Rude, incoherent hecklers who spoil comedy shows are no laughing matter, writes Brian Ferguson
I was flicking through Twitter on my phone on the top deck of the bus home when my night suddenly veered off in a different direction.
I was a couple of minutes away from the door of the Edinburgh Playhouse when I spotted that Kevin Bridges was about to start the opening night of a run of shows there.
As with the rest of his record-breaking tour, the five Edinburgh gigs were long since sold out.
But in my younger days I developed a very successful habit of getting into sold-out shows at the last minute - usually by milling about outside and asking about spare tickets, or simply enquiring at the box office. Nine times out of 10 it worked.
These are changed days with the advent of the internet and the huge growth of “secondary ticket marketplaces”, which seem to exist purely to allow people to sell on tickets at vastly inflated prices.
I have a theory that few people turn up outside a sold-out show hoping to secure entry nowadays - as they would surely have gone online long before a performance they were desperate to see.
Outside the Playhouse, I immediately spotted someone attempting to sell a pair of tickets to a table of al-fresco drinkers. A couple of minutes later, after handing over the face value of the ticket, I was inside.
With Bridges’ fan-base predominantly male, I was not surprised to find the various bars packed just before the show.
But the extensive security searches were a bit of an eye-opener for a comedy gig and I couldn’t help but notice the entire venue was festooned with posters with strict warnings outlawing heckling, filming or using a mobile phone during the performance.
There were ominous signs during the support act, Romesh Ranganathan, with a procession of pint-carrying punters noisily coming in and out of the auditorium as if he didn’t exist.
And the main set by Bridges was almost ruined by near-constant interruptions.
The first couple of interjections were heckles dealt with as well as you would expect from someone like Bridges, who long ago earned his live comedy spurs, even though he is still in his twenties.
But he could only stand in bemusement as people would yell out lines from previous shows, obviously memorised from DVDs, or brazenly film him from the front row.
Despite his obvious exasperation, he was heckled throughout his lengthy set, including a pre-planned encore, of new material which 3000 people had paid almost £30 to see.
Even for the finest comics there are only so many comebacks for interruptions, especially when most heckles are either totally incoherent or beyond comprehension, as they were at the Playhouse the other night. Frankly, it was the worst-behaved audience I had witnessed in 25 years of attending events.
I was actually amazed Bridges did not walk off in disgust well before he hastily wrapped up his show.
After posting a couple of comments about the heckling on Twitter it became obvious that he is now pretty much dogged by hecklers. For Bridges, they appear now be the new norm.
It struck me that he may well be attracting many people who have not set foot in a performing arts venue before – or are more used to rowdy music gigs where you can holler away to your heart’s content.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion they are not used to live comedy, when the general convention is to respect the performer you have paid to see.
As far as I can tell Bridges has not addressed the issue directly with his fans, despite problems being reported on social media at many of his live shows in recent months.
But I do wonder if he is questioning whether his vast popularity is worth it for the on-stage hassle he now has to endure.