When you’re first starting out as a band, you play lots of smaller venues that are probably filled with people who have no idea who you are and were not expecting to see you play at all. While most decent human beings will just enjoy the unexpected show and move on with their lives, there are, of course, a few creatures that will not tolerate not being the center of attention for a half hour and will try to heckle you out of the stage.
Statistically speaking, the smaller venues you play in, the higher the chance you’ll eventually encounter one of these specimens. It’s not an issue of quality. You could be an incredible band, and you can still encounter a random drunk guy who wants to relive his peak years as the class clown while yelling nonsense to the stage. When that happens, here’s what you need to know.
Don’t be violent
Generally, unless you want to be seen as the second coming of the Sex Pistols, you should avoid reacting violently no matter the situation. That’s especially true when it comes to handling hecklers because chances are, there’s alcohol involved. New bands usually get to play bars and late in the night, which means the audience has already had time to drink quite a bit. And well, starting a fight with a drunk person is never a good idea.
But, even if your heckler hasn’t had a drop of alcohol you should avoid escalating the situation. What you want is for the heckling to be over as soon as possible so that you can continue your show. Getting off stage to fight the heckler, will not make that happen. In fact, you could develop a pretty crappy reputation and be banned from venues for that kind of behavior.
A good way to handle a heckler is by ignoring them until they go away, but it’s a risk because you have no guarantee that they’ll, in fact, leave and let you go on with your show. Some bands opt for more creative approaches, like inviting the heckler on stage, making them part of the show and even engaging in some light banter with them. Receiving that kind of attention usually shuts a heckler up faster than ignoring them.
Learn from the Masters
Aside from musicians, stand-up comedians handle hecklers throughout their careers. It’s so common for them to find hecklers in their paths, that learning how to handle them is one of the most crucial steps towards becoming a professional comedian.
Use their experiences to your advantage. Take a look at what your favorite comedians have done to de-escalate a heckling situation, because trust us, they have dealt with hecklers at one point or another. Some, like Jerry Seinfeld, take an unorthodox approach that can be accommodated for concerts. Others like Iliza Shlesinger and Hannah Gadsby are more practical and direct (mainly because they can be). Take the time to study what others have done and figure out which tactic you can more easily adapt to your situation.