If you perform in front of crowds for long, you are eventually going to be heckled. Even if you only perform for friends, there's always one wiseguy who needs to upstage you. There are basically two ways of dealing with a heckler. You can ignore him/her and get on with your act, hoping the heckler doesnt continue; or you can make a response. Collected below are some of the ideas and resources for performers, collected from various websites and from the rec.juggling newsgroup, for how to deal with hecklers, and some explanations as to why hecklers do what they do.

Methods for dealing with hecklers


for a LARGE list, try "You're ugly, your dick is small, and everybody f***'s your mother" - The stand-up comedian's response to the heckler -- written by Andrew Conway (though it hasnt been updated since 1994)

you could try the drop lines page for less directed remarks.

also read Stevie G's experience with heckling 12 year olds

How to deal with hecklers, mud throwers and angst ridden ten year old boys

by Brian Wilson of The Cowguys

After reading many of the other comments on this page, I've decided to write a pro-heckler response. Some of the other posts are aimed to avoid hecklers, I enjoy being heckled because of the challenge posed to the myself as a comic performer. If you are able to turn the heckle around in such a way that it benefits the performance or embarasses the heckler than it makes your show that much better. Every performer should have a few heckler lines in their head just in case something goes amiss with a heckler, so that the ass in question doesn't ruin the show. But the best lines are created on the spot.

Their are certain groups of people whom you can not shame into silence. Most hecklers, once embarrased, will assume a quiet voyeuristic approach to the show except for 1) drunk teenagers 2) groups of unattended children (with no parents) 3) homeless drunks. These groups of people apparently have no shame. For example one year at the Kingston Busker Festival we (THE COWGUYS) were doing our show and some kids (unattended 13 year old boys) had just watched our show and followed us to our next show. They were saying our lines before us, teasing me personally and saying "now this happens" and irritating both us and the crowd. I'd been grating them down with a few lines since the beginning of the show but my (and the crowd's) patience were wearing thin. Finally i came back with "If you guys don't shut up I'm going to duct tape you to something......... like a moving truck!" The line killed and people were actually cheering for the kids to either shut up or leave.

Once you have a crowd, and they are watching your show the majority of them will be keen on seeing your show, with minor interuptions, straight through to the finale. So if a drunk stumbles into your show it is likely that the audience will be on your side. The best lines are those that don't shoot down the heckler, but block them,seat them and quiet them down, or get them out of your crowd. For a drunk lines like "Dad, can you come back after the show?" work well. Of course if the drunk starts yelling obscenities then you have a carte blanche to take the return heckle as far as you'd like.

The Butterfly man is, if you don't know him or havent seen his show, a man with a fairly generic juggling show that is completely character driven. The thrust of his act is the heckling interaction that he creates between himself and the members in his audience. He has cutting, sarcastic, very funny lines. Robert makes hecklers and heckling work for him, personally I'd love to have him heckle my show and see where it goes, probably write some new material. Robert "bitterfly" Nelson suggests that you repeat what the heckler says. Usually the show is being interuppted and it is likley that the entire crowd didn't hear the line, so it's good to repeat the line you're being heckled with, provided it isn't extremely crass. Repeating also gives you time to think of a comeback, and really sets up your punchline. Sometimes just repeating the heckle will get a laugh. The best comebacks turn what the heckler has said around so that it relates to him/her. Ie. team show with Checkerhead and Robert Nelson. A drunk stumbles into the crowd and mumbles "fucking show, fuck you" Robert retorts "Fuck me and you'll never go back to women." a bit crass but very effective. So effective that checkerhead laughed so hard he fell off his ladder. (So i heard anyways.)

Heckling isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact many lines are created by the crowd. It's great when the crowd comes with its own material, and as a performer you should write down the funny ad libs that either your audience or you come up with. Constantly workshopping the show is the best way to honing a better act. Embrace the differences in each show, because lets face it, it's what keeps things exciting for you as a performer, or even better, keeps your arsenal fresh as a heckler.
Personally I like sitting on the fence, being a heckling performer.

Ideas from Eric Bagai:
If you are just playing or practicing, move away. Immediately. If they follow you, call a cop or go to the nearest gathering point and announce that those two men are threatening you. Of course if you are a big lunk, like me, you can take out your whip or meteors, and practice _them_ for a bit. (I've always thought of pacifism as a promise I make to myself, not to anyone else -- so watch it buster, for you I just might bend a principle.)

The last time I was practicing in public and I got two early-twenties males trying to establish dominance, I shined them on. That is, I smiled genially at them and nodded and took all their "nudge nudge" and put-down references as slightly puzzling but not really any of my business. They got bored and went away, probably because I didn't respond as they wanted. If you are a female or comparatively small, this may not work. Mostly, neither a victim nor a target be.

While busking or working, use their interruption to get the crowd on your side (said before, and I strongly second it). Set them up to be _your_ running joke, so that every time they interrupt, it's another automatic laugh because it's a tag on your established premise. (Thank you Scotty Meltzer.)

Watch out for the complete non sequitur. The person who makes no sense is either drunk, high, or crazy. You don't want to deal with them, and you probably _can't_ deal with them, so find that cop or that crowd. Do not make these people part of the act and don't make fun of them.

Watch out for the nerd, the person who feels awkward and doesn't know what to say but wants to say something and it comes out agressive or as a put down. Pretend they said "Wow, that's wild!" and enthusiastically tell them all about contact juggling. If you are working and you slam the nerd they will be very hurt and you may lose your audience. You may also offend your employer -- Intel does not want you to ridicule their brilliant but asocial lead engineer while he's still on salary and the project is hanging.

And don't hesitate to use your ability to create a scene and set up social expectations in your favor. I once stopped an idiot who thought his girlfriend had been offended, by saying as loudly as possible, "My God! You're not _really_ going to hit the Clown!?!?" Everybody stopped and looked at him. He backed off.

Ideas from Steven Ragatz:
In my street shows, I avoided cracks that were based on insult humor. I have never like the idea of sacrificing one member of the audience for the amusement of everyone else. Often, that heckler turns out to be the one who drops the ten or twenty dollar bill into the hat. (Even when giving tips, hecklers like to show off!) I always tried to include the heckler as a confidant and friend rather than an enemy. They are people too, and in the dynamic of a street show, very important people at that.

One way I found to do this was to rework many of the heckler joke ideas and redirect them to myself. I never put myself down, but if the heckler's remark had some truth, then I would play on that. I'll try to use an example: I drop a pin and the heckler calls out "Hey, you dropped one!", a remark that has some inherent truth about the situation. A confrontational reply might be "It looks like your mother did too." A somewhat less aggressive redirection of the guilt might be a sarcastic reply of "Thanks for pointing that out. I don't know what I would do without your help.", or "I'm an optimist. I still have two left...", or "No wonder the routine just got easier!" or "One lousy mistake and the audience turns on you!" The redirected aggression remarks enable me to resolve the situation and the challenge that the heckler poses and still keep the heckler as a member of the audience. We both save face. Additionally, the latter remarks cut the exchange short. I am not returning the challenge, hence, the heckler is MUCH less likely to say anything back. When you meet aggression with aggression you risk continuing the volley of insults for a very long and ugly time.

Last night my wife, Lisa, and I went to a performance of "The Blue Monkey Sideshow" here in Bloomington, Indiana, USA. The troupe put on a two and a half hour presentation of vaudeville mixed with self-made freak stunts, some gimmicked, some real. The show as a whole had something there, but there was one aspect of that particular performance that really caught my attention.

Because of the show's dynamics were similar to those that you would find at a Rocky Horror showing, there were members of the audience that began to yell out things to the performers. Given the context, I felt perfectly comfortable with the situation and recognized the hecklers as being overly excited audience members. The were two things that I noticed that were interesting.

First, there was a couple of very vocal hecklers, with one dominant voice in particular. Most of the time, she was not insulting, but rather prompting the performer on stage to do something. Most of the time she stayed with what was going on stage. For example, the performer takes off his shirt to lie on a bed of nails and the heckler yells "Take off your pants! Wooo!" - typical fun/tease. Every time the heckler spouted off, the barker for the show would throw back a canned "come-back". "This is why some animals eat their young." "Oh, you are from <enter local school name here>" etc. He provided a very aggressive insult reply to each heckle. The interesting dynamic that I noticed about this was:

The heckler has the power to be funny via the shotgun method - shoot many shots in the general direction and one of them will hit. That is, this person yelled things out every few minutes. About one in ten were very funny and very appropriate, and her good remarks was rewarded by great laughter. Several people around me were wondering if she was actually part of the show. When she made a remark that wasn't insulting, abusive or disjunctive, but also wasn't really very funny, the audience quickly forgave her, for everyone knew that she was trying to have fun and, after all, she is just an audience member. The dynamic of the show continued.
But! When the performer says his comeback, it HAD to be funny. When it wasn't funny or as clever as the heckler's, the show fell into a quick slump.

The performer is supposed to be in control. The heckler is not, so when they gain control, even for a little bit, they receive great support from the audience. But, when the performer looses control, even once, the audience doesn't forgive or forget. Although the performer comes to the heckler battle field with more ammunition, the heckler is the only one who is allowed to miss. Consequently, it's best to keep the exchanges SHORT!

The thing that the performer could have done to remedy this situation was not to continually challenge the heckler. He kept trying to best her. After the first couple of rounds, it was obvious that the rules of this particular performance had been established: "You yell out things - I say witty things back" Unfortunately for everyone, the performer ran out of ammo about twenty minutes into a two and a half hour show.

The second thing that I noticed was that the heckler was working as hard as she could to keep the show going. When ever the pace of the show lagged (which was VERY often), the heckler would yell out something. (Actually, I suspect that the heckler was a bit of a thespian as her timing was quite good.) The slow moments in the script forced the audience into uncomfortable tension. The heckler's remarks were simply a response to that tension.

The solution? Keep the pace up. Don't let the audience down, and they won't feel the need to fill in the gaps. Maybe taking thirty minutes of material and stretching it into a two and a half hour show isn't such a good idea.

Ideas from Ted Stresen-Reuter:
Is it really a battle of wits? Is that the kind of entertainment your audiences want? I said it before and I'll say it again; Don't get yourself into that position in the first place. One night when I was working at a state fair the fair had closed down and I was working on passing with an ex-Ringling clown named Terry Davolt. There were still a few fairgoers meandering about the fairgrounds. At one point a small group passed, saw us juggling and made some sort of confrontational comment to which I responded with the expected "heckler come-back" line (usually looking to insult or otherwise belittle the audience member). Terry looked and me and said something to the effect of <<Shut up man, do you want us to get in a fight? We're supposed to be having a good time.>> * And this is my point: If you "play the hecklers game" there will be a winner and a loser. If you the performer lose, you look like a flaming idiot. But if the spectator loses, how does that make the other audience members feel? Are they going to invest very much in your show? NO WAY, not after what you just did to that last guy! So you see, when playing this game you the performer always lose. The point is to win your audience over, get them to pay attention to you of their own free will. This means that you HAVE to be a personality that they feel safe with. Of course I realize that there are people out there who thrive on abuse and go so far as to seek abusive reactions from others but, they are pretty much in the minority. I hope this sheds some light on alternative approaches to the audience performer relationship.

First of all, stay away from material that is likely to draw a heckling reaction from your audience. In other words, try to make sure the material you perform is appropriate for the audience. I have never had success wearing a bowtie and performing a "straight" juggling routine in a nightclub. Even worse was when I tried to do a "cute comedy" routine in a nightclub. The second technique is to simply ignore the heckler. This has the distinct advantage of letting the audience know that you are in control and if the audience member hangs on long enough, 1. the heckler will shut up and 2. their patience will be (or should be) rewarded with a point, be it humorous or admirable.

Ideas from Greg Pivarnik:
I've found when put in a situation where no witty verbiage is apparent to you, the best thing to do is to go in to "the forgive me " routine. Here it is: A guy heckles you, (you're brain lapses into a coma) and you can't think of a witty response. (you think to yourself," I should givem' the bird and tell him to piss-off" but we can't do this publically) In a very, very, very exaggerated response start apologizing to the heckler, getting down on your knees asking for forgiveness, fake tears, tell him that you didn't realize he was unhappy with your performance since everybody else was having a good time, go into the hard luck story, explaining that you have 6 mouths to feed at home, three kids, your wife, your girl friend, the hamster... good time to milk the crowd. Basically, if he wants the attention, by all means give it to him. draw your crowds focus to the heckler so that he is the one who has to perform. Usually, they will go away. Occasionally, they get violent. use your better judgement

Ideas from an anonymous reader:
I haven't ever performed professionally, but...I've hung out with a lot of jugglers, near some of the best money pitches in the world, and shot the shit....I've additionally watched loads of video tape performances. So, here you get the point of view of someone who is on the audience side of the fence in these situations, but who wants to see a good show without being interrupted by jerks who think they are more entertaining than the audience.

One of my favorite performers kind of used hecklers as audience volunteers. He had a silent show, and when someone would start making some noise, he would go out and stand by the guy, get someone else to take a picture of them together, try to borrow a cigarette then take the whole pack, then try to get them to buy the pack back, take their beer and spit in it, loads of funny stuff, but of course, being a silent show (he is French, with an international show), he had to be a master of interaction, which was actually his whole show anyway, he would try to pick up a guy's girlfriend, all sorts of things.

Another of my favorite performers would just get the guy on stage (of course these are street shows, with no real time limit). She is a female performer, with quite a nice character, but with kind of a devilish streak. Once a guy was making rude remarks about showing her his dick, and she acted like this might be something she liked, and encouraged him up onto the stage to show it to her and the rest of the audience. I don't know where it would have gone from there if he had actually done it, but she was just working it into her show, like he was part of the act. Another time she got three kids out of the audience and asked them to think of the dirtiest word they knew, and had them whisper it to her, then she got each of them to say it to the heckler. This wasn't too popular with the parents, but it was very entertaining for the audience.

These two are actually extraordinary entertainers, and basically can turn anything into entertainment, but neither showed any fear of the heckler, and the audience seemed to be won over by their personality. This is probably a fine line that must be walked, and I can see a potential for disaster in each of the situations. Each was such a good performer precisely because they were willing to take those risks creating a tension which became entertainment (you know, suspense).

Why People Heckle

taken from Creating and Performing Juggling Routines - a guide by Jason Catan

Another response to "Why am I juggling for people?" might be, "To show off my skills." Jugglers often fall into this trap, myself included. If you are showing something, rather than SAYING something to your audience, you may be doing them a disservice. Jugglers who show off how skillful they are perform from an egoistic standpoint - they are juggling for themselves and not for the audience. This approach can also turn around and bite you - if you have built yourself up for the audience as a show off, the moment you miss a trick the audience may choose to heckle or ridicule you. People don't like to be shown tricks from the standpoint of "Look what I can do, and you can't."

From Arthur Lewbel:
Boppo suggests the reason juggler's are heckled so much is that, in people's minds, Juggler = rude street performer => heckle to get even.
I think the logic in peoples minds is more like
Juggler = clown = jester = village idiot => o.k. to tease
Juggler = show off => dish out deserved comeuppance.
Juggling => making a fool of oneself => treat accordingly
or, worst of all,
Juggler = clown = baby sitter for elderly babies => encourage the kids to hassle the juggler, which is the same as keeping the kids out of trouble