Music & Entertainment

Nerves, Hecklers, and Bombing

Steve Martin

Lesson time 8:38 min

Even Steve Martin has a bad show every now and then. But with his help, you can learn how to avoid common pitfalls, manage your stage fright, and make the most out of bombing.

Steve Martin
Teaches Comedy
In 25 video lessons, Steve Martin teaches you everything from finding your comedic voice to nailing your act.
Get All-Access


I want to be clear about stage anxiety or stage fright. It's mostly what you call excitement. So it's not real anxiety. Real anxiety will take you off the stage, because it's free floating. It's not-- you're not saying I'm nervous because of the show. You're feeling something otherworldly with real anxiety. So distinguish between just nerves, which I get too, which I really just call excite-- but it's not-- it's no longer anxiety. I did have anxiety in my life. And the only thing that got over that was understanding what it was and time. And so embrace your nerves. And just know that it's really part of it. That's an easy thing to say, not an easy thing to do, because then I would never be nervous. But I still do get nervous. You're just wanting to do well or kicking yourself if you blew lines somehow. When you think about it, you're going out in a very vulnerable situation. It's very natural to have nerves. Never look at the audience. Look over their heads. Look somewhere else. Look into the darkness, maybe, occasionally. Because what you're going to see is people not laughing. I remember being in an arena-- I was talking about this with Jerry Seinfeld the other day-- playing for 18,000 people. And I'd hear the biggest laugh I've ever heard. And I'd look out in the audience, and it would be one out of 20 laughing. Because there's people-- there's people being thoughtful too. They're watching it. I've been to plays where I was aware I wasn't laughing, but I thought it was really funny. And I loved it afterwards. And we talk about that all the time in theater. It's like you think the audience is dead. And then, at the end, they leap to their feet with the biggest roar that you've had that week. I had a really fine agent in the '70s named Marty Klein. I talked about him before. And I'd come off. And I'd say, fantastic. That was fantastic. And he would say, it's OK. And I'd go, really? And then, another night, I'd do what I thought was an average show. And he'd come up and say, that was one of the most special show. So you don't know what people are thinking, what's going on out there. You might be killing them. And there's 10 people going I hate this. Ostensibly, you hear them not laughing, so you think you lost them. But if you don't ever acknowledge that you lost them, they may not know that you lost them or you think you lost them. I used to think-- by the way, at the time, a ticket price was $10. I'd say, these people paid $10 to see this. I've got to deliver. I can't be lax. I want to go out there and make it worth their while. And that's another way to look at your performance. Say, I have an obligation here. So don't undercut yourself by thinking, eh, this is a terrible audience. Deliver. Deliver. Vegas is a great pla...

A comedian walks into a classroom...

One of Steve’s first gigs was at the drive-in movies. When the audience liked a joke, they honked. In this comedy class, Steve shares insights from performing for cars and humans over a 50-year career spanning sold-out arenas and blockbuster films. Learn how to find your voice, gather material, develop an act, and take your comedy writing to the next level.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Much food for thought, useful in many areas. Love it.

Awesome. Invaluable advice which is thoughtful, practical and funny

I felt like this was geared towards the art of performing rather than straight comedy.

His class was one of the most down to earth, real, helpful classes. I never expected this from him because I always thought he was such a joker before


Mike S.

I had a dream I couldn’t sleep. I would up, I couldn’t sleep..... I guess dreams really do come true.

Christine F.

Thank you for taking the time to clarify the anxiety issue...very different from nerves. "Never look at the audience" is something I had NEVER heard before! Interesting!

A fellow student

One time I was doing stand up in a crowded dive bar with material I had only performed in public twice before. A fellow stand up comic started doing my act in front of me while I was performing my act. Even down to the gestures. I couldn't tell if it was a form of heckling or flattery. It was just weird. I looked over his head and carried on.

Liesl K.

I loved this lesson. I know that you're going to have hecklers and you should always have material to counteract them.


Boy, nothing like that can of worms angst opens up! Remember that kid on the play ground that alway did that horribly weird stuff, and how you laughed with your friend about it?

A fellow student

When I was an undergrad in Engineering a prof (the head Dean, no less, whom I liked a lot) had to switch out of a class I was very much anticipating... the new prof was too much of a.. well, you know.. to actually teach the course. So he turned the class into a public speaking course! This was Computer Engineering Networking... and decent lecture hall (70-ish people?). He picked out random students (like me!!!) to teach a chapter in the textbook. We were very much introverts at the time, most of us. It was a curse. Anyway, I got a chapter on network errors, and tried to explain how these were like the lights on the dash of a car behind the steering wheel... what are they called? Idiot Lights? (I got a huge laugh.) And, that was a bit unexpected, but liked the rush. I went off script and I kept using the joke over and over and even called the class idiots... I only got that one laugh at the beginning. UGGG!! I felt awful. (But a part of me wanted more of that, or better yet, to fix it and do it again.) I've since learned an important rule in computer programming and other sciences... it is called "DRY"... Don't Repeat Yourself.

H P.

Fortunately I never really had hecklers, but a loud group of woman went to a show I was hosting once and I just made fun along with them to the point I said "Usually I'm the one hearing this one word but tonight it's you guys...SECURITY" then the whole crowd laughs in and shuts them up for me.


Hecklers should be removed from the audience, in my opinion. Clubs should have a no-tolerance policy posted at the front door and have bouncers to enforce it. Again, I've never done stand-up but I've done plenty of live presos and there is nothing worse than someone in the audience interjecting their knowledge/opinion at every opportunity. It throws off your timing and destroys your train of thought. It's like people who go to a show and try to photograph or videotape the entire performance--they may be having a good time, but they're crapping all over everyone else's experience. I saw Joan Baez a few months ago. She opened the show with Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." Everyone had their cell phone out, pointed at the stage, and without losing a beat, Baez sang, "Put your phones away!" The phones disappeared and nary a one appeared the rest of the evening. It was awesome.

Rich G.

I like the suggestion of talking quieter or with your mouth on top of the mic. If I had money, I'd prefer having "plants" in the audience to throw the heckler into the street.


For health reasons, I had to drop off from visiting this course for a while. Now that I'm better....I'm going to get back out there and go for my whopping SECOND Open Mic Competition (and after that, to perform wherever I can)........I realize how invaluable these short lessons are. It's amazing what can be cram jammed into a segment of less than 10 minutes. All of the things as humans we would think are intuitive.....looking at the audience, yielding to hecklers, letting nerves take over, etc....are all counterintuitive to comedy. So glad to be back.