The Worst I Was Ever Heckled Doing Standup Comedy in New England
By now, you may have seen or read about the adventurous standup set comedian Ariel Elias had at a comedy club in New Jersey over the weekend.
Mid-set, someone in the audience at Uncle Vinnies Comedy Club decided they weren’t particularly fond of Elias’ material and decided to throw a beer at her. Not only did Elias somehow take the incident in stride – she did so after chugging the entire beer.
It wasn’t long before footage of the incident (Elias’ heroic response) went viral. And soon, Elias was offered a spot on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” by Jimmy Kimmel himself.
So yeah, it's a happy ending. But it doesn't dull the anger you feel as a comic when reminded that sadly, this is how some audience members behave #NowMoreThanEver.
I started doing standup in the Boston area in mid-2003. While I can’t say I’ve ever chugged a beer mid-set, I can definitely relate to being heckled. After years in New York City, I found myself able to “handle” things quite nicely while waiting for the bouncers to do their thing (where were they at Uncle Vinnies, by the way?).
In New England, audiences aren’t quite as chatty; rather, most listen intently as they decide how your jokes measure up against their own clever wit (the region is, after all, one of the funniest in the nation).
This was not the case one evening in 2004 when I had my first paid gig in Lowell, Massachusetts. The city that once welcomed Prince (now King) Charles didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for standup newbie Jon Rineman.
It was a last-minute gig that came up when someone else canceled, and it seemed easy enough; a small room with a nice crowd, early on a Sunday evening. 10 minutes into a 20-minute set, I was doing fine.
Then, the catcalls began.
To this day, the only time I’ve been catcalled onstage (or ever?). “Somebody’s a cutie! Look at those shouldahs! This one’s a lookah!”
So, we had established this woman had been drinking.
By about 12 minutes, my no-sell of these advances led to a distinct turn. “Boo! Boo! Go away, and stay theyah forevah!”
At 15 minutes, the snoring began. Not real snores, but loud, deliberate, faux-snores. And they continued all the way through minutes 19 and 20, when at last I could get off stage and get paid.
But not before the spit.
I still don’t know if the loogie was deliberate or a misfire from this woman who’d long lost control of mouth. But it was strong enough to know: “I’ve been hit.” So, given the beverage of choice for this woman, in around-about way, I guess I've had a little bit of beer lobbed in my direction.
But, I couldn’t leave. When you’re just starting out, it’s bad form to leave early; it’s an unwritten rule that you hang around to watch the headliner to learn and show respect. Luckily, the booker, still a good friend with whom I’ve shared the stage at the Music Hall Lounge, paid me immediately and got me out of harm’s way.
I left just in time to hear the emcee say, “And now, here’s your headliner – Linda!” She now had plenty of material about when she catcalled, snored, at and spat on her opening act...before she passed out two minutes in, and I had to go back up.