Hecklers Hijack Comedic Discourse

Watching the ‘Heckler’ clip taken from Louis C. K.’s show was simultaneously satisfying and frustrating for me. Louis C. K.’s point of view on heckling – that heckling is impermissible and, when encountered, should be combatted in the harshest way possible – is obviously the predominant one among comedians. Given how hard comedians have to work to make a living, and how much alcohol is served at the average comedy club, this point of view is understandable. With this in mind, and with my own experience with annoying hecklers, it was somewhat satisfying to watch Louis C. K. shut down the heckling in a way that kept his audience’s attention firmly on him.

However, it’s a little cheap that Louis C. K. went to the lengths of posing a heckling scene that played directly into his hand, just to make a point about how much he hates being interrupted. The comedian already has the upper hand when confronted by a heckler, and Louis C. K. took that advantage to a whole new level by planning a skit with the ideal heckler of his own design. When confronted after the show, the heckler repeats several times, “I am a good person, I-I know I’m a good person”, indicating that she is intended to symbolize the self-righteous, shallow liberal, if not a “feminist killjoy”.

Too stuck up to see her own flaws and too narcissistic to keep her comments to herself, the heckler thinks she is “participating” in the show. In my own experience, the types of hecklers who truly believe they are making the show better are usually too drunk to cause a real distraction. This heckler was of a different sort, which was obvious when she was asked to stop talking and she replied that she was uncomfortable with the show’s content, which is the case for many hecklers. What, if not heckle, is an audience meant to do when confronted with material that is “over the line”? In a world without hecklers, would comedians progress toward unmanageable bigotry and obscenity?

Louis C. K. is clearly of the opinion that the only appropriate way to contribute to comedic discourse is by being the comedian on the stage and being completely uninterrupted. This point of view, firstly, goes counter to the fact that crowd participation is essential to comedy. Secondly, if comedians are meant to be the writers of comedic discourse, we will have to make the stage a more diverse space in order to avoid a discourse written entirely by the straight white males that comprise most of comedy. Louis C. K. clearly has not considered the societal advantages that make his livelihood a possibility for him – and an impossibility for most women like his heckler. His heckler makes a good point that it is a comedian’s job to know how to handle hecklers. If your job is to stand onstage and make jokes, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

It is reasonable for Louis C. K. to be frustrated about being interrupted during his performances because, as he pointed out, his livelihood depends on being uninterrupted. Fair. However, in terms of discomfort, I think it’s safe to say that the heckler and Louis C. K. were at least evenly matched when Louis invited a member of the audience to “put a dick in her face”. As a white man, and no beefcake either, Louis C. K. will likely never know the discomfort of his female audience members when targeted with jokes about rape and other assaults on personal safety.

Unknown.jpegMany people would argue that more appropriate responses to offensive comedic bits would be to either leave the show or to not laugh, rather than heckling. This argument reminds me of the one made by many young people who told me they were making a political statement by not voting in the 2016 presidential election. Unfortunately, I never heard anyone discuss or even decisively enumerate the number of people who didn’t vote. Similarly, audience members who leave or remain silent do nothing to prevent the spread of bigoted ideas. No matter how unpopular it may be, perhaps it’s time to stop being silent.

Lastly, the clip appears to be set in a comedy club in which, one can assume, all the audience members indirectly paid Louis C. K. to be there. In such a scenario, I have trouble accepting Louis C. K.’s argument that he has a ‘right’ to the attention and respect of his audience. My opinion, counter to the generally accepted rules of comedy, is that any respect Louis C. K. should receive should be earned by virtue of his intelligence and comic expertise – not because he is a big name, and managed to show up in his ubiquitous t-shirt and mom jeans. The heckler’s comment that she found Louis C. K.’s rape jokes ‘offensive’ should have been taken seriously; not because it’s “PC”, but because it is in our best interest to make the comedy club a more democratic space in which the audience can be in control of the content they pay for.

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