Monday, September 30, 2013

I'll Show You

What is it with stand-up comics these days? Over the past couple years I've been watching a rise in the number of heckling incidents on comedy club stages.

The latest incident comes out of Washington DC. Comedian Dan Nainan was headlining a fundraiser at the DC Improv. By all reports he did his set, came off stage, hunted down journalist Josh Rogin and punched him in the face.

What was it Rogin said to get punched in the face? He must have been the worst heckler of all time! One can only imaging what he must have done to infuriate Nainan. He must have been interrupting his punchlines, yelling stupid things out. Or perhaps he was calling him a stupid hack.

Actually ... Rogin did nothing that interrupted Nainan's show. What did he do? He was live tweeting the event and tweeted the following:

Dan Nainan was funny until he dusted off his 2005 Katrina jokes in a gratingly bad GWB impression.

Now to be fair this was not the only tweet, there where a couple more that but all of his comments had about as much "bite" as this one ... the humanity!

I fail to see the point in what Nainan did. Even if Rogin had tweeted "Nainan sucked" every 5 minutes for a day it shouldn't have earned him a punch in the face. After all, by the time you've made a conscious decision to become a stand-up comic (especially a professional one) one of things you come to realize is that not everyone is going to appreciate what you do. In fact, even the most loyal of your fans is not going to like 100% of your material.

Comedy is a game of percentages. When you write a joke you are going for something you know is going to work all the time. "All the time" meaning that 90% of the people in your audience are going to laugh at the joke when you tell it.

You can argue with me about the percentage but that's the way it works ... period. I can assure you that if a joke isn't working it will be taken out of the act. Sure, there are a few comics out there that will keep a clunker in just because they like it. Even those guys will take that "favorite" joke out of their act when the set is important and something is riding on them doing well on stage.

So to get back to my point when you start out it quickly becomes apparent that you need to develop a thick skin when it comes to criticism, because it's always going to be there. It is a difficult thing to do in the beginning but as the years go by the ability to let the negative go becomes easier. At least it does for most but there are a few hot heads out there that can never let it go.

That's why I am a little confused by Nainan's reaction to what I felt were a couple of stupid criticisms. I don't know Dan Nainan so I can't say he if he is one of those hot heads. He could have just been having a bad day. Even so, he's supposed to be a professional. He should be above doing something like this. It doesn't represent him well and it doesn't do stand-up comedy any good. Behavior like this continues to foster what I'm starting to call a "heckling culture". People that actually enjoy the confrontations that are happening between stand-up comics and the audience.

I believe this to be a byproduct of something that has been happening over the past 30 years. We're becoming a society of unhappy people and it's television and the movies that are the source of this unhappiness. Over the years they have been subconsciously giving us unrealistic expectations of how our life is supposed to work. On television and in the movies things always seem to go the right way. Everything is resolved, everyone is happy and the bad guys always get what they deserve We've watched so much of this over the years our minds are telling us this is the way it should be for us.

The reality is quite different because that's not the way life really works. I would submit to you that we are not supposed to be happy all the time. Things aren't always going to work out, we are not always happy and the bad guys doesn't always get what they deserves. Your life is supposed to have highs and lows; there are also periods of time when our life is just mundane.

That's the way it's meant to be.

These unrealistic expectations are creating an undertow of envy in our society. We're becoming a society full of miserable people because things aren't turning out the way think they should. Instead of being happy for someone's success we are secretly jealous of them. It's a narcissistic view of the world that is unhealthy.

That is why people seem to be gravitation towards all things negative. They seem to take pleasure in seeing other people fail because they want to see other people worse off than they are. It's some sort of sick and twisted way for them to feel better.

I don't see this trend changing. I only expect it to get worse and stand-up comics have taken notice. It's gotten to the point that comics seem to be looking for a reason to "tee off" on someone in the audience. Do a YouTube search for "Heckler" and you will find more than you'll ever be able to watch. One comic after another "destroying" hecklers to the delight of the crowds they're in front of. Sometimes I wonder if people wouldn't be happy if we went back to the Roman days when they fed people to the lions.

Do I have an answer for all of this negativity? Of course not and I'd sure like to write more on this topic but have to stop. My Google Alert for "Lit self on fire" just popped up. I have a video to watch ...

Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is
Follow him on Facebook at or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

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