Premiering at the 2007 AFI Film Festival, director Michael Addis joined forces with comedian Jamie Kennedy to produce and direct “Heckler,” an intriguing documentary that examined why the critical community, or occasional bitter critical hack, oft-times savage art with impunity. In my view,
this film still resonates, as ad hominem attacks against artists by hecklers remain rampant with impunity.
While the film never generated much attention – nor positive reviews – subsequent to its premiere at the AFI Film Festival, which I covered, “Heckler” fascinatingly examines the oft-times poisonous relationship between the role of “the critic” versus “the artist,” however loosely defined
those words may be. The film featured an array of known personalities, such as Bill Maher, Louie Anderson, Henry Rollins, Rosanne Barr and Lewis Black –
all of whom have spent a great deal of their professional careers doing standup comedy and confronting hecklers.
This prescient – albeit light, perhaps trifle – film presaged an age when vociferous personal attacks on social media, like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr
have only worsened by disenchanted and angry wannabees posing as critics. Their insults are merely just that – and not nuanced analysis. Addis and Kennedy
seemed to conclude in the film that critics are merely akin to drunken hecklers at swanky comedy clubs – a notion that upon reexamination is indeed a fair
“Heckler” does not seek to portray Kennedy as pitted solely against his ‘hecklers.’ Rather he merely is an example of the nightly travails faced by a comedian –or
would be artist- that tries to stem the cruel tide waged by those who are talentless, or do not have courage to take to the stage. It is for this very
reason this seemingly slight documentary should be viewed again – or in more likelihood, should be seen for the first time.
“It was never intended as a crusade,” director Michael Addis told me. “Jaime and I came up with the idea of the film together, as we
wanted to do a stand-up comedy film, but wanted to tell some interesting truths about the life of a comedian. Eventually, we came up with the idea of
comparing how a comic deals with hecklers with how comics deal with heckling they can’t respond to.” “Heckler” is indeed an exposé of the strained
relationship between artist and critic. It is not merely a document of sorry and uncouth patrons rudely interrupting comedians onstage… although there is
plenty of that featured in the film.
argues that for a performer – as artist- to truly succeed he must ignore his or her critics; honing one’s craft is paramount. As Bob Dylan once quipped in
a 2004 60 Minutes interview: ‘the only ones you have to answer to is yourself and to God…
Destiny is a feeling you have that you know something about yourself nobody else does. The picture you have in your own mind of what you’re about will come
true.” (Needless to say, Dylan is not in the documentary).
“It’s perfectly fine to NOT connect to a film or work of art, and say so in print,” Addis also told me. “And you may feel that a film just genuinely
doesn’t work as a piece of art or entertainment. But before you rip into a person or film, you should just consider your motivation.”
The genesis of “Heckler” insists for its audience to resist the easy temptation to unleash knee-jerk, and at times, mean-spirited attacks against
artists. It merely exhibits jealousy, enmity and personal derision against the performer more than anything else. And as film director Joel Schumacher says
in the film: “nobody ever grows up to be a critic.”