Last week my wife and I had a tourist day in Seattle and part of it we went to see Ira Glass‘s talk called Seven Things I’ve Learned.
At the beginning of it he talks about the title and it’s really just a frame to write a talk around. That was interesting to hear him say that, because essentially that’s what every school assembly magician is doing when they put together a themed show.
At one point during the show, there was an interruption. Someone got up and started yelling that we shouldn’t be laughing when there were people dying in Sudan. I’m not going to call this person a heckler, because it wasn’t really related to what was happening onstage or the performer, it was someone shouting their message. It was unclear whether the person bought a ticket or somehow snuck in.
Ira handled this interruption in an amazing manner! The whole thing felt like it took 5 minutes, but in reality it was probably closer to 90 – 120 seconds. What Ira did was say that the guy is right, that people dying in Sudan was important and that it doesn’t get as much news coverage as it should. He was diffusing the situation. At one point people in the the audiences started booing the guy that interrupted, however Ira kinda shut that down. That’s the right tact, by encouraging the audience to boo, the guy would have gotten louder and louder. Towards the end of the interaction Ira said something like, “I agree with you, the media needs to do better…” and eventually the guy was escorted out.
Then to get the audience back, he did said “I’ve done stories about that…but didn’t feel it was appropriate for a saturday night crowd” and that got a laugh and tension started to leave the room. Then someone in the crowd yelled, “Welcome to Seattle” and Ira replied, “Thanks, so all of your shows have a guy yelling about Sudan…” this got a HUGE laugh and really got the rest of the tension out of the room.
That’s the thing with someone who is interrupting the show with an unrelated matter, no amount of heckler stoppers will do anything. Ira was right by diffusing the situation and not escalating it. Magicians are really bad about escalating their interactions with hecklers or interactions instead of deescalating it. It’s really the better choice in most scenarios, give it a try!