, close the gap.

6. Do It

Most persistent hecklers are very drunk. Their obliviousness to social cues makes it hard to shame them into silence, but you can use their lack of awareness to your advantage. As he twists the key in the lock approach him from behind.

Do it. Don’t lose your nerve. This is your time. You deserve to be here. You’re a hero, baby.

7. Finish What You Started

Most hecklers live alone, and lack a safety net of close friends and neighbours to check up on them, so you’ll have some time to work. As a precaution, fasten the latch, close all blinds and curtains. Make sure all windows are closed before starting – controlling odours is key in remaining undetected.

You’ll need several pairs of marigolds, a shower cap, lots of bin liners, lots of bottles of bleach, caustic soda, a large fretsaw, a hammer, a screwdriver, a Stanley knife, pliers, a big carving knife and a supply of your favourite non-alcoholic beverage (you might feel like a beer or two to steady your nerves, but better to keep sharp – save the pints for celebrating after).

Put on the shower cap and marigolds straight away – you’ll be doing a tidy-up afterwards, but best to limit distribution of skin particles and hair folicles right from the off. Lay bin liners over the floor in the bathroom, and place the body in the bath. Remove bathmats, towels, shower curtains – anything that might absorb odours or fluids.

Most aspiring performers think dealing with a heckler means reacting quickly. While promptness is desirable, it’s more important that you remain in control. You have about three hours before rigor mortis begins to set in. Don’t rush.

Use the pliers to remove all teeth. With molars, use the Stanley knife to make incisions in the gum before pulling – if it still won’t budge, you can use the screwdriver to jemmy flesh away from the root. Pulverise the teeth with the hammer. Mix the dental fragments with a little bleach before flushing them down the toilet.

Remove fingertips with the fretsaw. Don’t be tempted to use an electric carving knife or similar – the noise may attract attention, especially when amplified by the acoustics of a tiled bathroom. Pulverise the fingertips with the hammer – avoid food processors for the reason above. Flush them down the toilet in five or six batches. Mix with bleach to minimise the odour from your drains.

Disfigure the face with caustic soda. Be very careful when handling caustic soda. Also known as sodium hydroxide, it burns on contact with skin. You can buy it from Amazon at just over £10 for 5kg, although given Amazon’s recent tax avoidance scandal, I’d urge you to do the honourable thing and go through a reputable British retailer. Mixed with a little water, caustic soda is excellent at tissue digestion and will reduce flesh to a coffee-like consistency that can be easily drained away. However, this process takes some time, and leaves distinctive stains in a conventional bath, so we will limit ourselves to disrupting identification.

Obviously, in this age of DNA testing, none of these precautions can prevent the truly determined investigator from establishing identity – the purpose is to delay the process. The more complications investigators face, the greater the likelihood of a legal impediment derailing the entire case.

Drain bodily fluids. This will arrest decomposition and aid dissection. Use the screwdriver to puncture major organs (stomach, bladder) – you can use the hammer to force it in if it resists. Slit the jugular on the side of the neck, and make deep diagonal incisions on the thighs to cut the femoral arteries. Turn the taps on, make sure you have removed the plug, then perform chest compressions. Mix in bleach to control odours.

Take a rest before the next stage. Remember to keep hydrated and to stretch your legs.

Use the fret saw and carving knife to divide the body into ten pieces. As far as possible, use the hammer to crush as you go, to reduce the risk of identification. Coat each piece in bleach and wrap it in at least five layers of bin liners.

You can keep these in your freezer and dispose of them over the next month. It’s good to cultivate a habit of long country walks prior to this, so you can head out alone without suspicion. Whether to bury them in the plastic bags is a question that divides the stand-up community – unwrapped, they will decompose faster, but you run the risk of a dog digging them up; wrapped, they are more likely to arouse suspicion if discovered. Whichever you choose, exercise is a great mood enhancer and stimulates blood flow to the brain – I’ve come up with some of my best lines while strolling through the Norfolk countryside.

8. Move On

Don’t take heckling personally. See it as an opportunity to assert your authority as a performer. Don’t carry the memory of the heckler to future gigs. He’s gone. Be present for your new audience, and remember, if one of them does heckle, you now have the experience to handle it.

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2 thoughts on “Tim Clare’s Cone O’ Tragedy: How To Deal With A Heckler”

  1. I get a lot of heckles from the elderly. One way I spose would be to change my jokes, but that seems a lot of work. Are there any tips you could give re dismembering the more advanced corpse? I wouldn’t want to dent my fretsaw on a metal hip replacement, electrocute myself on an exposed pacemaker etc.

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