Thursday, July 12, 2012

Comics and Hecklers (Reflecting on Tosh Fiasco)

Comics and hecklers - what's really going on.... (Reflecting on this Tosh fiasco)
I'm not going to elaborate much on the most superficial reason for why this fiasco is absurd: for as long as comedy has been around, there have been comics that push the boundaries of taboo, test the limits of free speech, and give people a rise by touching upon subjects that make people cringe, upset and highly offended. It's a part of the business, if you fear it that much stay away from it. Done with that, now moving on to what I think is the more important issue: This situation involving Tosh (this time) stems from the general population's inability to truly grasp some the fundamental components regarding the nature of stand up comedy, and the incredibly offensive practice of heckling.

You don't go to a comedy club to "stand up for something you believe in" when something you happen to be offended by comes up, especially when you've gone to see one of the most edgy comics working in the business today. Her job was to shut up and watch the show, and leave if she was upset by something. Do you start yelling during a play if the actors start doing something contrary to your beliefs? Comics are the only people that have to deal with this level disrespect on a regular basis, and every time one of them does something to cut down a heckler, people try to judge it so harshly. "Hmmm... that may have been a mean thing to say to that poor poor woman that interrupted his performance, and might have thrown off a set, at a big show, maybe even during a joke he's been working on perfecting for 10 months .... hmmm, what a meanie!" You need to understand this dynamic before you judge a comic with his back against the wall. Once you open your mouth, be ready for a fight; It's up to the comic to choose however he deems necessary to defend himself, while simultaneously being funny, quick, and keeping control in the room.

Some of the claims I've heard regarding why it was so offensive are pretty ridiculous and making more out of the event than need be. Tosh wasn't trying to demonstrate masculine control, nor emphasize some overarching theme of a patriarchal society and capitalize on women's vulnerability - give me a break. I bet he would have just as easily said the same thing to a dude... He's just saying that the person is such a nuisance that he wishes the worst thing ever would happen to them, because in that moment the heckler is the single largest cause of annoyance in his world.

This disconnect regarding the relationship between the comic and the audience is what leads to angry crowds when the comic goes "overboard," and furious comics when the crowd tries to "help." I know it can be confusing because many comics want to create the vibe like "we're all just hanging out, I'm just chilling and talking to you guys." That's why I try not to get too angry when a heckler tries to "help" or chime in with their opinion during my set. But, when people want to jump on a comic for his tactics during the fight I feel so annoyed that I'm compelled to write a 4 paragraph presentation on the matter. (and I don't normally do this stuff...don't remember the last time i left a comment on something like this) I just think people need to understand what is really going on, from the comic's perspective. Then maybe more people would sit and listen, talk less, and treat a stand up performance like any other live entertainment, and act like an audience there only to listen and respect the entertainer that has been working YEARS and YEARS and YEARS on his art of making you laugh.

Anyone who chooses to judge Tosh harshly because of this clearly does not understand the world of stand up comedy, or the nature of stand up comics. People think yelling stuff is ok, or not that bad - and there's the problem. When you yell out anything at a comic during his set, 99% of the time it is the most obnoxious annoying insult to us as performers and people. Moreover, it is an attack, an attack at us in our most vulnerable position where humiliation, reputation and the credibility of your wit is on the line. It's a big deal! Even though many comics will play it off like it's all fun and they'll try to make a light joke (while all secretly hoping someone would ram a dick into the hecklers mouth, male or female). Now when see someone heckle during a show in any capacity, hopefully you'll understand the gravity of the offense in the eyes of a comic. So, the next time you see a heckler send out a missile, don't be so surprised if the comic hits 'em back with a nuke.


  1. This is an outstanding idea, Feraz. I hope that this post reaches the masses and changes some people's thought processes. The only problem I see is that most people have a problem truly relating to others perspectives or points of view. C. Wright Mills would say that the majority of people lack a sociological imagination and that they are only introspective. This theory was written about in the 1880's (I believe) and I think that it continues to gain strength as the world we live in continues to evolve.

    At any rate I will do my part to further your incites to the world. Best wishes!