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As a Corporate Magician For Events, How Do You Handle Hecklers?

Lay audiences are more concerned about hecklers interfering with a stage performer than are most performers. I’ve performed thousands of shows and I’ve had maybe two hecklers who truly disrupted the show. In general, audiences want to have a good time and don’t want to mess up the magician or comedian, particularly if the host went out of their wait to hire a magician for the event. And to that point, most hecklers aren’t malevolent, they just aren’t capable of communicating their wishes effectively.  

Before I mention how I handle hecklers directly, I should point out that I do not antagonize anyone during my performances. My approach is fun and full of banter, but I do not aim to embarrass anyone and the show is not competitive. Some other performers who actively ridicule their audience members or set up competitive dynamics with their spectators are inadvertently turning audience members into hecklers. Push a couple too many buttons and you’ve created your own mess. I and most modern day performers err against this style of interaction, minimizing the chance of a spectator wanting to take us down. 

When I mention I’ve had two hecklers, I mean I’ve had two hecklers who were a real problem; I’ve had many more people who could have become hecklers, but were guided away towards more constructive behavior during the show. Given that most people want to have fun and most people want the magician or comedian to succeed, I approach hecklers from the assumption that they just want to be involved in a positive way. Maybe they anticipate being made fun of or being fooled and they want to preempt that emotion, or maybe they are used to being the center of attention and aren’t sure how to give that up. Regardless, hecklers are calling out for help. So when someone disrupts the show in a heckler kind of way, I listen to them, I engage them, and I tend to give them a job, such as “Please hold this pencil: it’s super important.” I remember a dog trainer talking about the challenge of handling overly active dogs on walks. He said in their case, their pack position is uncertain and that uncertainty manifests in anxious energy. The remedy: give them a job. Something simple like outfitting the dog with a modified backpack would give the dog a sense of purpose, ease the uncertainty, and would ultimately relax the dog. In the TV show, it worked perfectly–who knows how it works in real life. But I take the same approach with hecklers and so far few have barked back.