A Different Kind of Heckling

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

In those many years of doing stand-up for a living, we always had to bear in mind that unless you become a concert headline act, you’re pretty much at whatever pub because the owner of the venue thinks comedy is the most fun (read “profitable”) way to sell drinks. If they thought turtle races would do better, then we’d be out a whole lot faster than the turtles. Even though most of the time drinks work hand in hand with comedy, and the people genuinely seem to enjoy comedy more when they’ve belted back a couple, there’s always been that hazard of a person suddenly feeling courageous and willing to challenge the performer. Most clubs will give a heckler one chance, and if he’s been silenced by the comic, that’s usually the end of it.

In my time, I’ve dealt with such gems as these: “You Suck” “You’re Rubbish” “Fuck Off Yank Wanker” (obviously from Brits) “Bring Back The Last Guy” “I Want My Money Back” “Show Us Your Cock” (females) “White Honky Fag Mutha Fucka” “When Does The Comedy Start?” “(insert name of famous comic) Is Funnier Than You” “Tell A Joke” “Bo-Ring” and I’m sure I’ll think of others. Oddly, no comedy club heckler has ever denounced my guitar playing or my singing. Point is, I’ve dealt with all those before, some where I’ve put the heckler in their place, others where the audience is enough on my side that I don’t need to do anything. Now, in my current steady work as a pub Quiz Master, I’ve stumbled upon a new heckle: “You’re Wrong!”

I do my best to cover myself when I prepare the questions, but Wikipedia is not 100% correct all the time, and the fact that I rely on it for answer verification will sometimes put me in dumb situations where I concede and give the protester the extra point credit they think they deserve. “You’re Wrong” is a step up from “You Suck,” but the person who’s protesting has probably had as much to drink as any comedy club heckler. I will have to admit sometimes they’re correct, but I’ve had to deal with sore losers from time to time, and I want to say “For fuck’s sake, this isn’t a TV quiz show! The stakes aren’t that high, and we’re just trying to have a little fun here.” I have gotten out the second half of that statement before, and there is at least one person I chased away for good, but ultimately good riddance.

The pub where I do my quiz is a True English Pub that’s been in its same location since the 1890’s. In the two years since I first started there, with a 5-month break while the place closed for a complete refurbishment, the numbers have risen from maybe 15 players on four teams to 45-50 players on 10, plus the club itself has found its own group of regulars who are there almost every night. It’s a lovely success story, but just as my numbers have risen, I start noticing some of the same problems I occasionally had with comedy clubs. With 40-50 people packed into a room with about that capacity and all of them drinking, and me merely asking for a little attention, I sometimes feel like the school teacher in the old Cheech & Chong bit, i.e. “Cla-a-ass! CLA-A-ASS! SHUT U-U-U-PP!!”

What bails me out is my experience in comedy/crowd control. I’ve been to enough other pub quizzes to know that just asking the questions can be downright boring. There’s plenty of old jokes I remind myself of when I’m reading the questions, and since it’s a whole new audience, the jokes suddenly feel new again. I also try to phrase each question as a bit of conversation, and I’m the only quiz master I’ve ever seen who sings and swears. Not a lot of the latter, but the occasional f-word has found its way in. A few weeks ago when I was clarifying a question that one table had asked me to repeat, then noticed they were texting as I was talking, I said, “It would help me a little if you put your fucking mobiles down while I’m talking to you.” I was worried I came off too harsh, but the crowd applauded, and the people at the table apologized.

It’s going to be good to come to US in May, as I’ll get a much-needed break from quizzing and be able to re-charge my quizzical being, plus I get to do this comedy thing a bit more, which had I not been doing all this time, I’d have been a lot less prepared for this new mini-career. People may have told me I’m wrong on occasion, but no one has told me I suck, or to fuck off, so thank god for small favors.

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