ImageI am sure that as soon as one human stood up and made a joke, another human was banging rocks together and pointing at his own hoo-hoo, thus hecklers have always been with us.  There are countless venues who have written volumes on this subject but I’d like to take on how it can be handled at the Renaissance Faire. To start, this venue is generally one of the most friendly and intimate and often unless drinking is involved, it stays fairly polite.  As for our group, we live on East Coast where we get lots and lots of practice at insults, think skinned tolerance and too much human interaction. And if you wonder what the first three hobbies were, this is the only one I was willing to write about here.

Recently one of my personal  performing heroes, Dave Chappelle, was heckled locally and it all went sideways. This made me sad because he gave me the strength to persevere earlier in his career telling his story about bombing at the Apollo Theater.   I figured if someone with that much talent could take it, I had no excuses. But his odd response to these hecklers inspired this blog.

Still when one is onstage, it’s hard not to take it as a personal attack and in some ways it is-but if you are a performer it’s important to remember that there is no way a random person in the audience is aware of who you are as a person and that the attack is really more about  what is going on in the head of the attacker. And it some cases they have no idea that this is actually what they are doing.

Drunk Guy, this one is easy. Generally this can be ignored and someone can quickly run off and grab security. Chances are if this man/woman is a menace to you, it’s been a trail of social mess.

The “Helper.” this person has been to your shows and knows your lines and is spoiling every comedic moment you’ve worked years to perfect. This person probably sees it as “participation.” But to my knowledge, Rocky Horror or Repo the Genetic Opera are not playing at any local renfaires so this person is Open Season. I’m not saying call-and-response is discouraged, quite the opposite!  A long tradition for Panto, Punch and Judy, blogs and Church! But without solicitation this person is killing the timing. We often respond by going off-script. For some groups this is awful but with ours, whom we have to practically use cattle prods to keep on-line, it’s setting loose the hounds. And if you have friends who work in retail, food service or a government agency, I suggest you mine them for the comedy gold they could provide you in dealing with the public. They will gladly give you all of the inner dialogue they never shared with customers. This should be put down quickly and firmly. An excellent example: (Skip to 2:05 if you are impatient)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uai7M4RpoLU

The person who has decided to hate you
You have no control over this, all you can do is move on and roll with the punches. Sadly, unless this person is actively causing problems to the audience you need to ignore or incorporate this individual. I’ve been forced to do both. It can really be a shock to experience. One friend who sub-contracts with us and has been doing faires for almost 20 years had a child decide that he hated, hated, hated his character for a faire.  Enough that the child in question stood up in a set of bleachers, and screamed
“I HATE YOU DON ANTONIO!!”
And I’ll admit, we all sort of blinked for a few moments, stunned. After all, we all want to break down the fourth wall but this was with a sledge hammer. Andt it was energizing too, that we had evoked so much strong emotion and now everyone would know Don Antonio, that jerk. Work with it as best you can and if it becomes more than an occasional annoyance, once again it may be a security issue.

Other-people come in a bewildering array of faces, places and choices. someone might be attempting to audition for your role. Someone who thinks they are more righteous, better, more entertaining  than you. Someone who just has no ^&*#ing social skills.  You have no way to know, you will never know.

Remember:

  • You were paid to be here. If someone interrupts your show they have cast the first volley and now you can make your feelings plain, shoot them down and move on.
  • If they are persistent you can sometimes base your show on them, in the way they never planned, as the butt of your jokes.
  • If you are done, be done with them and just ignore them. If they sufficiently annoy your audience (who has paid to see you) things will occur. You probably don’t have to be involved.
  • Security is a last resort and chances are you are better off finishing your bit and THEN getting security. (or having a buddy)

And I’m happy to cede the subject to people who do it better than I do. I’m there for the swords and fire so here are some experts in the field (NOT Safe for work or small people)

How comedians deal with hecklers (video collection)

Christophe the Insultor, a man who does it professionally

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