Metro column 22

Richard Herring: Hecklers are as easy to outwit as a gullible lamb

Richard Herring says if you insist on drunkenly shouting out during a comedy show, at least have something worth shouting about – or be a sharp 14-year-old.

People think the hardest thing to deal with for a stand-up comedian must be heckling. In fact it’s not that problematic because, on the rare occasions it happens, it usually involves someone who is so drunk that their brain and mouth are no longer connected – so they’re as easy to outwit as a gullible lamb. It’s certainly annoying but you’ve just got to keep your cool, as you can see me largely failing to demonstrate if you put ‘Richard Herring + heckler’ into YouTube.

Though there are many stock heckle put-downs – ‘this is what happens when cousins marry’ or ‘I remember when I had my first pint’ or ‘this is what happens when people drinking their first pint marry their cousins’ – the best ones come about organically.

At one gig, a woman was loudly and unamusingly commentating on everything that happened. I said to her: ‘You’re a bit talkative, aren’t you? You’re loquacious. It’s annoying. You’re the one woman in the world where a man would put Rohypnol in your drink and then leave you in the pub.’

If you really want to flummox a comedian, then words are never enough. You have to take it much further. This week at a preview of my new show, Talking Cock, I was discussing some of the unfortunate injuries that have befallen men’s trouser pythons, when a guy in the second row started to wobble from side to side. It looked like he was having a fit but then he keeled over and I thought he might have died. Have I become so funny that my jokes are now deadly weapons? Are fellow commuters falling to the floor around you as they read this page? Will you be next? Look away! Look away! It’s the next line that’s killing them!

I told you not to look. I’ve got nothing.

While I am not advocating suicide hecklers (not that I would mourn the passing of these attention-seeking fools who are too cowardly to become comedians and thus validate their self-indulgent exhibitionism), there’s no real comeback when someone has expired, except to stop the show and ask if there is a doctor in the house. Amazingly, there were three in the front row.
It turned out the man had just fainted because of the slightly gory story, so I was able to get things back on track. One day I will encounter someone who hates me enough to give their own life to stop me.

The best verbal heckle I ever got came from a 14-year-old boy. Back in the 1990s, I was in a double act with Stewart Lee. We had a routine where I would pick on and attempt to belittle one of our younger fans to prove I was better than him. I would mock him for having a bedtime when I stayed up till 11pm some nights. I’d get some change out of my pocket and say: ‘See that, my mum didn’t give me that. I earned it.’ I’d brag about having pubic hair.

Stewart would chastise me for being so pathetic and invite the child to say something rude back to me. Usually they’d say ‘you’re fat’ or ‘you’re stupid’ and I’d pretend to be crushed and cry. However, on one occasion, the youngster calmly remarked: ‘The sleeves of your jacket are slightly frayed.’ This pinpoint observation was amazingly powerful, as not only was it true but also this was the first time I had realised it. In that incisive comment, he had revealed the true tragedy of my existence. I was destroyed.

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