Editor’s Note – This is a Guest Post from my good buddy Dan Sweet who runs an unbelievably economical and well-written movie review blog over at Sweet On Film. I asked him to review one of the most popular comedy specials of all time: Eddie Murphy’s Delirious.
I’ve come to the realization that a person’s view of Eddie Murphy drastically depends on when they were born. For someone like myself, who was born in 1984, Eddie Murphy is foremost an actor who starred in famous R-rated comedies such as Coming To America and the Beverly Hills Cop series. People who were born in the 90’s most likely think of Eddie Murphy as an actor in family friendly movies like Shrek, Dr. Doolittle, and The Nutty Professor. However, anyone born before the 80’s knows a totally different Eddie Murphy. That Eddie Murphy not only was the star of Saturday Night Live, but a force in stand up comedy whose energetic delivery and controversial material helped him pack theaters across the country. I had heard tales of this Eddie Murphy before, but I had never seen him for myself.
As a fan of stand up comedy, I had always wanted to watch Delirious. I have heard many comedians over the years reference Eddie Murphy, and this special in particular, as an influence on them. Not to mention that red leather jumpsuit is more iconic than any outfit in the history of comedy. So with much excitement and curiosity, I sat down to watch this special with very little idea of what to expect.
Although he was already thought of as controversial in the 80’s, Delirious starts off with a bit that would most likely get him fired from any job today. He begins by referring to gay men using a certain disparaging word and stating a rule that they aren’t allowed to look at his ass while he is on stage. He then proceeds to explain that he is afraid of gay people and has nightmares about going to Hollywood and discovering that some of his favorite actors are gay. This segues into a bit on how straight girls are hanging out with gay guys now and he doesn’t want his girl to come home with AIDS on her lips from kissing them. While watching this, I couldn’t help but think of the 2008 Louis CK special Chewed Up. That special begins with Louis calling an audience member by the same derogatory term, and then proceeds to go into a very well performed bit in which he negates the usual connotations from that word and others, by using them in a different context. Eddie Murphy on the other hand was not trying to do such a thing. It is very possible that in 1983 the views he is portraying on stage might have been commonly held by a lot of people, but when watching it in 2014, it just comes across as embarrassing and blatantly homophobic.
Fortunately, he soon moves on to other material and that is where he truly demonstrates why he is so highly regarded as a comedian. Throughout the rest of the special he performs many impressions, sings beautifully, and delivers jokes that play just as well in 2014 as they did in the 80’s. All while demonstrating impressive stage presence and managing to interact with an audience of thousands in a way that makes the performance feel much more intimate. The fact that he pulls all of this off at the age of 22 is simply ridiculous. When analyzing any artistic endeavor that is several decades old, you need to look at it context, and comedy is certainly no different. While some of his material is dated in the worst way, and some in a humorous way, there are enough laughs in Delirious for me to understand why it is thought of as a classic.
Ft. Worth, TX – After several attempts to untie and de-loop, scientists have confirmed that a knot in an extension cord in resident Dylan Eastbrook’s garage has become a thinking, calculating, sentient entity unto itself. The knot in the RIGID 100-ft cord indoor/outdoor cord registered its first thought on July 7th, 2014.
“Damn thing just keeps getting worse!” Eastbrook exclaimed. “It’s like it’s got a mind of its own.”
The cord was originally used by Eastbrook to power his hedge trimmer for routine landscaping. After his yard work was done, the Ft. Worth man attempted to wrap and store the cord. Ignoring the advice his father repeatedly gave him throughout his youth, Eastbrook just went all willy-nilly with the damn thing and he didn’t do the arm-loop trick like he was supposed to. The knot was created and became self-aware at 2:09 PM Sunday afternoon. Soon after, it began to learn at a geometric rate.
The knot, perhaps sensing its owner’s attempt to untie it, only tightened its defenses, weaving itself into a series of complex fractal patterns. To defend itself against humanity, the knot has now launched nuclear missiles under its command at Russia.
“Well that’s something you don’t see everyday,” I mumble into the microphone. A football floats down the Ohio River flowing brown and quick next to the wooden stage. “There’s uh…a football.” I direct the crowd’s attention to stage left, focusing their gaze on the bobbing pigskin. I’m thrown off of my normal rhythm. I was going to say something…but…now it seems as though whatever joke I was about to tell isn’t half as absurd as what’s going on in the water. How did that football get there? I look across the river to a fisherman on the other bank. “Is that yours?” I call out. My voice is echoing off the water, bouncing off the concrete aqueduct and dying in the pine trees. The faceless angler looks at me briefly then switches on an orange lantern.
Earlier in the evening, a 9-year old had heckled Ray Zawodni as she and her family took leave of their evening meal. They sat up from their quesadillas, said weren’t funny, and dissolved into the horizon with the setting sun. We proceeded with our mission, making everyone else laugh at the bar. Ray won over the audience and was starting to make this night a success. But an omniscient voice rang out over the crowd. The tone was a struck bell at the end of its vibration. It was ephemeral and angelic and it shouted, “You suck!” then giggled. The heckling child was now on a boat. The dad was driving the boat. The family laughed together then hit the gas, heading several leagues West at a speed of 10 knots. We comedians were being heckled by land and by sea. I am afraid she will return later during my set in a hot air balloon.
But the football. What are its alien origins? My answer is drifting in the muddy water. Presently, a party barge with a dozen 40 year-olds pulls alongside the stage and then forward to the dock. The group looks like they just got done filming a commercial for Twisted Tea, the iced tea with a kick. They are all sleeveless and sandaled, both man and woman alike. They unload on the dock like pilgrims weary from a long voyage. Perhaps they are looking for spices or silks or $2.50 Bud Lights. They instead find a comedy show. And like Columbus, they do not comprehend what they’ve discovered upon their landing, but they know it is important nevertheless.
The sun sets completely during my set. Twilights nocturnes begin with wisps of moonlight. The sounds of night are punctuated by the dull thumps of forearms hitting volleyballs just a few feet away. Because I’m also next to a sand volleyball court where people are playing sand volleyball. As I wave my arms frantically trying to sell my last joke, a lightning bug lands on my finger.
“Would you look at that?”
The Summer season of comedy is upon us. It’s a truly beautiful time.
There’s no worse feeling than getting heckled for your first time. You’re burning every calorie of self-confidence you have just trying to stay on that stage and plow through your jokes. You don’t have extra moxie in some reserve tank you can ignite to get yourself out of a difficult situation. Then you hear it. It’s not your voice but someone else’s. It doesn’t matter what they’re saying. You didn’t practice this in the mirror. Cue heart palpitations and heavy breathing. It is the dizziness of the unexpected.
In the movie Roadhouse, Patrick Swayze plays an erudite, East Coast bouncer who is sent to Jasper, MI in order to clean up the wild Double Deuce Club. He has to deal with all manner of drunks, morons, and loudmouths in a rowdy, dive bar. So you can see how I would draw parallels to the world of stand-up comedy. Here are Dalton’s 3 Laws of Heckler Handling.
1) “Never Underestimate Your Opponent; Expect the Unexpected” – You’re a professional comedian, right? Or at least you tell people you are. And some drunk jagoff is trying to talk out during your set? The nerve! You look down at the microphone you so expertly wield. This is no ordinary power you possess. You are the only person that can elicit laughs from an audience. If this fool wants to interrupt, let’s see how they do when you give them your divine amplifier.
Oh crap, they’re funny.
By asking the question, “You think you could do better?” and providing the heckler with an opportunity to do so, you’d better be prepared for your set to go off the rails. The best case scenario? They suck and you prove your point, even if it is at the detriment to the flow of the show. The worst case scenario? They’re better than you and your divinity is stripped from you in front of a crowd. Now you are shivering, exposed, and mortal.
Comedians don’t expect hecklers to be funnier than them. But every so often, you’ll get the popular guy at the barbecue. He’s packing charisma and a few stock jokes. And that’s all he needs to make it seem like what you’re doing is not that hard.
2) “Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary.” – I’ve made this mistake one or two times. I saw what I thought was an easy mark that I could tease right off the bat. I had no reason to start trouble, just thought it would be a good idea. Everyone gets in those moods. It’s come back to bite me.
One time at the Corner Café, I was about to go on stage when I noticed a relatively drunk woman was sitting in the front row, by herself, texting, and she had her filthy bare feet up on the stool next to her. Being a huge bully, I decided it was my place to say something. Instead of going through with my original plan, which was to try out some new material I had worked on, I went in with aggressive intentions.
I had grabbed the microphone and started into her. “Look at this girl’s dirty feet,” I said. “What were you doing before the show, re-sealing the driveway?” She placed her phone down on the table, took a swig of beer and cocked her head at me. Seven minutes later, I was walking off stage without ever having told one joke. I engaged in an unproductive battle with her for my entire set.
Don’t ever start something with a heckler. You don’t want to turn an otherwise quiet audience member into an enemy.
3) Be nice. – I’ve learned the hard way on this rule before. I’ve gone from docile joke-teller to psycho circus freak in about 2 seconds. The reason comedians are so quick to anger when someone heckles is because it’s very threatening. You’re walking a tightrope of embarrassment up on stage by yoursself. A heckle is like a strong gust of wind trying to knock you to your death. You feel the breeze and your fight-or-flight response kicks into overdrive. You get that surge of aggression and you will destroy your threat.
The problem with this approach is that crowds don’t like mean people. In a battle of two jerks, they don’t want to root for the jerk who is better at being a jerk. They want an underdog. They want Rocky.
So how do you be nice? Here are a few things to avoid:
- Don’t comment on physical appearance – No calling fat, ugly, bald, etc. Unless you yourself are a well-dressed Adonis, you’re opening yourself up for a rebuttal. I know I’m a little sensitive about my slender, feminine wrists and would rather someone not draw attention to that.
- No name calling – They might be acting like an A-hole, but don’t call them one. Show the rest of the audience that the heckler is an A-hole; don’t just tell them.
- Immediately calling for backup – If you’re lucky enough to work at a place that might have a door guy or other staff that might be of help in the situation, don’t run to them immediately. Sometimes heckling is really good-natured. If your call in the Brownshirts on a mild dissenter, then you’ve established a rigid tone for the rest of your set. The crowd may think you’re soft or have a fragile ego.
Here are a few things that have worked in my experience:
- Ask questions – This is a good tactic for a few reasons. It’s not overly aggressive and it gives you time to get your thoughts in order. One of the scariest prospects of handling a heckler is trying to come up with a witty retort right on the spot. Asking a question puts the pressure back on the heckler and you can start planning your counter-punch.
- Let them talk themselves out – They obviously felt passionate about a topic that you were discussing. Often times a heckler has not thought out their point any further than the initial blurting. After the first bullet, you’ll find that there’s not a whole lot of ammo left in the clip.
- Check back in with the rest of the audience – The reason a heckler ruins the show is that it takes the focus from a full room down to one person. So as soon as a heckler starts jockeying for attention, the rest of the audience will feel slighted. Use this pressure. There have been times where the audience hated the heckler so much that they started heckling him. You need to keep them engaged and let them know that this is just a blip and you’ll be back with them in just a second.
Being heckled is a painful experience, but try to remember one thing:
“Pain don’t hurt.” – Dalton