Hecklers are considered by many, including me, to be the “bully” of magicians. I define a heckler as basically anybody who rudely interrupts you in the middle of your performance. There are many things that spectators can do to “qualify” as hecklers, including: shouting out the method, refusing to be quiet, and/or just being rude towards you and/or your spectators. Hecklers are a pain in the butt, and hopefully in this essay I will teach you some things about dealing with them.
I have come across countless numbers of methods of “dealing” with hecklers, but by far one of my favorite so far is the “5 Step-Method” that Tyas Frantz talked about in one of his podcasts.
1) Acknowledge the heckler.
“Acknowledging the heckler” means when a heckler spots a method and points it out, just say something along the lines of, “Good eye,” and move along. But do it in a nonchalant kind of way, and quickly move on. Odds are they will keep their mouth shut for the rest of your performance.
2) Ignore the heckler.
This step is, I feel, pretty self-explanatory. Jus act as if the heckler is not there, and either the rest of the audience will hush them up, or they will decide that it’s not worth it and will either be quiet or leave.
This is one step that I usually skip, because it usually ends up turning into a huge “argument” and the rest of the audience grows bored, and therefore leaves.
4) Educate the audience.
If, at this point, the heckler is still bothering you, just stop wherever you are at in your performance, and tell the rest of the audience that you can no longer perform with the heckler watching. At this point, the audience usually takes care of the heckler for you by “booing and shooing” the heckler away.
5) Have the heckler removed.
Hopefully you never let the hecklers get past step four, but, if for any reason, it does happen…. It is time for the heckler to leave your performances. If it is a free show, and therefore they did not pay to watch you perform, it’s practically impossible for you to have the heckler removed. However, if it is a paid performance, you are in complete control of who watches you perform, and for how long they do so… therefore you are able to take them outside, tell them they need to leave, and give them a complete refund.
Now, for some magicians these five steps may work very well, while for others they may not like them and decide to not even try them. For those of you that don’t like the 5 Step-Method, simply don’t use it. There is another method I know of that works just as well, if not better.
For this method, if and when you encounter a heckler, simply say, “Sir/ma’am, it is apparent that you do not want me to perform for you so I will leave you alone and perform elsewhere. Thank you for your time.” After you walk away, 99% of the time, the heckler will apologize and ask you to return and continue your performance. If the hecklers doesn’t do this themselves, often times the spectators around the heckler will get angry with the heckler, tell them to shut up, and call you back to continue your performance.
Possibly the worst thing that you can do when trying to deal with a heckler is to give them attention. If you stop and listen to them, or “give them control of the situation”, as I like to call it, it boosts their ego and lets them think that you’re ok with what they’re doing, and the situation will only grow worse.
Another thing you probably shouldn’t do, unless your name just happens to be Gazzo, is to insult the heckler. This often makes them angry, they insult you back, it turns into a rather large argument, and the rest of the audience will probably get bored and leave.
Now that we’ve discussed methods of dealing with hecklers when you encounter them, we should probably talk about how to avoid them in the first place. First of all, your performances should be absolutely flawless. To get them this way, I recommend scripting your performances. For more information on scripting, I recommend reading bliztmagic's essay
on the subject. After you are done scripting, practice your performances until your hands bleed… then practice some more.
Another way to avid hecklers is to learn the ability to “read” a person before meeting them. Usually hecklers are loud, cocky, and obnoxious. Also, they will also usually want to be at the center of attention, and are willing to rudely interrupt anyone and everyone to get there. Before you approach the group you are planning on performing for, locate this person… in some cases, people… and think of ways to avoid them, and “control” them if necessary.
And so concludes my essay on hecklers, how to deal with them, and most importantly, how to avoid them. I hope you enjoyed… thanks for reading!