Have you ever been to a comedy show, doubling over in laughter at the comedian’s jokes, and all of a sudden someone from the crowd starts yelling? That’s a heckler – a person who interrupts a performance or event with disparaging or inciting questions or gibes. Hecklers are not a rarity and can be extremely disruptive, but watching a comedian handle them with grace can be one of the most memorable moments of the show.
Trolls are the hecklers of the internet. A troll is a person who starts arguments or upsets people within an online community by posting provocative, irrelevant, or falsified messages. Their intention is to provoke people in the community for their own entertainment.
Brands are often confronted with trolls on their social media posts. It must be noted that troll comments are not the same as negative feedback about your brand or post. Trolls can be annoying, but they can also be an opportunity for your brand to handle community engagement with grace and/or humor – or to quote Beyonce (this was definitely her original line), “make lemonade out of lemons.” Sometimes these interactions, if handled expertly, can lead to more reach and engagement than day-to-day brand posts.

Since trolls are so similar to hecklers, and comedians are so good at shutting hecklers down, here are four lessons we can learn from comedians on how to deal with internet trolls.


1.  Stay true to your brand personality. Comedians all have different approaches to how they deal with hecklers, from brilliant instant retorts to Louis C.K. simply screaming at them to “shut the f*!% up.” Your brand should handle hecklers in alignment with your brand’s personality and tone of voice.

Gordon Ramsay is a great example of this tip. You know him as the “tough” chef host/judge on many shows like Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef, Kitchen Nightmares, etc. When he started getting trolled to review someone’s food on Twitter, his on-brand responses took off and now it’s (in my opinion) the best part of his Twitter account


2. Pick your battles. Some comedians simply roll their eyes and move on past a heckler. Just like with positive and negative comments on brand posts you don’t need to craft a formal response to every single one. If you don’t have an on-brand and true response, it’s probably not worth saying anything at all.

Speaking of Gordon, one of the restaurants featured on his show Kitchen Nightmares, “Amy’s Baking Company” is a prime example of a brand that did not pick their battles – answering almost everything that came their way with a slew of unbridled and inflammatory retorts.


3. Don’t leave room for a response. For battles you do pick, make sure you don’t leave it open-ended. When a comedian engages with a heckler, the intention is to shut them down and often to do so so well that no one else interrupts the rest of the performance. Alternatively, what you might get, if this goes very well, are fans egging you on to continue your hilarious responses.

Wendy’s is a great example of this. When their product or brand is attacked, they use fact-based humor to shut down trolls, so they aren’t just mean for mean’s sake.


4. Learn something. Make sure you learn from mistakes. Comedians are constantly testing material, trying out jokes on friends, small open-mics, anywhere to refine them and understand the audience’s reactions to them. If a post triggered negative response or trolls to respond, investigate what exactly pushed them to do so and refine your strategy if needed. Make sure you have a comprehensive set of Community Rules to keep people in line on your page (while still fostering conversation and engagement) and add to it if needed based on what you learn.


So while internet trolls are definitively annoying, they also present opportunities for your brand to handle tough situations with tact and humor, informed by the tried and true tactics of stand-up comedians. If you have questions or want to learn more on this, feel free to email me at Lauren@isl.co.