I think any journalist would tell you the best part of the job is the anonymous people calling you gay on the Internet and photoshopping your head into elephant droppings*.
*This really happened to a journalist I know.
It’s just part of the deal. You write something someone doesn’t like about, say, a power forward, and all the sudden people are rooting for your death like you’re at the Coliseum.
Now, this hasn’t happened to me recently. Not as far as I know anyway. But it has happened to somebody I know, and I just happened to be watching stand-up comedy on YouTube recently when I stumbled upon a film project by Jamie Kennedy called “Heckler,” in which Kennedy explores heckling from every angle. What it’s like to be heckled. Why people heckle. How different comics deal with heckling. He also deals with Internet criticism.
Pretty fascinating stuff, to me.
Here’s a scene in which Kennedy takes a couple of hecklers backstage for an interview:
What’s interesting here is that the heckler can’t articulate what he didn’t like about Kennedy’s show. Kennedy asks him what should have been a penetrating question: “Why are you giving me your opinion, because you want me to get better or you just want to be like, yeah, fuck you?”
The guy’s answer is that he wants Kennedy to get better because he’s on TV and “I can be like, Jamie, stop telling shitty jokes.”
And then Kennedy: “I hope you get spine cancer.”
Here’s one of Kennedy interviewing Carrot Top, possibly one of the most hated-on comics of all time:
Carrot Top is genuinely hurt by the heckling and mean-spirited criticism and seems to genuinely not know why so many people hate him, considering he’s been a hugely successful comic for the better part of two decades, now.
Here’s Kennedy opening up to Dr. Drew:
And here’s Kennedy dealing with an actual heckler at an actual show:
I bring this all up not to talk about Jamie Kennedy, nor to suggest that being a sportswriter and getting ripped on a message board is the same as being a stand-up comic and getting yelled at while you’re on stage.
I do think there are some similarities, though. What I think we’re dealing with is two different types of people.
1) The heckler types.
These are the people who go to a comedy show and yell at the comic. These are also the people who are known on the Internet as “trolls.” They go onto your message board or blog post or whatever and write anything they can write to make you angry. That’s the whole point. They aren’t interested in arguing against your argument, they just want to get a rise out of you.
They do this because they are losers.
2) The irrationally angry.
These are the people who strongly disagree with something you’ve written, so much so that they can’t see three inches in front of their face because of all the blood rushing through their heads. These are people who believe what they believe and can’t be bothered with facts or confronted with the idea that not everybody agrees with them.
In my experience, it is ironically the most factually based assertions that make these people the most angry. These people will read a story about, say, their favorite player being tried for sexual assault and conclude everything possible — usually including, but not limited to: the writer is a homosexual, the accuser is a gold-digger, the newspaper is always out to get this particular team and the writer is a crappy writer, anyway, so harumph — except that the player might have sexually assaulted someone.
They do this because they have uninteresting lives and as a result have attached far too much of their own identity to a team, to the point that they actually believe the team’s actions reflect on them.
Fact: 87 percent of these people drive PT Cruisers.
For the most part, I think it doesn’t take writers too long to get over this stuff. I like to argue, and I like to defend my positions, but once I realize someone is just trying to get a rise out of me, I find it pretty easy to let it go. And when it’s just a fan who’s angry because I wrote something negative about his team, that’s just as easy to ignore. I think most journalists are that way.
It’s probably a little different for comics, because the job is so much different. It’s a live performance, and live performances are all about feeding off the audience. And (this applies to writers, too) I think anybody willing to put their name and face out there for the public is, on some level, seeking approval.
Then again, who isn’t?