The Hawaii Comedy Blog

The official blog of the gang at Hawaii Comedy Theater

Archive for May, 2011

The Art of Heckling

Bo Irvine and I were discussing hecklers the other day. He loves them. He thrives on them. They lift his show into another stratosphere. Unlike myself, he is able to interact with multiple hecklers remembering their names, jobs and where they’re from – and somehow weave all of their lives together as the show progresses into one complex web of hysteria.

I marvel. Many moving parts, one very talented traffic cop controlling the flow.

Wait. I really shouldn’t term these audience members as “hecklers.” In Bo’s case, and mine, and many other comics – well, we ask questions of our audience. You’re in my living room and you are my guest. We talk. So when I say “heckler” I am referring to those seemingly unwanted outbursts from certain, oft-times drunk, members of the audience.

It’s a case of an audience member thinking that the comic can use his help. Sure.

Hecklers.

Heckling the comic. It’s part of the show, right. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes.

There’s an art to heckling. As an audience member, if you do not have a firm grasp on the art form, it’s probably best not to go there. One of two things will likely happen:

A) The comedian will eat you up alive, or

B) You’ll destroy the show for everyone.

As comedy club owners, when “B” starts happening it’s time to step in. But which one of us should dive into the shark tank? The male comedy club owner or the female comedy club owner? It’s never a coin flip. The answer is always obvious.

If heckler is a female, send the male. Especially a drunk female. If Charlotte or Wanda were to quietly, silently tiptoe-crawl-sneak up to the drunk female hecker’s table so as not to attract any attention whatsoever and whisper ever so gently in her ear, “Please let the comedian control the flow of the show, it would really be appreciated,” she is likely to respond in a very loud voice, “F*** you!” which, frankly, does bring a certain amount of unwanted attention to that side of the room.

There is an unspoken communication between comedian and club owner. It, too, is an art. No game plans are discussed in advance between comedy club owner and comedian. The dynamics are universally understood in our industry. When I hear heckling, I’m in the showroom… watching. Monitoring. Making sure the heckler is a good heckler. That he or she knows what he or she is doing. That it’s helping the show, not hurting. And looking for subtle signs from the comic to measure if he is being frustrated by not being able to go where he wants.

The comic sees me lurking in the back. He knows he’s covered. If I ever feel the heckler is starting to hurt the show more than help, I lock eyes with the comic and give a subtle “Now?” gesture with my hands. He’ll either nod or subtly wave me off. Sometimes I am waved off immediately when he sees me come into view.

Many comics dream of good hecklers. Personally, as a comic I never remember laughs I get that come from my scripted lines, but will play back over and over in my mind the off-the-cuff lines that came out of nowhere in the heat and pressure of the moment.

You can tell when the heckler was good. The comic will seek out the heckler shake his hand. “Thanks for coming.”

And you can tell when the heckler was bad. The heckler seeks out the comic after the show and says, “Weren’t we great?!”

No, we weren’t.

I like heckling, both as an act myself and as a club owner. Canned stand-up can be seen on TV. Live in a comedy club spontaneity rules the day. You can feel the electricity in the air, bursts of energy caused by unplanned, unforeseen circumstances. Add brilliant comedians with brilliant heckling and the result is magic. For both it’s an art.

And Bo? He thrives on it.

Nose Floss Nixed

Thanks but no thanks for the help, Mr. Hotel Person…

If you are familiar with nightlife in Waikiki, you would know we run the longest and most successful comedy operation in the history of the state of Hawaii. And we’ve done it all by partnering up with the state’s finest hotels, from Waikiki to Kauai to Maui to Kona. I firmly believe one of reason for our success is that we don’t get involved in hotel business! We don’t tell them how to serve food or how to serve beverages. Frankly, we don’t know. They are the experts.

Likewise, another reason for success has been our hotel partners’ understandings that we know comedy, they don’t! They don’t tell us what’s funny and what isn’t, what will work and what won’t.

I would like to share a story about the one (and only one) day when that line of sanctity was crossed. Thank you for the help, Mr. Hotel Person.

Brad Stine add's a touch of nose floss to the already rich and vibrant Waikiki nightlife

We’ll call the helpful hotelier “Roy” and we’ll place the hotel somewhere inside of Waikiki. And it isn’t at our current location working with the wonderful staff at the Sheraton Princess Ka’iulani. No, it was somewhere else.

Roy was new to the hotel. He was their new assistant GM, director of rooms. Roy decided to take in our show. We let Roy and his party in for free, as it was the neighborly thing to do. (Side note to all comedy industry personnel: 99% of all trouble emanates from those who get in for free.)

It was a Tuesday night, opening night for our headliner Brad Stine. (“Hello Brad” if you’re reading this!) The finale of Brad’s act was quite memorable. One of the best closing bits in the biz. The best description of it, however, is not in what Brad does but in how the crowd responds.

His comedy setup is genius. He talks his way through it. Brad is a top flight professional. Yes, he talks… providing a running commentary… while he is snorting sterile surgical thread up his nose. When he’s snorted enough he makes a guttural sound after which appears the surgical thread coming out of his mouth. One end hanging from his nose, the other from his mouth. Thus begins the demonstration of nose floss.

Okay, that’s the less significant part of the explanation. What happens next is where the rubber meets the road. The audience.

It’s a frenzy. Screaming. Very, very loud fits of laughter. People moaning trying to catch their breath. The windows shake. The room is blazing with energy.

It’s The Moment. It’s why we exist. It’s what comedy clubs are all about.

Every single person in the room that night, there were over 100 of them, went out the next day and told every person they knew about what happened and why they had to come to the comedy club in Waikiki while Brad Stine was still in town. It wasn’t a recommendation. It was a requirement of life. An item that should be on everyone’s bucket list if they only knew the item existed. The Taj Mahal, Brad Stine’s Nose Floss.

We know this happened because we got the calls.

There was only one problem.

Roy.

Roy, Mr. Hotel Person, called me the next day explaining that he felt the nose thing was a little over the top and didn’t think it should be included in this funny man’s act.

Say what? I was stunned. I don’t think people should drink Blue Hawaii’s because blue dye #66 is a known carcinogen, but I’m not about to tell a hotel person this because it is none of my business. Oh but Roy had to make his mark.

It happened once. Once since 1988. The line was crossed and our precious customers were denied. It wasn’t fair.

But only once. Not a bad average I suppose.

But oh how I remember The Once. I think of it every time I see someone get stitched up. And I still say, “G r r r r r r…”