How to Deal with Hecklers

There are many things that can cause audience members to be disruptive. In terms of live music, disruptive behavior is often exaggerated by excessive alcohol intake. Apart from feeling agitation for some or other reason, disruptive individuals generally feel that they need to prove themselves publicly as a result of low self-esteem.

In reality, hecklers aren’t very common at live music gigs. Most of the time, you will be “heckled” by fans that are driven by a passion for the music you’re performing. A common situation is having to deal with people who want to come up on stage and “play a song”. This is mild heckling at best, and at its core it’s playful in nature.

In the very rare occasion however, you may be faced with a heckler that’s strongly looking to undermine your performance. If this happens, you should attempt to maintain a professional demeanor at all times. You have a repertoire of music that you need to cover, so you will need to get the job done under any circumstance. This is achieved by maintaining a positive attitude, and not responding negatively. By doing this, you will increase your credibility as a performer and prove to your audience that you’re an expert.

There’s no right or wrong way to deal with a heckler, and oftentimes every situation is different. Below is a blueprint that will get you started.

#1 – Ignore

Begin by ignoring the person(s) involved. The audience is generally on the side of the performer, and usually this is enough to have someone else silence them on your behalf. A heckler is usually seeking some form of physical response, which may simply be eye contact. When they receive no reward for their actions, they are likely to feel embarrassed and stop.

#2 – Brief Confrontation

Sometimes, ignoring negative behavior is not enough, and you will be required to confront the heckler. You should simply acknowledge their comment in passing, without opening up a forum for discussion. Consider how a political figure, such as Obama, would control an audience disruption. They’re likely to say something along the lines of:

  • “I’ll be happy to discuss this topic after my presentation”;
  • “Interesting point, but I’m pushed for time and need to finish up here”.

Always remember to respond in kind. You can even use positive humor to repel the situation.

#3 – Private Confrontation

If all else fails, it may be necessary to address the heckler in a more severe form. This will involve privately speaking with the person(s) involved, and explaining to them that their behavior is extremely disruptive towards your performance.

This can be done during an interval, however it works best midsong. There’s something rather daunting about a musician that suddenly stops playing, and then abrasively starts walking in your general direction.

Dean Hailstone

Dean Hailstone

Dean is a professional guitar player, recording artist and touring musician. He has over 20 years of playing experience, and has performed hundreds of live gigs during his career. Read more...


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