There's no shortage of videos about comedians dealing with hecklers. In fact, not one, but two recent clips showed a performer finding cocaine on an unruly audience member. But in Scott Moran's latest episode of "Modern Comedian" we see an interaction between a comic and a heckler deconstructed in a way that is enormously revealing about the art of comedy. It's also fairly gut-wrenching.
Joe DeRosa, the subject of the episode, is one of those performers who has the metaphorical scars to prove he's paid his dues. He's unflinchingly true to his own voice and mines his personal life for material in a way that is both searching and brutal. After his mother was hospitalized for an illness, he began working on jokes about his experiences in the hospital with her. While performing that material at Broadway Comedy Club in New York, he was met with an extremely angry reaction from one audience member.
What often sets people off in comedy clubs is the fundamental misunderstanding that laughing at an objectionable opinion is tantamount to agreeing with it. Comedians, generally speaking, don't tell jokes so that you'll agree with them, they tell them so you'll laugh. The comic's job is to be self-aware and make his or her perspective relatable in some way, no matter if it's agreeable or not.
In the video, we see that scenario played out in the extreme. The footage of the show itself is tense and unsettling; we see the room change from the vibe of a comedy show to an "incident". And we see DeRosa, with raw emotion at the surface, lose his cool and stop making jokes all together, only to slowly pull the room back together at the end.
It takes bravery to put something like this out. Stand-up comedy is not an easy art-form. If a painting doesn't work, no one has to see it. But a comedian can't work his or her material without an audience. Most of the time (although less and less so lately thanks to camera phones) no one outside of the club sees a comedian's set that goes wrong. We only see the ones that work.
But watching DeRosa's set here as well as his reaction immediately thereafter (and again two weeks later) says more about the work and the emotional frustration that goes into a great act than a thousand perfect sets.
Watch the full episode here. Don't be dissuaded by the running time... it's absolutely worth every second.
(And, no, we don't condone calling someone a "dumb b*tch", not even a heckler.)