Truth in (the) Comedy (audience)

In recent news, cast members of the Second City, etc quit because of A) undisclosed cast squabbling and B) the claim that the ascendancy of Donald Trump has encouraged the assholes in the audience to become more vocal.  These vocal douchebags are heckling the stage and the audience with racist and sexist vitriol and the management isn't doing much to bounce them.  Thus, the exodus and virtue signaling.

A couple of thoughts to shoot across the bow.

Donald Trump and his bid for president has zero (or maybe slightly more than zero but not by much) to do with audience members yelling out more politically divisive shit.  They've always done that.  Sexist, racist, homophobic bullshit has always been the hallmark of the Great Tradition of Asking the Audience for Show Material.  The argument can be made that it is the ascendancy of social justice advocacy in record numbers calling for an existence outside the norm of Straight White Guy Patriarchy that has made a Donald Trump presidency even possible.  That argument, like the blaming of Trump's candidacy for drunk idiots acting like drunk idiots, is both suspect and ludicrous.

Booze + A Show = Obnoxious Audiences.  It's never been different in the history of both booze and shows.

At a live podcast event at City Winery, David Axelrod interviewed former RNC Chair Michael Steele in front of a well-heeled NPR audience and by the time they had hit the one hour mark, enough alcohol had been imbibed that the audience started yelling back.  Unlike the improv audience, Axelrod hadn't even asked for a suggestion.

If you perform in places where the primary motive of the venue is to sell drinks, you have no one to blame but yourself for accepting the Devil's Bargain of using alcohol to pump up your audience in exchange for them getting shitfaced.  Drunk people lose all sense of decorum and drunk people don't give a shit about your art form, man.  They're drunk.

Yeah - comedy clubs insist that the only way they can make dime at the end of the night is to enforce that two-drink minimum but if you thought that liquoring up the patrons was any sort of guarantee that the audience would be in the room to hear you perform your finely honed material, the only one you're kidding is yourself.

Comedy (or theater for that matter) isn't elementary school where the kids in the hall are there to conform to the control of a teacher.  If you want a compliant, respectful audience, go give lectures to the local grade school with teachers on the aisle to keep the kids in line.  If you expect your audience to be polite and respectful, be sure to perform the least offensive or challenging work in order to keep them at bay.  Otherwise, figure out a way to keep that audience engaged without insisting they respect your art.

Simply put, if you find hecklers to be a regular part of your night onstage, it may be because you stink.  Sure, even Louis CK gets a heckler once in awhile (and the man has mastered the ability to effectively deal with them and use it as more comic fuel for the overall show) but his hecklers are extremely rare.  Dealing with some bored asshole once in a while shouldn't be such a hardship.  If it is your standard night out, it is because your act is crap.  Your righteous indignation isn't improving your jokes is it?

You wanna avoid hecklers altogether?  Don't get up on a stage and perform in front of human beings in crowds.

Is it the management's responsibility to reign in the outliers who decide that your asking the audience for input is an opportunity to pop off about "faggots" and "Mexicans" and air their personal bigotries?  I'd suggest it is first the performer's job to turn that tide.  If the patron in question cannot be handled with a momentary barb in his direction, then a bouncer should bounce them.  If your bouncer is also wait staff, you're fucked because wait staff is depending on tips.  Your sign that warns about hate speech will be roundly ignored and you likely know it.  Those drunken morons who feel entitled to show their allegiance to intolerance won't read it and if they do, it will simply remind them of why they have hate speech in the first place.

By the way, this IS Second City we're talking about and, from the reviews, the show in question is in good form skewering the political hypocrisies of the audience throughout.  What the fuck was expected?  That the cast could poke fun of the audience and that the audience is required to sit back and take it?  Certainly not at the Second City I'm familiar with.  Satire, in order to be effective, has to have a sharp edge.  If you can't handle the reaction to the response of that satirical razor you're using to dissect society, maybe you should do children's theater instead. 

As much as we all want our art to be respected and given its due, we live in a society where art is treated as an extra thing that, when successful, is immediately co-opted to sell car insurance.  Get over yourself already and do your job.

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