At the Dallas Comedy House's Stand-up Comedy Class, a Lesson in Handling Hecklers

In Death by Microphone, local Brit and barbecue blogger Gavin Cleaver attends stand-up comedy classes at the Dallas Comedy House and reports back for our amusement and education. Check back next week to revel further in his failure.

After the success last week of appealing to the lowest common denominator available to me -- that is, the fact that I am British and live in Texas -- I felt like the best way to continue writing material would be to flog this comic horse to the maximum possible extent. So I went all out.

My Texan accent, still a terrible parody of Foghorn Leghorn, is improving by the week, and while I feel bad about this on some level, really it's just payback for the amount of terrible British accents I have to endure while working in Texan offices.

I had one job where the guy sitting across from me spent at least half of every day communicating in the voice of Mrs. Featherbottom from Arrested Development. Even the most basic of things, like phone messages, were given a high-pitched cockney spin. He never seemed to tire of this. At my current job, office members compete to see who can do the best British accent, using me as the despairing judge. They're all terrible.

So, by way of revenge and adding something funny to a set without requiring the writing of any actual jokes, I have begun acting out rednecks driving trucks, working at banks, shooting each other, and so on. It's going to be bad, but I'll still be funnier than Dane Cook. And that's meaningful, isn't it?

This week, before we got going, we learned about the golden rules for dealing with hecklers, something I have been afraid of for some time now. Put it this way: If any of you heckle me, while I might outwardly appear to wilt and die on stage, I will find you afterwards, and I will not buy you a drink. Not even one. That's about as threatening as I get.

Previously on Death by Microphone: Episode 1: Our Token Brit is Taking a Stand-Up Class at Dallas Comedy House for Your Amusement Episode 2: I Just Took My First Stand-Up Comedy Class and I Already Want to Sabotage It Episode 3: How to Suck Less in a Few Easy Steps: What I Learned at Stand-Up Comedy Class Episode 4: Holy Hell My Joke About Being Drunk and British at a Texas Waffle House Actually Works

The first thing we learn about dealing with a heckler is that a heckler is an idiot with no social skills. It's a good point. Who goes to the effort of going to a night out and seeing a show just to shout loudly at said show over the top of everyone else? Basically, what they want, for whatever twisted reason, is to disrupt the show and have everyone look at them, without the actual pressure of being on a stage. It's attention-grabbing for the deeply afraid.

So, rule one: Don't engage hecklers until it's absolutely necessary. First, ignore them. If they continue, pause and stare at them. If they continue, just get the audience on your side by appealing to them and asking if this is how they imagined spending their night out.

If he or she proceeds, you can always ask the heckler a no-win question ("Was it your father or your mother that made you this way?") and watch them fall into the trap of either slowly considering the question or just shouting some more, while the audience comes to the realization that this person is, in fact, quite stupid. If they haven't arrived at that conclusion already, that is.

As soon as the audience is on your side, and the tension in the room is overwhelming, the heckler should shut up. And anyway, there's no shame in leaving the stage. That should really rile the audience.

Turning to the actual stand-up: I was first up. I did some bits about learning to drive in Dallas. I only learned to drive in 2011, after I moved to Dallas, because I come from a country where public transport is a feasible system, rather than a complete disadvantage. That, and gas is about $7 a gallon. Now, as I can only afford a very small car due to having no credit history, everything is terrifying to me.

Also, this is an awful place to drive. Is there any bigger sign of "I am an absolute asshole" than purchasing the biggest, shiniest pick-up truck you possibly can and then driving it everywhere at 90 mph? What motivates these people? Is it a vicious cycle of truck fear?

My impression of a Texan driving a truck went down like a storm, and I rolled out the second piece, about how working long hours as I do actually makes you more lazy in your downtime.

None of this is rocket science. Taken by itself, it's not very good material at all. But with all the golden rules and techniques we've learned -- act everything out, some set-up punch-line basics -- we can take stuff that's awful on paper and make it an at least vaguely amusing piece of performance art. I know where to put words, the basics of structuring a stand-up bit, and how to draw a cheap laugh. It's all so obvious to me now.

Because that's all this is, really, an entertaining performance comprising generic material everyone in the audience can relate to on some level. Everyone else in the class is still funnier than me, especially one man who looks suspiciously like Ricky Gervais, but I'm no longer the walking comic disaster I once was. Progress is being made. The performance showcase is looming into view (February 28, 8 p.m., Dallas Comedy House, ladies and gents), but I no longer feel completely horrified about that. Of course, I will fail, but I will fail with grace and an awful impression of a Texan. And I feel like that's at least worth something.

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