CWRU, what the “Heck” is your problem?

Heckling and why it’s obnoxious

Enya Eettickal, Staff Writer

On March 24, I and evidently more than 1,800 other Case Western Reserve students went to watch the Spring Comedian, Colin Jost. As a passive viewer of Saturday Night Live (SNL) but a big fan of “Weekend Update,” I was excited to see what Jost had in store. The show started wonderfully with openers Marcello Hernandez and Molly Kearney, who did a good job of warming up the crowd before the main act. When Jost first came on, the show’s trajectory seemed great.

But then, the heckling began. At first, there were just a few interruptions—one or two screams that caught Jost’s attention. However, they continued and seemed to be out of place and invasive. “What bar are you going to afterward?” “How does your wife feel about her portrayal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?” ”How’d you bag Scarlet?” That’s only the half of it. There were a couple of other things that were yelled loud enough to create awkward pauses in the show, but quiet enough that no one could understand what was being said. However, it was more than enough to actively ruin the second half of the show for me and the rest of the audience. 

I don’t know if what happened at the show was because some CWRU students don’t know what heckling is, or rather if they simply don’t care. Regardless, I’m here to put our student body on blast for it.

Heckling is the act of interrupting a public speaker by harassing them with “questions, challenges, or gibes,” according to Webster’s dictionary. More often than not, I’ve heard of, and even seen footage of, comedians being ruthlessly heckled by audiences. This may be because comedy exists on the premise of interaction—comedians using audience laughter and response during their performances. However, heckling goes beyond simple audience interaction and crowd work—it has the impact of inhibiting the performer or disrupting their set, as opposed to aiding them in the way they intend for audience interaction to be. Heckling is uninvited, hostile and uncomfortable. If the performer is not the one in control of the interaction, it’s probable that audience interaction is heckling.

The big question is why? Why the heck would anyone heckle? There are a couple of reasons, the obvious one being attention. If you’re trying to compete for the spotlight with a comedian who’s on stage with 1,800 eyes on them, you have to be interrupting either for the attention of the speaker or the audience—paired with a lack of self-awareness. Unsurprising to most, the average CWRU student isn’t on the cutting edge of comedy. While hecklers may find their interruptions hysterical, there’s a solid chance nobody else does. It’s just annoying. There’s also the possibility that someone isn’t interrupting with the purpose of being perceived as comedic but rather just for attention, following the “no press is bad press” mentality. Lastly, it’s also possible that someone may be heckling because they do not understand comedy etiquette. During the Spring Comedian event, Jost stopped to consult his notes, and someone asked “Do you have any advice for us?” I truly don’t think the question was malicious, but there are two things that ran through my mind when I heard it. One, a pause doesn’t mean that a comedian doesn’t know what to say, but rather needs a moment to think, and asking questions like that hurts more than it helps. Two, a comedian who does political satire is here to make us laugh, not give advice. But if I didn’t know those two things, I could see why someone may ask that question. 

So the question becomes, how do we stop it? For the most part, as audience members, our hands are tied—unless you’re a heckler, because then, please just stop. It’s embarrassing for you and (secondhand) for me. However, as a performer, there are two ways to deal with it. One is to embarrass or roast the heckler into silence, or at least discourage others from heckling—and Marcello did a good job of that and for an audience similar to CWRU, that may work well. On the other hand, the option is to not entertain them at all. If they’re looking for attention, don’t give it to them. Ignore them, and in most circumstances, they’ll ideally stop or go away—and that goes for any time in life when someone defers to harassment to gain attention. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jost was trying to be nice, and didn’t want to roast a bunch of college kids, but there was a trade-off involved where the heckling continued. 

If you take away nothing else from this article, just remember that with performances, interaction is not an invitation for harassment. Comedians often have pre-planned sets, and the audience is there for them rather than for you. Although, if anyone has ideas on how an audience member can help diffuse a heckler situation, let me know. In the meantime, I will be watching “Weekend Update” if anyone wants to join along.