Opinion: Heckler videos are bad for comedy and here’s why

Hecklers are one of the worst parts of the comedy club experience. It sucks for the comedian on stage and it ruins the show for most everyone in the crowd. There’s hardly a dispute about that. However, there are mixed feelings in the comedy community about the popularity of these ‘heckler takedown’ videos. Some say their popularity exposes more people to stand-up, which is good for comedians everywhere. Others argue that heckler videos encourage potential hecklers at home. Laughspin asked two experienced stand-ups to share their stance. Johnny Taylor is an LA-based stand-up with over 153,000 Twitter followers who released his special, Bummin’ With The Devil, last year through Stand Up! Records.

From a comedian’s perspective, hecklers are the worst.

They disrupt the show for the comic that’s hard at work, but more importantly, they ruin the comedy show experience for their fellow audience members. It’s usually someone that’s had too much to drink and feels like their loud, obnoxious input is going to help the show along. They’re rarely, if ever, correct in that assertion. The heckler-comedian interaction generally ends in one of three ways: the comedian ignores the moron and moves on with their set, the staff removes the moron from the showroom, or the comedian “destroys” said moron with their cunning wit.

Because we live in the YouTube age, the web is flooded with “comedian destroys heckler” videos. That’s fine in a vacuum. Sometimes the heckler needs to be shown who’s boss. Sometimes it needs to be mean. Sometimes it may even be worth uploading to let the world see what happens when you’re a loaded dufus at the comedy show.

Heckler videos give the wrong idea

However, heckler videos have become so popular that it’s creating a culture where the comedian embraces the potential heckler interaction, sometimes to the point of even encouraging the awkward interaction in hopes of capturing viral content. This misguided calculation can negatively affect the rest of the comedians on the show. How are you supposed to follow five minutes of a drunk being eviscerated by the feature with your musings about dating in the social media age?

It isn’t gonna happen. The crowd will wonder and fear if you’re going to make them look like an idiot, too. They’ll feel like they can’t laugh, clap, or breathe for fear of the wrath of the mean ole comedian. Now everyone is uncomfortable.

Furthermore, it can put some very bad ideas in potential hecklers’ heads. They may think getting involved with a well-placed snide remark next time will ‘help’ the show. Or maybe they’ll get some laughs and validation themselves by yelling, “You suck, Taylor!” Maybe all of it will birth a viral video clip that they can show their friends and family forever due to the fact that they have no discernible talent of their own other than ruining comedy shows.

The “heckler gets owned” genre of YouTube videos have become so common that it’s become a ‘brand’ of comedian. Where we once had the ‘observational comic’ and the ‘one-liner comic,’ we now also have ‘the heckler comic.’

Should comedians go for YouTube hits?

The most famous of which is Steve Hofstetter. “The Hof” is so notorious for heckler interactions that he dominates search results for ‘heckler comedian.’ Hofstetter has so many heckler videos on YouTube that he’s composed multiple top 10 lists of his own heckler takedowns. It’s kind of his thing.

Another ‘heckler comic’ is Eliot Chang. His videos routinely get hundreds of thousands of views. The difference with Chang is that his clips almost always focus on him taking down female hecklers. There’s angry ranting, name-calling galore, and though there are some funny moments mixed in, the trend wreaks of sexism. More than anything, it’s shocking. On the world wide web, shocking content equals views, likes, and comments regardless of how uncomfortable it might be. Sadly, those clips will get more views than a purely brilliant stand-up set.

Heckler videos should be a warning, not an invitation

This isn’t to say that all heckler videos are bad. Sometimes they’re amazing. Sometimes it’s just a moment in a comedian’s set that happens to be captured on video.

A good example of this is San Francisco comedian Joe Klocek bringing a heckler onstage with him and giving him a fair shot at being funny. What’s great about this interaction is its depth. This isn’t a video of a person yelling something out and the comedian responding with something canned or standard. It becomes a lesson on why being a stand-up comedian is a difficult profession, all played out in real time, with some truly hilarious moments from the comic and the heckler alike.

The bottom line is this: Heckler videos give the wrong impression to fans that might otherwise politely enjoy the show. Even if it inspires one fan to get wasted and disrupt the show in the hopes of YouTube fame, that’s one too many. Let’s stop glorifying these often awkward interactions in the hopes of internet fame. One out of a hundred times, a heckler creates a special moment in the show. The rest of the time, it’s a bummer for the entire room.

Those are pretty crappy odds.

See what the other side thinks in this counterpoint.

Johnny Taylor

Johnny Taylor is a Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian and writer. His latest comedy special "Bummin' With the Devil" is available on all major streaming services, video on demand, as well as out of his backpack. Follow him on Twitter @hipsterocracy.

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