Handling hecklers: Lessons from a comedian

Here's a simple method for finding out whether those shouts are good-natured or not.

  • Not every audience member who speaks out during a comedy show is a heckler. But there's a way to test the waters without upsetting your audience, says comedian Paul F. Tompkins.
  • By engaging in a civil way with the person who spoke out, you either give them an opportunity to add more fun to the show, or they'll reveal their true colors.
  • If the person ends up being a heckler after you've attempted including them in the conversation, the audience will be on your side when you shut that person down.
Keep reading Show less

3 simple ways to help someone suffering from illness

How to actually help a person who's ill? Don't be afraid to be funny, says Jeannie Gaffigan.

  • When someone is critically ill, says comedy writer Jeannie Gaffigan, they need three very simple things from their friends and family: compassion, humor, and touch.
  • We are conditioned to enter hospital rooms meekly and speak in soft whispers, but when Gaffigan was in critical condition after emergency brain surgery, unable to speak, the most healing thing was her friend visiting her and making irreverent jokes, and her sister tuning into her unspoken feelings.
  • "I'm not saying dress up like a clown," she says. "You've got to be appropriate, but people think it's inappropriate to be funny around critically ill people. But people want to be talked to, be listened to, even if they can't talk."
Keep reading Show less

How to criticize, from a critic

Film critic A.O. Scott on how to be more constructive in your criticisms.

  • Criticism is about more than likes and dislikes.
  • NY Times film critic A.O. Scott warns against the "emptiness" of certain adjectives when it comes to giving constructive and meaningful criticism.
  • Pulling from nearly two decades of experience, Scott's book shows why criticism matters and how we are all critics.
Keep reading Show less

Joke theft: Is it really an issue in comedy?

There are several levels of comedy plagiarism, says Paul F. Tompkins.

  • Comedian Paul F. Tompkins explains the complexities of plagiarism in the comedy world; comedians all spend time together, processing the same current events—to some degree, it's natural that they may arrive at the same conclusions and jokes.
  • "There are certain things that human beings just are predisposed to laugh at and we're just kind of all putting our own spin on it," he says.
  • Some comedians may do it knowingly and others completely by accident, almost by osmosis. There are levels of plagiarism, and if you ask most comedians, says Tompkins, they will have had an innocent experience of realizing something they wrote was not truly theirs.
Keep reading Show less

John Cleese: ‘Does it make you laugh?’

Laughing is so contagious that we often forget how subjective humor is.

  • People have very subjective senses of humor, which means some jokes may be funny to certain people but not at all for others.
  • It can be hard to notice just how subject humor is because laughter has an infectious effect on people. This phenomenon is especially true in large groups of people.
  • When it comes to reviewing what jokes to put into a show, test it on friends and family to see which parts evoke laughs from them and which parts don't.