Bob Holman's 15 Rules For Hecklers

Being A Writer Poetry Spoken Word

Bob Holman, creator of New York City's Bowery Poetry Club and one of the early innovators of spoken word/slam poetry, has published a useful list on Facebook: 15 Rules For Hecklers.

Every serious poet should get heckled now and then. It helps to cut through the deadly pretension and solipsism of the form. Here's a helpful guide to the joyful art, from a master who's put in his time on both sides of the heckle.

15 Rules For Hecklers
by Bob Holman

1. Be fearless, be bold!

2. You are part of the show.

3. All art is interactive. The Heisenberg principal covers “observing” and says one cannot observe without affecting that which is being observed. In other words, looking at something is heckling!

4. That doesn’t make sense? Then try the Evolution of Orality. Heckling is nothing more than Call & Response where the Response is as creative (or more) than the Call.

5. You gotta listen, deep and hard, soulfully connecting with the artist. Great heckling is a George and Gracie skit where the heckler is Gracie, Costello to Abbott, Lewis to Martin, Smothers to Smothers.

6. Be in tune with the audience. You are their voice, you are the Chorus.

7. Or not! Sometimes you have to go where no one has ventured before and lead the audience to undiscovered dimensions of understanding. Have a good lawyer.

8. There is a place for sophomoric curses and responses. Like after a 12-pack.

9. Speed is essential; timing is all. You gotta drop in the heckle with rhythmic integrity.

10. Be heard. Bellowing may be in order.

11. Have the audience at your back or get the hell outta Dodge.

12. If this is a one-shot heckle, when people turn to look for the source, you crane and look too, or grow a halo. Heckling is an art of words, not an ego ploy. No matter what the polite ones think or say!

13. Politeness. Heckling is not polite. Heckling means the world has standards to live up to, and when artists fail, they thank you for pointing that out to them.

14. If your heckle isn’t better than the art, pack it in. A good heckle is, as Bob Dylan says, a corkscrew to the heart.

15. Practice on easy targets first, like politicians. On second thought, that might be too easy, like heckling a balloon.

7 Responses to "Bob Holman's 15 Rules For Hecklers"

by steph niko on

I've been following these rules on Facebook -- priceless!

by Susan Yung on

Hi Bob,
Is that @ Cornelia St. Cafe?

I love it.

The high points for me are 7 & 8:

"Or not! . . . Have a good lawyer" and "There is a place for sophomoric curses and responses. Like after a 12-pack."

Sage advice. It's good to see and read about Mr. Holman once again!

by Baroque on

This reminds me of reading an account of Jack Keruoac standing up in the middle of a Frank O'Hara poetry reading and telling O'Hara that he's ruining American poetry, at which point O'Hara quips, "that's more than you could ever do!" and storms offstage. It's a fairly humorous retort, but if the above rules are your criteria, you'd have to say he didn't handle the heckling very well.

Ha! Good story about O'Hara and Kerouac.

by doctor jqy on

Bob loves to keep the peeps fighting peeps. This is his legacy from the nuyro and it continues. Interrupting and heckling destroys the culture of poetry. Don't believe the hype. listen to each other. have respect.

by Levi Asher on

Hi Doctor -- well, I didn't know Bob in the early Nuyorican days, but have seen him do his thing at many later poetry readings, and I think he only heckled poets who could handle it. He never heckled me while I was onstage, and I'm honestly glad he didn't ...

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