Demand Their Respect

I got heckled for the first time in a while last week.

There was a group of people who had taken full advantage of the open bar and were being loud and obnoxious all night long.

The event was an exclusive night of mystery with a lineup of four of the finest performers in the city, including myself. One hundred guests, four entertainers, and non-stop amazement.

It’s held once a month at a luxury hotel downtown, complete with fully catered hors d'oeuvres, live music, and some of the most mind-blowing acts you’ve ever seen. Plus, a national magazine was interviewing us that night for a feature article coming out later this year.

So yeah, it was kind of a big deal.

Which made it even stranger when those six guests started being so rude. They started yelling things out during the other performers’ shows. Not clever things, not helpful things….just disruptive, rude comments that were distracting the other guests and making it hard for the performers to concentrate.

My fellow entertainers were doing their best to be polite and stay in control of the situation, but word got out and other guests were quick to alert me of “the people in the other room who think the show is all about them.”

Honestly, I’m not sure you can even count these people as hecklers. They were in a world of their own. They were having loud conversations without a care in the world for anyone else in their general vicinity. They weren’t trying to disrupt the show on purpose and they weren’t trying to outsmart the performers. They were just a bunch of a**holes.

Ordinarily I would be patient with a heckler. I would kindly ask them to repeat their comment and make a simple joke along the lines of “Settle down, this is my show!” or something similar. It would get a laugh, win everyone over, and get the heckler on board.

But last week was different.

I’d been watching these people be rude for several hours. I’d seen them yell across the room, interrupt the shows, and refuse to stop talking while my friends were performing. And by the time I got onstage it was really starting to piss me off.

So I took control of the room and began my opening mind reading demonstration.

“You’re an Aquarius, aren’t you? Born in February…February 10th?”

Everyone oohed and ahhed and applauded loudly as I read each person’s mind in turn. Then, as I continued with my act, I heard a group of people talking in the second row. They were at it again.

So I dropped everything. I stopped what I was doing, walked towards the group, and waited for the room to get quiet.

“You have the wrong idea,” I said.

“I do 150 shows a year and I chose to make one of those shows this one. So when I’m onstage I demand your respect. A lot of people in this room paid a lot of money to see me do this. And now I’m up here working and you are disrespecting me while I’m at work. So, yes, this is an interactive performance but it’s participatory on my terms, NOT yours. Understood?”

The ringleader of the group looked at me in horror, shocked that she was being reprimanded in front of other adults. Then, she shut up and didn’t speak again for the rest of my time onstage. They may have left at some point but I can’t be sure, because I was worried about the other 94 people who wanted to see a good show.

I can’t stand people who disrespect me during a show and I refuse to put up with it. I honed my skills doing difficult gigs in tough rooms for little pay and now I realize that while I was struggling to find my voice and learn my craft, I was slowly building up a confidence that can’t be shaken.

I have a confidence in myself now that is only born out of doing a thousand shows. I know when I walk onstage that I am good at what I do. I’m positive that what I do is worth watching and worthy of someone else’s respect. And so, I don’t have to put up with anyone’s bullsh*t any more because I already spent years doing that.

What I’ve learned is that if you value your time and respect your craft then you don’t have to put up with a heckler.

Your family will tell you to have a backup plan or a teacher will tell you to get a real job. People will act like they know what’s best for you, without taking the time to really listen to your plan. And time and time and time again people will shut the door to your dreams in your face.

Those are the hecklers on the journey towards your chosen destination. Those are the people who want to tell you what you should be doing, even though they don’t want to work as hard as you do. They’ll always be there, eager to disrupt and disrespect, and it’s up to you to shut them up.

You have to demand their respect.

An Open Letter

To The Man In The Third Row:

I rarely feel the need to confront an audience member, sir, but suffice it to say you were that rare case.

It wasn’t hard to notice you were on your phone. When you’re onstage any little change in the environment sticks out like a sore thumb.

So, while I was trying to give a good performance tonight all I could see was the glow of your face, lit up like you were about to tell a scary story. I found it quite distracting to the moment I was trying to carefully craft onstage.

See, I’ve performed this version of the show over 100 times in the past six months. It’s rock solid. So that means I get to play with it now. I set the script to auto-pilot and go in search of new discoveries. I try to make more eye contact and find new ways to connect. Now that I understand the skeleton of the show I get to make something artistic out of it.

But that means I’m hyper aware of any little change to the theater. And so I couldn’t help but notice you were in the third row, on your phone, playing a game while I was trying to work.

For the past two months I’ve spent every day either onstage or in an airport. (Some days both.) There have been days when I’ve woken up and forgotten what city I was in. I’ve battled allergies and depression. I’ve lost my luggage and lost my voice. All in the name of the craft.

So tonight, running on no sleep, I knew I needed to focus extra hard. I wanted to give a good show. And after 20 minutes I was well on my way to one of my greatest feats - creating an audience out of a random group of strangers.

Then I saw you. And I couldn’t help but call you out.

I needed you to know that you were being disruptive and that being on your phone was disrespectful and a major distraction. I don’t regret that and I don’t regret making you sheepishly put your phone away while everyone else watched.

I did so knowing I would lose every ounce of momentum I had worked so hard to build. But it had to be done, so I channeled my inner Patti Lupone.

The point isn’t about being on your phone or living in the moment. The point isn’t that you embarrassed your wife or really made it awkward for everyone in attendance. (Not for me, though, I’m already thinking about my next show.)

No, the point is that the audience is an essential part of my performance. Without them there are no minds to read or thoughts to send. Without the audience there is no show. So I expect the audience to hold up their end of the bargain. I expect you to meet me in the middle so I can give you the show you deserve.

And if you do, I promise I’ll show you something that you can’t find anywhere else. Not even on your smartphone.

- MT