The perpetrators think of themselves as the heroes of comedy: providing welcome relief in otherwise barren stand-up sets. But to comedians the heckler is a hated species, only serving to shatter nerves further when their show is tanking.
Tomorrow a new television series where stand-ups have the chance to take on their hecklers will air on Sky Atlantic. Called Don't Sit In The Front Row, a panel of comedians will take it in turns to lampoon the lives of those sitting in the front row of their set.
Now that comics will finally have their revenge, The Independent on Sunday spoke to some of Britain's greatest stand-ups about their heckling nightmares.
I still remember when I was in York and a woman brought her five-month-old baby. I said "why would you bring a baby to a comedy show?" Someone heckled "maybe she's had trouble getting it to sleep so she brought it to see you."
I spoke on behalf of CND on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury. I was shown to the mic straight after hard-assed American Hip Hop outfit N.E.R.D. were pulled off stage halfway through their over-length set. So as 50,000 angry hip hop fans pumped their fists and chanted N.E.R.D. I said "Hello - I'm sometimes on Radio 4 and I've come to talk to you about nuclear disarmament..." I don't know if you've ever been told to F**k Off by 50,000 people at once - but it wasn't pretty. After that - all other heckles seem like the trifling matters they are. Oh - and on two separate occasions I have had prosthetic limbs thrown at me by audience members. Four more and I'm making an android...
The owner of one club once interrupted my set to inform me that my taxi had arrived. I don't think he meant it to sound as cutting as it did.
I was doing a gig years ago and this guy kept shouting out 'alligator'. I said to him 'Have you got tourettes?'. I think he did and I said it was nice not to be the only one with a speech impediment. You can't get too angry at that can you? But on the whole I don't get heckled much because I think people are afraid to heckle a wobbly girl.
I was doing a gig in India about two years ago to a crowd who mostly had never seen stand-up before. About 15 minutes in a guy put his hand up. I said 'This isn't a Q and A session, but what do you want to ask?' He just said 'Is this it?'. It was crushing. They were new to stand-up and I think they were hoping for singing or daning or something. I'm pretty sure the rest of the audience were feeling the same.
Whenever anyone used to heckle me my wife would sort it out. They were usually drunk, so they would almost always have to stagger out to the toilet at some point. My wife would would follow them out and get security. The one I couldn't do anything about was at an art centre in Devon. I was just about to go on and this woman said 'by the way, there's a deaf and dumb guy in the audience and he's quite drunk'. He was making incoherent noises all the way through but of course I couldn't say anything.
I was telling a shaggy dog story with a long punchline at the end recently and this guy just kept shouting out possible suggestions of how it was going to end. When I told him to shut up I think the whole of the room agreed with me. The true funny heckler is a unicorn. I don't think it happens. It's usually just 'get off, you're shit', rather than anything droll. I'm very grumpy about the whole thing.
My most devastating heckle was by a guy counting change. I could hear him doing it and when I asked why, he said he was seeing if he had enough to get a taxi home. I gave him a tenner and walked off.