Hecklers are an occupational hazard in the stand-up comedy industry – especially when you’re performing for morons who get so drunk that they think they’re funny, too.

We’ve collected some good heckler tales from comedians performing at the Edmonton Comedy Festival this week, from the Giggle City archives and a fresh one from festival artistic director Andrew Grose. Why dwell on the negative? Because the way comics deal with hecklers can reveal character, personality, strength, inner comic talent and in rare cases can even make – or break – a comedy career. Think of poor Michael Richards (pictured), whose stand-up career was scuttled in 2006 when he called an African-American heckler the N-word. Could’ve handled that better.

Rare comedians actually invite hecklers, feed off them, but while most comics agree that it sucks when it’s happening, a heckler experience can be a gift – as long as there’s fresh material there. See if you can spot a pattern:

(Profanity below, reader discretion advised.)

ANDREW GROSE: Some lady was interfering throughout the show, but I was coming home and I was killing. I wanted the icing on the cake, so finally I said to her, “You’re a very beautiful women and I can’t help but notice that you’re here alone. Where’s your husband?” If she said she was single, I would’ve had an answer: “Oh, you’re single – what could be the problem?” And blah, blah, blah. If she said, “Oh, he didn’t come with me,” I could’ve had a line, too. The only possibility I hadn’t considered was the one she gave me: “Well, actually he died a week ago, but this was our favourite club and you were our favourite comedian and I thought maybe sitting here tonight would maybe bring some closure to me.” And the place went deathly quiet. And I looked at her and I went: “You’re lying.” She said, “No, I’m not,” and she started to cry and the audience started booing me. I said, “I’m telling you: she’s lying!” So I went off to basically nothing and went to the back of the room. She walked up and said, “You were right, I was lying. Gotcha!”

DEBRA DIGIOVANNI: Heckling is always awful, but every once in a while you can really have fun with it. Once I had a guy, a young boy, wearing a baseball cap, whatever, and SO not interested in listening to me. So right at the perfect moment, I was taking a breath and there was silence in the room and he did a classic “BORING!” Like a child. You can make fun of what I look like. You can scream anything. But boring?! That really hurts. So I attacked. I unleashed fury on this boy. I got the entire crowd to scream at him in unison to fuck off – until he left. Everybody now: Fuck you! Fuck you! Don’t get me wrong. It was fun in that moment, but it was really hard to get the show back after that. So even thought I won with that dude, I really didn’t win. I always hate it when I get angry. It’s not as fun for me.

HOWIE MILLER (In Caution: May Contain Nuts): I was in Grande Cache doing a big comedy show, three comics and me headlining. And just when I get to the stage, these two drunk couples come in and sit in the front row. The rule with hecklers is that you give them a couple of shots and if they’re not playing well, you let them know you’re not happy and the third time is when you have them removed. But with women drunk hecklers, there’s absolutely no winning. You’re always going to lose. The first thing she said was, “MAKE FUN OF MY HARELIP!” in some weird, masochistic way. “MAKE FUN OF ME BECAUSE I’M A LOSER!” Yes, she had a harelip and she sounded retarded and she was obviously drunk and she just wanted me to lambaste her, but she was doing it herself. I couldn’t win. So I tried to do more of my routine and she’s like, “MAKE FUN OF ME!” There was nothing I could do. I said goodnight. I cut the show a little short and then they removed the drunk couples. The management asked me back on stage, which was nice of them.

PAUL SVEEN: I had a guy throw an ashtray at me. I realize now that people don’t heckle comedians because they don’t like you. People heckle comedians because the comedian has touched a source of pain in that person, whether it’s molestation, breaking up with your wife or losing a job. You’ve touched a nerve. And if they get to the point where they throw an ashtray at you, they’re reliving the worst moment of their lives – and you’re doing comedy about it. I don’t even remember what I said, but I had to run out of the club and up a flight of stairs being chased by everybody at that table. I just made it to my room. I do remember this: I have a joke I used to do. Here it is: “I’ve been fighting a cancer for the last couple of years. I’ve just beat it. But I’ve moved on and now I’m dating a Pisces.” I started that joke one day, said “I’ve been fighting a cancer these last few years,” and someone said, “I HOPE YOU DIE!’ I said, what?! “I hope you die.” So I shut the joke down and start talking to this guy. I used to open with that because I’m an idiot. So we start talking about why he would want me to die. Some big farm boy stands up and says, “You want me to kill him?” I say, hold on, we’re not going to riot in this club. It turns out the guy just got transferred to a shitty little town and he was in a bad mood, he’d been drinking and he apologized – but I never got a chance to finish the joke. So after the show about 20 people line up wanting to buy my DVDs because they think I’m dying of cancer.

KENNY V: I was up in Fairview, at the New Grand Hotel, the worst hotel in Alberta. The show started at 11:15 and you had to do an hour on your own. The audience just came to yell at you. So as soon as I walked on stage, a guy says, “That’s an ugly shirt!” I said, “Of course it’s an ugly shirt, ‘cause I’m going to tear you a new asshole and you’re going to beat me up and I don’t want to bleed all over a good shirt – and you people kill your doctors.” This was right after that doctor was murdered up there. The reaction was mixed. The funny thing about that is that I went to my chiropractor the next day and I told the story to the girl behind the desk and she said, “Yeah, that’s funny, but that was my uncle that got killed.” The heckle kills me the next day!

LARS CALLIEOU: I remember early on my career, a female was heckling me. Now dealing with females is completely different than dealing with male hecklers. If you shut down a male heckler, he shuts up for the night. It’s an alpha male thing: “I want to prove to my girlfriend that I’m funnier than you,” so if you shut him up, he learns his lesson and stays quiet. With female hecklers, it becomes an argument. It doesn’t matter how stupid you make them look. They always want to get the last word. So I had a female heckler. She was shouting stupid, drunk stuff, like “YOU’RE NOT FUNNY!” What happened was I came down on her too hard. I think it might have been something like: “There’s probably a trailer park that’s really quiet somewhere.” But the audience, instead of being on my side, because they didn’t dislike her enough yet, and because I was too mean, they sided with her. So she had free rein to shout out whatever she wanted for the whole night. Basically a female heckler handed my ass. It was the worst. But I learned from that. I went home and wrote down 100 lines to deal with a female heckler. You can’t be malicious. You have to get the audience to hate them.

TIM KOSLO: I was doing in a show in Regina about 16 years ago, and this guy was heckling all throughout my show. Very obtuse, off-the-wall stuff. He shouldn’t have been drinking on an empty head. He was piping up at the most inopportune times, right on punch-lines, right in the middle the most crucial part of the set-ups, all through the show. At about the last minute of my performance, he stood up and started to heckle again – and then he started to choke. I don’t know what he was choking on. He was turning blue, and people were getting very concerned. And I, quickly, because he had been such a pain all night, I said on the mic, “Quick, we need help! Somebody give him the Heineken remover!” People started pounding him on the back. He sat down and stopped choking. And that’s what I ended the show on – I got a standing ovation. The odd thing is that I was in Victoria four years later and the same guy approached me and said, “I learned my lesson. I have never heckled another comic since.”

STEPHANIE WOLFE (part of Die Nasty): We don’t get hecklers at Die-Nasty. Most of our audience wants the story to move forward. They’re there to help it happen. But we do have this one guy who’s been coming every week for at least the last 18 years. He works really, really hard, goes out to dinner with his friends and by the time he gets to Die-Nasty, he’s exhausted. He sits in the front row – and then he falls asleep. I just go and sit on his lap and yell in his ear: “WAKE UP!” It’s become kind of a thing.