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Whenever I think about hecklers and heckler lines I ask myself WWBFD? What Would Butterfly Do?
Robert Nelson, aka The Butterfly Man, was better with hecklers than any other comedy juggler I have ever seen. He was even better with hecklers than he was without them!
Robert Nelson performing at Pier 39
Robert always had dozens of insults, both original and stock, ready to go without a moment’s notice. More impressively, he knew exactly when to use each one. He knew who to be gentle with and who to grind into dust.
But he was even better when he skipped his standard lines and walked that tightrope, engaging with the heckler.
Here are some of the things I learned from years of watching Robert interact with, and a few late-night smoky sessions talking with him about, hecklers.
Types of hecklers
Hecklers come in 3 types:
Hecklers who think they’re helping the show;
Hecklers who are trying to hurt the show; and
Hecklers who are so drunk even they don’t know which of these two types they are.
Then there are the people who aren’t exactly hecklers but might as well be:
Kids who have seen your show before and yell out your punch-lines or expose your surprises before you do;
Teenagers who stand in a clump too close to your show with their backs to you, pointedly not watching you because they’re just too cool; and
Fans, friends, and relatives who are so enthusiastic they fragment your audience.
I never talked to Robert about these last three, but we talked a lot about the first.
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