The unwinnable moment between a heckler and a comedian
First, the definition of heckler by someone who has been heckled in a variety of forms over a range of media, from real life to electronic.
A heckler is anyone who disturbs your shit.
Disagree? Fine. Everyone gets to have an opinion, even dumb ones (just like we’re free to judge those opinions as dumb). But don’t interrupt someone who is speaking. This is what I like about the internet—as gross and ragey as commentary can get, it is literally impossible to interrupt someone. I find writing to be a much more civil exchange, even at its most uncivil, than stand-up comedy ever was. Here on the internet, I write something, like this, and then you respond. And then I can either respond or not, depending on my level of motivation, conviction of belief, and the relative interestingness of whatever a commenter has said in response to my initial thought. Even if it’s to be yelled at, I can’t be interrupted here. In turn, I can’t interrupt anyone who would take the time and comment/email/tweet me. Everyone gets their say.
In comedy, it’s a totally different moment. A comedy show is funny! You’re there to laugh! Hopefully, you are laughing! For you, it’s a fun night out, but for the comic, it’s WORK. They are at their JOB. They have put time, effort, and no small amount of personal terror into what they’re doing on the stage. Don’t like the show? Don’t think it’s funny? You’re well within your rights, but there’s not much you can do about it, in the moment. If you’re in a big enough room, sitting far enough outside the threshold of the lights, you might be able to sneak out without interrupting. But that’s usually not the case, which means you have to sit tight and suffer through till the end. Sucks, but them’s the breaks. It’s not unlike being stuck in a boring meeting—you don’t want to be there, but what else can you do? It’s rude to leave.
So here’s what happened between Daniel Tosh and an audience member, in her own account, posted to a friend’s blog. Read this.
And here is what I take away from it: THEY WERE INEXCUSABLY CLUELESS ABOUT THEIR ENTERTAINMENT CHOICE.
I would find out later this was Daniel Tosh, but at the time I thought he was just some yahoo who somehow got a gig going on after Cook.
Clearly, these are not people familiar with comedy, at all. And that’s cool, because a lot of people aren’t, but this shows that these girls went out and paid for something they fundamentally did not understand, or knew anything about. And then they were upset when it turned out they did not like the thing they took no time to attempt to understand. When there is Google and Youtube on every cell phone now, I don’t know how sympathetic I’m supposed to be to their plight. This entire clusterfuck is completely avoidable with only five minutes spent looking at Youtube to determine if this is something you actually want to be paying for. They’re taking a risk and then they’re mad when it doesn’t work out. But that’s the nature of a risk!
SHE was wrong.
TOSH was right.
And no, this is not about rape and whether or not it’s funny. Of course rape is not funny, in and of itself. (But it, as a vehicle for a joke, in the right comic’s hands? Yeah, it can be. Exhibit A.) So that’s not really what we’re talking about here. Personally, when I heard about Tosh’s incident, my response was, “Was that where that had to go? Really?” He overplayed the moment, for sure. And he apologized—he knew he crossed the line. Take your issues with rape humor up with Tosh. I’ve never been interested in going there, though I do admire any comic who can turn that, or any controversial topic, into something funny (Eddie Izzard’s Hitler material is Hall Of Fame level stuff).
I’m not defending Tosh’s specific comments to this person, but I will defend his right to say whatever he wants to a heckler. He said it himself: I was heckled. Heckling is not cool. Again, the comic is at WORK. Some hecklers think they’re helping, that they’re somehow contributing positively to the show. They’re not. Ever. Others are trying to disrupt, to make the moment about them, and that’s not their place either. This young woman didn’t like what she was hearing, and she chose to be disruptive about it, and what she forgot was that everyone else in the room paid to be there, too. She’s wrecking their night as much as Tosh’s jokes were wrecking hers. If you don’t like what you’re hearing at a comedy show, take it to the comic after the show. Because no matter how offended you are, or upset, interrupting is not the right response. Comedy shows are not a two-way exchange.
But Sarah, it’s rape. She said it herself—you can’t stand by and say nothing! Unfortunately, you have to. If they were on the sidewalk and she overheard Tosh say that, by all means, engage. But a comedy show is a paid transaction. It’s like going to the movies and not liking the movie—leave if you must, but do it with minimal impact on the people around you because they may well be enjoying themselves, and they paid, too. They’re entitled to a pleasant experience. What a heckler does is not just interrupt a comic at work, but to ruin the enjoyment of everyone else. It’s an unwinnable moment for both sides, it’s an unfair exchange, but think about how annoyed you get when people talk at the movies. It’s really not that different, except in this case, the movie can talk back.
You cannot let heckling go. Not once. Stand-up comedy is about control, of both your material and your audience. If someone heckles, you HAVE to shut them down, immediately. Comedians handle this in a variety of ways—personally, I always went for shame. Shame them into silence. Point out that though they aren’t into it, the other 99 people in the room are. Remind them of their place, which is to be sitting in a crowd, not disrupting the enjoyment of others. That worked for me, but Tosh has always, always gone right for the jugular, humiliating his hecklers, and he is very, very good at it, generally. Even on this night, it worked for him—she was humiliated and left, ending the disruption. Except he went about a mile over the line in how hard he needed to go at this person, and now we have a problem.
I would LOVE to hear from anyone who was actually in the audience that night. Tosh implies the young woman misquoted him—what did he really say? How did he say it? Tone matters. And the rest of the audience—from this girl’s perspective, they were scary and feeding on negative energy, but then, she was on the wrong end of a spectacle. What if the show was going really well and everyone was into it but her, so she disrupts, and they cheered Tosh for shutting up the person ruining their night out, not that he was encouraging gang rape? I really, really want to hear some audience accounts of that show.
Again, I’m not asking you to approve of Tosh’s comments. I’m not asking you to be down with rape humor. But before you explode all over Tosh for being misogynistic and an asshole, keep in mind that he was at work and someone interrupted him. He took action to regain control and end the disruption so that things could go on without further interruption. Was it over the line? Yeah. And he apologized. You know who hasn’t apologized? The heckler who interrupted a comedy show other people were enjoying. But then, they never do.