A friend who excels at blogging (and other things) once suggested that when I'm buried in work (like I am now) I should dig into my archives and reprint something of interest. I searched the archives of my old Bravenet blog and found this ever timely post about 'hecklers'. Enjoy.

January 2006

I gigged at Bally's Wild West last night. I only sing once a month now, so I was pleased when I walked into the lounge to find a pretty full house. It can be pretty deadsville in the casino lounges during winter months. The sound (audio) was good last night, the audience happy and receptive . . .

All but one woman. One miserable, slightly inebriated woman who thought it was perfectly acceptable to march up to the stage and insult my performance to my face while I was trying to do my job. (Shades of my "You Suck" story, only worse.) We'd just ended a song and I was talking to the smiling, appreciative audience, yet she stood there, intent to share her negative opinion. I smiled, made a light comment to her scathing insult (off mic) and then returned my attention to the audience. Because, hey, lady,... working here. But she didn't get the hint. She continued to stand there and insult me, in essence, bragging how she could do it better.

In the entertainment biz, we call this sort of person a heckler. If you perform live, you're going to have to deal with hecklers. No matter your level of success. Stand-up comedians probably get the worst end of the deal, bless their brave souls. A band may be incredibly talented, but if they don't know Freebird, someone's going to pronounce them sucky. So how do you handle someone who insults you (your work) publicly (undermining your confidence) while you're doing your job?

My brother-in-law is a dynamic singer and performer. I worked with him in a band for quite a few years, many moons ago. He's extremely likable and quick-witted and can put a heckler in their place over the microphone. Basically, he admonishes their rude behavior in a comical way, making the heckler look (and feel) like the obnoxious idiot he/she is. Either he wins the heckler over with his good humor or the heckler fades away. (Both good.) Now if you don't handle it right, this technique can easily backfire and you can turn more of the audience against you. (That's bad.)

Another way of dealing with a heckler is to ignore them. That's my method. Ignore them, don't bring attention to them, don't give them fuel for their fire, and they usually fade away. If they persist and are getting out of hand, I might catch the eye of a bartender or security guard. Let someone else be the bad guy. Sometimes I can joke around with a heckler, win them over. I usually get a sense if this is possible.

I knew there would be no winning over that woman last night. I made one light, joking response to her insult and when she persisted, I ignored her. Finally she gave up and went off to wherever. Probably to heckle some poor cocktail waitress about her drink... or a slot attendant about the machine that's not paying out... or... you catch my drift. I'm telling you the woman was miserable. Obviously a frustrated performer. I'm sorry for you, really. But, dang it, stop whining, don't belittle someone else to make yourself feel better. If you can do it better, then, hey, go do it. More power to you. I didn't say any of that, but be assured I thought it.

Somewhere in the comments of my Just Do It post, I mentioned that an artist needs to have the heart of a lion and the hide of an elephant. The above is a prime example. Even though I considered the source, I felt the sting of that heckler's insult. It hurt, but it didn't kill me. I shrugged off the insecurities she stoked and continued on with my job. 99% of my audience enjoyed my performance and that's who I focused on.

I ramble on about this because we will all, at some point, no matter our profession, be faced with a heckler. Someone who tells us to our face that our work sucks. Sometimes they offer advice. Sometimes they don't. I'm not sure which is worse. What matters is how you handle this person. As this sort of insult happens in public (it could even happen on you blog or message board), I believe it's important to handle the situation with grace. No matter what, don't make yourself look bad.

Again, hecklers are everywhere. Authors get them too. Bottom line, gentle sensitive souls, not everyone is going to like your work. Constructive criticism is one thing. Mean-spirited insults another. Learn to recognize the difference and deal accordingly. Then focus on the 99% who think your the best thing since sliced bread. Focus on the positive. Repeat after me: "Sticks and stones . . ."


flchen1 said…
So true, Beth! We do all face hecklers, whether professionally as you do as a writer and performer, or personally, as we may hear from irritating co-workers, our parents, or random people on the street who want to point out that my kids aren't properly attired ;) Let it roll off, right? Water off a duck's back and all that ;)
Beth Ciotta said…
Great attitude, flchen1! Sticks and stones, and all that. :-)

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