The Door Guy is a veteran of countless clubs around town. People say they've seen it all, but he's seen more. Write to him for everything from live advice to life advice.
Dear Door Guy,
How do you feel about heckling? The other night I was at a show where a couple guys were yelling stuff through the whole opening act, chucking beer cans, the whole nine yards. The singer from the band talked a lot of trash and seemed to take it in stride, but I thought the whole thing was super annoying. Why is this acceptable? Do clubs have a policy about heckling? It seems like it just ruins the show for everyone else.
— Stop Yelling
Historically, the acceptability of heckling has been dependent on, and associated with, the sort of show you're seeing. Heckling has been around for hundreds of years. It was a popular pastime for rowdy dirt farmers in the penny pit at Shakespeare shows, which must have been wildly frustrating for my Elizabethan Door Guy forefathers, and is historically associated with entertainment for the "masses" (re: poor people). Because of this, it has an association with letting your hair down and having a good time.
You got to get drunk at the cheap vaudeville show and yell stuff at the burlesque dancers while all the snooty jerks are across town at the opera, and that same association carries over to today. I've never attended a symphony performance when the crowd heckled. (Admittedly, my sample size there is pretty small.) On the other hand, I've worked plenty of rock shows where people felt compelled to insert themselves into the performance by yelling at the performers.
But for every "Judas!" there's a million instances of "Play 'Freebird!'" and the occasions where heckling is appropriate are overwhelmingly outweighed by much more frequent stupidity.
Ask any standup comedian, and they'll tell you that 99 percent of the time, the hecklers they deal with are just drunks trying to derail the show because somehow they think that's all part of the fun. Go to a show — even the most uber-punk PBR-chucking stage-dive fest — and the people yelling are about as entertaining as watching fungus grow between your toes, and half as funny. For the most part, heckling exists as an opportunity for someone in the crowd to insert themselves into a performance in as obnoxious a way possible. That's not emotional response or valid criticism, it's analog trolling.
Have you ever read the comments section of something on the internet and said, "These people didn't even read the article?"
Have you ever wondered why people are bothering to comment when they clearly weren't interested in getting anything out of it, when they were just using the headline as a jumping off point to say something that wasn't relevant and didn't actually have much to do with what you just read?
Story continues on the next page.
It's the same thing at shows. People heckle not out of a reaction to what someone is doing on stage but because they believe that somehow paying to attend a show automatically comes with an invitation to insert themselves into the performance, whether anyone else in the room — the band, the comedian, the crowd, or the Door Guy — likes it or not.
Do clubs have a policy about heckling? Clubs shouldn't have to have a policy about heckling, if for no other reason than it would be next to impossible to enforce in any meaningful way. It's not like you can go rushing into a crowd at a noisy show to find the one guy who yelled something a song and a half ago.
In Door Guy world, we all do our jobs operating under a basic, functioning Common Sense Test: Is the band unhappy? Is the crowd unhappy? Is someone going to get hurt? Is something going to get broken? Is the show ruined? If the answer to anything of these is a big fat YES, then someone's going to get a talking to. If the answer isn't that cut and dried, then minor incidences of stupidity will reign.
Still, it's worth noting that for all you potential hecklers out there, you might consider following some basic guidelines:
1) Are you actually objecting to an actual problem with the band? I mean, are they throwing poop, or reading Mein Kampf on stage? Or are they just tuning in between songs and you're bored? Pretty sure you're just bored. Shut up.
2) Almost as important: Do the people around you share your objection? It's one thing to yell something if a band is terrible, too wasted to play, or completely offensive, and everyone's pissed. It's another to walk into a crowded hip-hop show and yell, "Rap sucks!" Because then I'm going to have to throw you out for your own good.
3) Is what you're saying funny? Hint: You are never, ever funny. Not only are you not funnier than the front (wo)men in this town who can take what you're saying and deflect it, slap you down, or just work it into the act — you're also not funnier than the performers who just stare at you blankly and then play another song. Why? Because you aren't funny.
4) Is there anything you are going to yell that is better than getting another drink? Answer: Go get a drink.
If the answers to the above questions are NO (and they almost always are), then I suggest standing around in total indifference, griping on Twitter, or anything you can possibly do to distract yourself from the temptation to heckle simply because you feel entitled to embarrass yourself in public. Go be an analog troll somewhere else.
Got a question for The Door Guy? E-mail [email protected]
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