Friday, September 9, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Amy Schumer shuts down a heckler

Just minutes into the set of her comedy show in its Stockholm appearance, a man in Amy Schumer's audience yelled, "Show us your tits."

This isn't actually unusual. Consider Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency in 2008, when a man in her audience yelled, "Iron my shirt." Both of these misogynistic hecklers did their work in the first few minutes of a powerful woman's talk, seeking to undermine her status and remind her of her more traditional duties as housekeeper or sex object, or both.

The Guardian shares what happened next in Schumer's comedy set:
In a video she posted online, the Trainwreck writer is seen to stop the show to call out the heckler. “OK, wait, I want the guy who just yelled ‘show us your tits’ to come up here,” she said. “Everybody point at him, so I know which one.” 
Members of the audience pointed to the man, who said he was wearing a shirt which read: “I love pussies.” 
“Now don’t get shy, what do you do for a living?” Schumer asked the man, to which he responded: “Sales.” 
“Sales?” Schumer said. “How’s that working out? Is it going well? Because we’re not buying it. 
“That’s really cute, but if you yell out again, you’re going to be yelling ‘show your tits’ to people in the parking lot, because you’re going to get thrown out, motherfucker.
“Don’t throw him out, just look him in the eye, tell me if you’re going to see a scarier motherfucker than that guy … I’ll show my tits when I want to.” 
When the man yelled out for a second time Schumer finally decided to have him removed, to which he said: “I was about to go anyway.” She replied: “We’re going to miss you so much. I already miss you,” before telling the audience to clap if they think he should be kicked out. The arena burst into applause.
There's so much to like and learn from this deft handling of a heckler. It's a small speech in its own right, and a great example for how to deal with this kind of seemingly irrational, but truly nefarious, challenge from the audience. After all, we talk about speakers "owning the stage" or "having the floor," meaning it's their turn to speak. Hecklers take the stage or the floor away, however briefly, in what is clearly a power play. Taking back control is what the speaker needs to do. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Enlist the rest of the audience when a heckler rises: Schumer's first instinct was to get the crowd to identify the heckler--both practical in the huge arena, and a way to get them on her side. There's safety in numbers and in helping each other call out trouble-makers. 
  • Set the terms of the engagement, out loud: Notice that she announced what she wanted to happen first, then called on the audience directly, with an "Everybody...." so it was clear that she wasn't waiting for the heckler to identify himself. Telling your audience, out loud, what you want to happen, is one of the speaker's most powerful tools.
  • If this, then that: "That’s really cute, but if you yell out again, you’re going to be yelling ‘show your tits’ to people in the parking lot, because you’re going to get thrown out, motherfucker." If you need to handle a heckler, make the next action and its consequences clear--again, out loud--so that all can see and hear what you intend. Then take action. Enlisting the audience to clap if they thought he should be kicked out after a second infraction was a genius way to get the crowd back in on the action.
You can see the video of this encounter here or below:

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both.

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