Okay, crush is a strong word. Let’s not get carried away here. Do I have the addresses of a couple of people in my notebook? Sure, I do. But Phil Morris from 246324 Rector lane, Reefer Alabama 23842 had it coming.
Everyone (other than Phil Morris) has a night where they run their mouth a little too much, or maybe they’ve had too much to drink and forgot that they paid to see you perform. Whatever the case may be, if you play, you’re going to get hecklers. If you haven’t gotten them yet, it’s a not if, it’s a when thing.
Depending on your act, it might look a little different than the advice I’m about to give. For instance, if you’re a stand-up comedian, you’ll be able to do something different than a singer-songwriter. That makes sense! But the fact remains the same, you are not a radio. You are paid to be there, and it is YOUR stage, baby! So don’t insult them (like a stand-up comedian might) but stand your ground, be quick and funny, and 9 times out of 10, they’ll leave you alone.
I’ll post a video here of comedians destroying hecklers. I can not stress this enough THIS VIDEO HAS A LOT OF SWEARING so if you don’t like that, don’t watch this video!
Seriously, lots of swearing!
Now, you shouldn’t do anything you’ve seen in this video. But wasn’t that fun?!
Okay, first things first.
Not everyone is going to like you
It’s a hard truth in life. For everyone ten people that love Adele, ten people don’t like her voice. It’s okay! It’s a preference, and if we stop and think about that, it’s a beautiful thing! I’m glad that it happens and it should be celebrated! That said, some people are more vocal than others on how much you don’t fit into their preferences. It is one of the hardest things I’ve had to overcome. But this is a place where we must triumph! Some people are going to want to hear your friend over you. That’s going to happen. Does that mean that your friend is better than you? Maybe it does. But it doesn’t mean you’re not good (or even great), OR that you’re better in some other aspect of the craft.
I don’t want to shy away from the fact that you are probably not the best at what you do. Not even in your circle of influence, and THAT’S OKAY! Because you still have a unique voice/style, and you can always improve that style! This is the most important thing to remember when you’re dealing with hecklers AND with a shortcoming in self-esteem.
The heckler that thinks you’re a jukebox
This is the one that I have seen the most. Where requests can be outstanding ( for most acts even wanted), there is a type of person that for some reason, they believe that if they ask you six times to play “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News, that it will magically come to you.
What do to
The best response I’ve ever heard has been,
“I don’t know that one, but if I did, I would love to play it for you.”A pretty lady that plays guitar
Short, sweet and to the point. Now it worked for the lady saying it. Sometimes you might get a drunk who won’t leave it be. At that point, you should either.
A. Repeat yourself in a calm way
B. Get the manager at the next break and tell them you have someone bothering you.
You might feel like you’re letting your audience down, you’re not. You’re not a human jukebox! I have felt guilty for not knowing a standard song like “Santeria” by Sublime (a crowd favorite), and the best thing you can do is start a list of songs that you’re always being asked to play! Most of the time, if you can make it through a chorus of a song, they’re happy, and they tip you, either way, so don’t feel like you have to learn an entire song.
The heckler that sexually harasses you
I haven’t had this one happen to me more than once. I got off stage, and someone groped me. It made me feel super uncomfortable. I understand that being a white male, I have a lot more privilege than most. It gave me a fraction of understanding towards women and what they go through regularly.
If someone makes you feel uncomfortable. You are 100% in the right to stop playing, go inform any the manager and report the issue. We’ve come a long way from how things used to be! But from time to time, you will still encounter someone who doesn’t do something to protect you. Obviously, this isn’t okay, and at this point, we can go up the chain and report the problem. No one should feel uncomfortable. We need to band together to stop this! If you see something happening to someone else, it is categorically your job to help them out.
The heckler that won’t shut the hell up
Some gigs you get you are paid to be background noise, while others you’re meant to be front and center. Truthfully, for either of these gigs, it’s completely acceptable to ask someone to quiet down a little, so you can concentrate on the performance. Some of us feel a tinge of sin in asking for someone to shut up. But you shouldn’t feel that way. There is a right and wrong way to do this. For instance, the way that comedians do it is NOT the way you should do it. A good idea might be to finish up the song, then lean over and politely ask them to be a little quieter because it’s interrupting your concentration. Don’t use the microphone when you ask. It’ll make them feel embarrassed, and when people feel humiliated, they do and say stupid things. Be kind, and keep eye contact. If they flip out, get the manager. Easy!
Remember that if your concentration is off and you mess up, you’re messing up the show for everyone else who is paying attention. Don’t be afraid to ask an audience member to watch their volume.
Another version of this is the person on their phone right in front of you. If you’re an artist, you’ll understand how deflating this is. It hurts to put so much of yourself into a song only to look up and see someone scrolling through Instagram. How do we combat this?
- Keep regular eye contact with your audience. It’s hard for them to phase you out if you’re staring into their soul.
- Don’t let it get to you. It happens to everyone, and it says more about that person than it says about you. In other words, ignore them and connect with someone else. My vocal coach Marty Wilson taught me this, and it’s been a game-changer in my performance.
Our audience is our friend! They make or break our show (duh) if we can learn to turn the heckler into a fan, they will usually turn into one of our biggest fans! I have seen it happen more often than not!
Above all else, remember these tips
Don’t ever lose your cool.
You’re smarter than a drunk heckler.
You’re in control of the situation.
If all else fails, get the manager.
If at any point you don’t feel safe, stop the song and get someone’s attention.
You’re a performer! You’re going to get hecklers. Learning how to deal with these fools is part of the job!
I want to hear your best heckler stories! Leave them in the comments below!