Nick Ryan tees off about his (boo!) superior heckling (ya fly’s undone!) abilities.
I’m always a little surprised when a wedding invitation turns up in my letterbox. Not surprised that yet another supposedly sane friend has decided to buy the whole cow but taken aback that anyone who knows me even in passing wants me to attend their nuptials.
Not because I’ll drink too much — that’s a given — or because I’ll say something completely inappropriate to the mother of the bride — another given. It’s because I’m a compulsive heckler. And it’s not just weddings.
Any occasion where someone else has the spotlight is vulnerable to the odd verbal grenade hurled from deep in the crowd. I’ve heckled them all: the great, the good and everyone in between.
Full forwards in front of goal, prime ministers launching their memoirs, CEOs at office farewells and countless dinner-suited best men. My booze-loosened tongue recognises neither colour, class nor creed. I don’t even do it intentionally. It’s like some kind of weird Tourette’s syndrome that came on in the classroom and has emerged at every sporting event and significant social occasion since.
Teachers always warned no-one likes the class clown but anyone who has ever experienced the sweet satisfaction of cracking up a crowd with a bit of off-the-cuff smart-arsery knows different.
Life as a habitual heckler can have its ups and downs. There’s backslapping and face slapping in equal measure. It may be instinctive and impulsive but not totally without rules. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow:
The success or failure of any heckle is measured in fractions of a second. You need clean air for your sarcasm to soar and missing the mark by even half a beat can kill the sharpest wisecrack in an instant. Comic timing is like rhythm — you’ve either got it or you don’t. If you’ve got it, use it wisely. If you don’t, shut up.
KEEP IT SHORT
If brevity is the soul of wit it’s also the heart of any successful heckle. If you have to draw breath then you’ve gone too far. A good heckle is a short, sharp jab but an overly wordy one is like belting a gorilla with a pillow. Hardly worth it.
WHEN TO SHUT UP
Normally any occasion is ripe for a heckle but some are off limits. They are:
The dawn service at Gallipoli
A biker funeral
Speech day at the school for the deaf
Your wedding night
Heart bypass surgery
A grand prix
The birth of your first child
UN Security Council meetings
Applying for a bank loan
In the witness box
At the proctologist’s
While being arrested
During a barbershop shave
While going through Customs
In a restaurant before you’ve eaten
At a job interview
Scuba diving lessons
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Reading a crowd is the key to success for any prospective heckler. Crafting the cracks to suit your audience is what separates the sparkling wit from the big-mouthed bore. It’s particularly important when working “blue”. Jokes about the groom’s penis are not a good idea when you’re sitting with the bride’s grandparents. Trust me.
KNOW WHEN TO GIVE UP
Laughs are like heroin to any heckler. Once you get a taste you crave more. But heckling is governed by the law of diminishing returns and the successful heckler knows when to bail out. Always leave ’em wanting more.
RESPECT THE CLASSICS
One of the best hecklers I know has only one gag. For as long as I can remember he’s shouted “Stand up!” the minute anyone gets up to speak. It’s the perfect example of the “push through” principle that states the first time is funny, the fifth time is tedious and the hundredth time is bloody hilarious.
Liquor is the heckler’s fuel but there’s a line between just enough and too much that must never be crossed. A bon vivant with a bit of a buzz on is everyone’s friend but a braying boozehound is never invited again. Remember that Dean Martin was only pretending.