For comedians, hecklers are kind of an occupational hazard — but also sometimes a rite of passage.
New York-based comic Steve Hofstetter (who calls Louisville his adopted home city) got more than he bargained for when he dealt with a particularly aggressive heckler recently at a Long Island comedy club he owns.
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Watching a video of the incident, and the events leading up to it, it appears the man (henceforth to be known as “the heckler”) is drunk. He heckles, heckles and then heckles some more, and when Hofstetter and his staff go to remove the man from the club, the shoving starts.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a physical altercation (with a heckler),” Hofstetter said during a phone interview. “This guy was something else.”
The Laughing Devil Comedy Club is a smaller venue, seating only 50 people, and that made the situation touchy.
“It’s difficult to kick somebody out without making it awkward,” Hofstetter said.
But the night was already drifting toward awkward, as the heckler continually interrupted the set of comedian Rich Vos — known for his appearances on three seasons of “Last Comic Standing” and “The Opie and Anthony Show.”
Vos, who called the heckler a “drunken boob,” said this wasn’t the first time he’s seen a heckler get physical with someone. The show had to go on, and it did, even though the man was heckling “from the beginning to the end” of Vos’ set.
“I know how to handle, pretty much, stuff like that,” he said. “Usually I know how to defuse it.”
The heckler was so drunk, though, that there was no defusing the situation, he added.
“He can’t be embarrassed, he has no boundaries,” Vos said.
When it all started, Hofstetter was at the bar and didn’t see or hear the man. But what drew his attention, what brought him back to the stage, was what he couldn’t hear.
“What made me really concerned was that it was quiet,” he said. “I thought, ‘Something’s wrong, right now.’ ”
There was a documentary filmmaker that night recording footage for a film about the club’s first year of operation, so the footage of the heckler’s heckling and then shoving is pretty clear.
The man was finally put into a cab and sent home — but not until after Hofstetter got him to tip his staff $60.
“And he throws (the tip) on the floor and says, ‘That’s what I think of this,’ ” Hofstetter said. “And I say, ‘I don’t care.’ ”
No charges were filed against the man, but you can bet he’s on the club’s black list now. What Hofstetter took away from the incident, mostly, is just the absurdity of what happened.
“Do you see a sold-out crowd laughing politely and think, ‘They’re doing it wrong!’?”
Vos, likewise, doesn’t understand why hecklers are so prevalent.
“No one would go to a play and start yelling at the actors,” he said.
It’s not as if Hofstetter is new to the idea of hecklers — the majority of the 5 million views that videos on his YouTube page have received are of him dealing with hecklers. It’s all about how you handle the heckling, he said, how you ad-lib the routine to work the heckler into the show.
Also how you crush hecklers with humor.
“I have very little patience for hecklers,” Hofstetter said.
“There isn’t a single club that I’ve played that I haven’t been heckled,” he continued. “You do enough shows, it happens.
“I don’t get heckled at every show, but there are a lot of drunk people in the world.”
When it comes to heckling in Louisville, sure, it happens, he said. Most of Hofstetter’s experiences at Louisville comedy clubs, though, are positive ones, even if there’s a heckler in the crowd.
Of all the videos on his YouTube page featuring him dealing with hecklers — and there are a bunch — “none of them are from Louisville,” he said. “Which I think is a testament to Louisville audiences.”
Louisville, by the way, is the place Hofstetter credits with giving him “the comedy muscle” to deal with hecklers, and ad-lib in general. He did a show where he ad-libbed for an entire hour. That show at the Comedy Caravan was turned into the comedy album — one of three Hofstetter has recorded in Louisville — “Steve Hofstetter’s Day Off.”
Hofstetter remembers another instance at the Comedy Caravan when a crowd of 200 people took a heckler to task for him. The person was especially offended by one of Hofstetter’s jokes and started to get aggressive and wanted to fight the comic.
“I said, ‘If you want to fight me, you’re going to have to get through 200 people to get to me,’ ” he said. “As a comic, you’ve got yourself an army.”
It’s one of the reasons that Hofstetter calls Louisville his “home on the road.” And it grieves him that he hasn’t been back to perform in about a year and a half.
“I hope (to get back to Louisville) sometime soon,” he said. “I love it there; I miss it.”