Heckling? What is it good for

Byrne and Kindler put it to debate

Ed Byrne and self-critical American comic Andy Kindler have debated whether hecklers are good for comedy.

Neither had any time for the loudmouths, but Byrne – at least for the purposes of the radio show being recorded at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival – claimed they served a purpose in getting cheap laughs.

‘Hecklers are selfish egotists without talent or the guts to get on stage,’ he said. ‘But they are one step up from critics, who are selfish egotists without talent but without the guts to be a heckler. And I say that knowing there’s a critic in the room.’

But he said that even standard heckle comebacks were guaranteed a laugh, making his job easier.

‘We want to show off how witty and clever we are,’ he said, ‘and putting down hecklers is easy. Writing new material is hard.’

Byrne recalled a gig in High Wycombe when he was performing his trademark routine about how Canada’s own Alanis Morissette had no understanding of the concept of irony, despite writing a whole song about it.

He was complaining that the lyric ‘It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife,’ wasn’t ironic but ‘just stupid’ when a distinctly unimpressed woman in the front row patronisingly sighed: ‘Well, it’s a metaphor…’

‘No,’ Byrne shot back. ‘She used the word “like”. It’s a simile, not a metaphor’ – thus getting a huge laugh.

However, Kindler argued simply: ‘Heckling is wrong. It’s worse than wrong is impolite. It’s gateway bad behaviour that could lead to worse things – like being a serial killer or becoming a fan of blue collar comedy.

‘Comedy is an artform – not counting the early Nineties – and the intent of the heckler is to disrupt the performance. How can that be good.

‘People say heckling adds to the show. If it’s a Larry The Cable Guy show, it would add to the show. But then anything would. The mic going down would be a start.’

The format of the CBC Radio show The Debaters puts the motion to audience vote, which sided with the point Byrne was given to argue: that hecklers can be good for comedy.

Published: 25 Jul 2009

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