All Bets Are OFF Metz!
A Review of “A Field Guide To Hecklers”
Recently on a snowy Saturday night, I curled up with a blanket, heated up some Earl Grey, and read the play “A Field Guide To Hecklers” which provocatively debates the positive side of heckling in stand-up comedy. This one act on-line play follows characters Nina Metz and Chris Borrelli of the Chicago Tribune as they mutually masturbate each other for three pages. Wrought with satire, the play explores an ironic world where two crooked entertainment reporters sabotage the scene they cover by perpetuating the most destructive bane of live performance.
In what can only be an avant-garde approach to a debate in the traditional sense, this ‘No-Holds-Barred’/‘Pull-No-Punches’ debate is between two like minded people who agree on everything and receive no challenge whatsoever on any of their opinions. The search for truth is not the intention of this piece, but its moronic nature is an obvious jab at the past year’s political debates, and a zing towards the lack of integrity in the modern day journalist. This device is outside the box, and thus… Brilliant!
The character Nina Metz, is an out of touch, long time unsupportive villain of the Chicago stand-up scene. A pretentious theater reviewer with no real comedy knowledge or experience, is asked by the Chicago Tribune to take on the peasant task of reviewing comedy in the Windy City because of her association with critiquing other areas of the Arts. She treats her reports on comedy shows with disdain, making it very clear that anything outside of the Goodman Theater is completely beneath her. Her years of unintelligible narrow minded reviews of comedy shows in Chicago is her passive way of telling her boss that she has no viable human connection to humor, and should be removed from covering such blue collar entertainment. The only person that’s ever heard of Nina Metz, is Nina Metz. She is her biggest fan. Her choice for her rival debater reveals that she only values the opinion of other people that have the same exact job as her, thus fueling the character’s sense of self importance. She has an ego so big, that theater ushers kid they never sit her next to any exits because her big head violates several fire codes.
Chris Borrelli plays the foil to Nina’s high jinx. Any humor found in this tragedy, (and this play is a tragedy in every sense of the word) comes from the comical idea of challenging to a debate someone who is your constant, spineless “Yes Man”. Though it becomes obvious throughout his dialogue that he is not in fact a real person. Just a figment of Nina Metz’s imagination that she uses to bounce her own ideas off of; her own Tyler Durden if you will. I will say that any theatrical homage to the works of Chuck Palahniuk is daring and thus… Genius!
Note: Since Nina and Chris are the same person, I will at times address them as such.
The play opens with the with the following passage:
"Let’s talk about heckling. Who isn’t talking about heckling? ("Shut up! I’m talking about heckling, you idiot. If we wanted you to talk about heckling, we’d give you a crayon and a sheet of graph paper!")”
Despite several passes at this opening, I have yet to understand what this could possibly mean in any world, time era or dimension. Perhaps Nina is talking to the voice inside her head. I can only assume the purpose of this Hail Mary attempt at a joke, is to effectively establish early on just how little these two characters know about comedy. Nina Metz Goes on:
"Even when a comedian is working on new material, there’s a lingering sense that what we’re hearing has been pre-thought and prepped in some way."
Note: Nina also sometimes gets the feeling that actors are just acting and that the orphans in ANNIE weren’t coming up with all those songs on the spot.
The drive of the Nina’s support for heckling is the spontaneity of it. Proclaiming:
“I had a conversation with Zach Galifianakis last year and asked if he ever saw heckling as something desirable from a .”
I’m not quite sure what she was going for right here. Perhaps halfway through this sentence Nina ran out of crayons.
The only objective of her caveman speech seems to be name dropping that she met Zach Galifianakis in an attempt to validate the empty notion that she has any business waxing about comedy. Nina’s alter-ego Chris educates us on why heckling makes comedy shows better:
“We can trace contemporary live heckling back to “The Muppets,” to Statler and Waldorf, the old guys in the box seats who heckled Fozzie? They were always funnier than Fozzie…”
To which Nina responds:
“Statler and Waldorf are my spirit guides. I kid! If only most hecklers were as funny as those two, right? But your point is a good one…”
This is when the amateur penning of this play began to rear it’s ugly little turd. The underdeveloped, poorly written Nina Metz character seems scattered and unfocused. This is where her character began to lose any sense of continuity. Nina’s whole defense of heckling is the spontaneity of it, but to back up her point she uses Statler and Waldorf? The two most scripted hecklers of all time? Don’t you think while Nina was watching these puppets she would have gotten a lingering sense that what she was hearing has been pre-thought and prepped in some way? Those puppets weren’t just coming up with those lines off the top of the hand inside their head.
“If only most hecklers were as funny as those two, right?”
So let me get this straight - she likes hecklers because it’s a break from the scripted material, but she wishes it was as funny as scripted material?
Note: My head just exploded.
This is also where the Chris character began to lose me. There was no longer any believable realness to this character. I had trouble buying that someone, even a figment of Nina’s imagination, could really be that stupid. Of course Statler and Waldorf were funnier that Fozzie Bear. Fozzie Bear’s WHOLE SCHTICK was that he was an unfunny comedian.
NOTE: Chris also has pointed out that Wilson never did a good job of showing Tim Allen his whole face and that Steve Urkle was never good at holding large trays of drinks while on roller skates.
The not very dynamic duo proceed to back up their points with meandering stories about golf and Barrack Obama and various other things that have nothing to do with comedy. It’s like they had given up making any semblance of a point, so they just started listing off other stuff that they know. Nina Metz then calls the "Serial Antagonist Heckler" “adrenaline-inducing!” She adds:
“My favorite flavor of heckler, though, is what I call the Productive Heckler…”
Productive heckler? I can’t think of a bigger oxymoron.
NOTE: Metz also calls things medicine poison and computer water.
How can one tell the masses that heckling is permissible as long as it’s productive, when every heckler thinks they’re being productive? But such is the brilliant ignorance of this character. A modern day Willy Loman, who never matures enough to realize that opinions without any substance, are meaningless in the end. Like a true ignoramus with confidence (my favorite of all comedic archetypes!) she promotes the positive side heckling in stand-up comedy without citing any real evidence of it creating a better moment than what was intended by the comedian. Aside from another name dropping, misleading example with a comedian who was already provoking conversation with the audience, she never mentions one specific time at a stand-up show she attended where heckling made the show better.
There is something very human and real in the Nina Metz character that reminds us how we are all flawed. How we ourselves are often misguided. How we are all human. And I enjoyed the device of how Chris Boringbelly was nothing more than a creation of Nina Metz’s mind. But I can’t say that I actually liked any of the characters. They had no redeeming qualities. A character needs to earn value, in order for the audience to place belief in what they say. I’ll trust the NFL analysis of a former hall of fame quarter back. But how can we put stock in a character’s artistic opinions, when that character has not one creative bone in her body, nor has ever put herself in a vulnerable place to be judged? OF COURSE they support the heckler, for they are hecklers themselves. Like hecklers, Nina Metz and Chris Boringbelly are parasites that walk into the creation of someone else and ask themselves, “How can I make this about me?” In fact they are worse than hecklers, they don’t have the courage to state their grievances during the show, or even respectfully to the performers afterwards. No, like cowards they sneak out and write their heckles down on pieces of paper, print them in newspapers and pass them all around town. Nina Metz gets paid to say “I WAS BORED!” Like a pretentious spoiled queen who finds it insufferable when the jester doesn’t please her. Trashing the months, sometimes years of hard work performers put into giving people a momentary escape from all the horrible things in the world. If Nina Metz doesn’t like something, she is essentially making her living by talking potential audience members out of supporting local productions. This vapid character’s reviews often persuade readers to not buy tickets to struggling black box theaters and upstart theatrical production companies. If a show doesn’t fall into her snobbish tastes, she warns Chicagoans to stay away from affordable live performances that anyone without a stick up their ass would enjoy. She feels justified facilitating the destruction of an artist’s hard work, whether that be from writing a scathing review riddled with catty asides, or promoting heckling in live comedy shows. She is a vandal, using the art of others as her canvas for her negativity. How does someone write a “Field Guide” when her field work in stand-up is just You Tube videos she’s seen and famous people she’s interviewed? Sure, she’s talked to Galifianakis, but there’s no mention of ever actually seeing his act. How often does she actually GO to stand-up shows? Based on the experience she drew on for this debate, not very often. It appears the only Chicago stand-up shows this Chicago stand-up reporter sees are the ones when famous people came to town. She doesn’t support comedy. Look at Nina Metz’s twitter feed as she seemingly tweets on her phone during live performances at Chicago Sketch Fest. Some of the tweets involve wild accusations of members of the group snorting drugs during the show. What gives Nina Metz the right to defame the character of performers? To think the no cell phones during performance rule does not apply to her? To crown herself as the “Voice of Heckling In Stand Up Today”? Why does she pretend to have some sort of inside track on an art she obviously doesn’t have any respect for? Is this her desperate grasp at any sort of cultural relevance? You can’t make an educated comment on heckling by judging a cookie-cut 3 minute You Tube video. She wasn’t there the other 40 minutes where the heckler wouldn’t shut up despite the comedian’s original great improvised retort. She doesn’t spend any time in comedy clubs to see that the heckler shows are always the worst ones of the week. If heckling moments are the best, then why do we never see them in late night tv spots and Comedy Central specials? It’s because heckling is comedy cancer.
Nina Metz doesn’t care about the nice couple that has to sit next to some guy yelling distracting “ADRENALINE INDUCING” heckles throughout the show because he read her article and now thinks it’s okay. A nice couple that rarely gets to go out, found a baby sitter, and spent money that they don’t have a lot of, all for the worst show of the week because of a heckler Nina Metz created from her irresponsible article. All because she has the luxury of getting paid to be entertained. She gets to see so many shows that she is now sick of it. Her mind is so saturated with constant entertainment, that watching the performer react as the scenery falls down around them is the only thing that gets her off anymore. They’ve become so bored with leisure that the only way it becomes memorable is if it meets some masochistic desire to watch the entire play burn to the ground.
Tragedy is often used for the sake of something poignant, and the unprecedented lack of poignancy in this piece is ground breaking. It’s just another of the infinite areas where this abomination of dialogue comes up short. Nina Metz is tragic for the sake of being tragic. She’s a fake. Nobody gives two shits and a haircut about this character’s take on comedy. Nobody says, “Hey, what did Nina Metz think?” Nobody cares.
NOTE: No one has ever said, “If I was stuck on an island with two people, it would be an entertainer and Nina Metz! That way the entertainer could entertain me, and Nina Metz could tell me why it sucked! Yay! What a great life that would be!”
I needed more of a character arc in Nina. It would have been satisfying to watch Nina come to some realization of her lack of relevance in an field she speaks so much upon. Seeing how she’s affected when she comes to terms with the fact that there could be a different critic in the Tribune tomorrow and no one would bat an eye. Doesn’t that bother her even a little bit? That she spends all these years working, and sacrificing, and still have people not give one fuck about what she has to say? Because then she might have realized that that’s what hecklers do. They don’t care about what you have to say. Hecklers don’t care that no one in the club paid to hear them talk. Has she ever been heckled? Has she ever been on the other side of one of her inaccurate cynical eye-rolling critiques? Nina says that hecklers reveal if the comedian is actually funny. Does she also drive cars into the sides of buildings to test the integrity of the structure? Has anyone ever challenged Nina Metz to see if she deserves to be doing what she’s doing? If they did, they would reveal that Nina Metz and comedy go together like peanut butter and brain surgery. She wouldn’t know comedy if it spent it spent an entire tumblr page making fun of her. If Nina herself ever did stand-up, they would have to lower the microphone and place it behind her because apparently she only talks out of her ass.
This is a story about tragedy. About two people who live such comfortable lives, that the biggest atrocity in their world is a dull moment on stage. Whose sneering comments consistently fall short of ever registering with the reader. The only one who could ever relate to what Nina Metz had to say, is someone who had the unfortunate name of Nina Metz. She brags about past Chicago comics only after they’ve left the city and the rest of the world informs her of their talents. She failed to let her readers know when some of today’s greatest stand-ups were changing the face of the Chicago stand-up scene in the early 2000’s because she has NO FUCKING CLUE to what’s going on. I’d be taken aback if this character could name any of today’s rising Chicago stand-ups. The Chicago Tribune is a periodical that has for the most part turned it’s back one of the greatest comedy scenes in the world. It wasn’t until Time Out Chicago came to town that the scene began getting the recognition it deserved. Nina Metz is an out of touch name dropper, faking her way through the career of a comedy guru. A jaded theater critic that reluctantly fell into the job of reporting on comedy and now feels like she is some sort of expert on it. Asking Nina Metz’s opinion comedy is like asking a goat’s opinion about the fiscal cliff. Except the goat would probably have more intelligent garbage falling out it’s mouth.
A the end of this interview involving two interviewers interviewing each other, (feel free to throw up in your mouth a little at that) the two rattle off their favorite comedian heckler comebacks, which were prewritten back pocket lines that did not come out any improvised spontaneity. Thus once again not proving any of their points.
If for some reason you ever have the unfortunate displeasure of tripping, falling down the stairs and accidentally reading this play, let it not turn you off of critics in general. (If you did, I would be out of work!) The best critics are the ones that have a genuine passion on what they’re reporting on. You can tell when someone is passionate about comedy because they promote it and celebrate it. They are educated on it. Even when they don’t like something they can find a shinning light, or let others that have different tastes from them know that this is something they might like. I’m so glad this is just a play and not real life, because with the amount of trust readers put into The Chicago Tribune, passing off regular people as comedy aficionados is not a good window into the integrity of a newspaper. Doesn’t the Chicago Tribune have a responsibility to the fewer and fewer readers they have in their quickly dying medium? If this was real life I would suggest that the Tribune found reporters with real comedy knowledge to report on comedy. You wouldn’t have the sports guy try to guess the temperatures for next week. Why would you have a theater snob try to explain stand-up comedy?
Ripping my scrotum open on a rusty chain link fence and then dipping it in salty hot lava would be a more pleasurable experience than reading what these two bland characters had to say. Since this was a piece of work that never really knew what it was, on a scale of 1-10, I give it a “Wish I was never born so I never had the misfortune of reading it”.
In short, “A Field Guide To Heckling” is a play that you’ll wish you had never Metzed!
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