EDINBURGH, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Hecklers beware. Comedians will show no mercy at the world's largest arts festival if drink-fuelled bravado threatens to derail their acts.
Actors, musicians and dancers are normally spared loud-mouthed abuse from the audience. With stand-up comics, it is an occupational hazard.
At the Edinburgh Fringe, hecklers can be as anarchic as the comedians but over-confidence traps them -- they are rarely if ever as funny as the comedian they are trying to put down.
"It is as big a faux pas as talking in the cinema," said abrasive Australian comedian Brendon Burns.
"I've been 17 years in the business. There is nothing someone can yell at me that I haven't heard, thought about in the car on the way here last night and been prepared for next time. They are taking on a tank."
American comedian Rich Hill is phlegmatic about hecklers.
"They are like little bugs hitting the windshield. You have to wipe them off and keep moving. But as soon as you get angry, you are not being clever. The secret is stay cool."
Scottish comedienne Martha McBrier turns the threat on its head with a show called "So you think you are a good heckler" in which the audience is even invited to vote on her jokes.
"Hecklers are the lowest of the low in the entertainment industry. That is why I set up this show so I could control it," she said.
WHEN THINGS TURN UGLY
But hecklers can turn ugly.
Outrageous Australian comedian Jim Jeffries, the epitome of political incorrectness, even screens at his Edinburgh show clips of the heckler who once jumped up on stage and smashed him in the head.
He proudly boasts that the clip has been viewed four million times on the Internet.
Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle is a great believer in spontaneity. "Try and be in the moment. Preparing put-downs just doesn't work. They are never as good. But I've got years on this guy who just jumps in on the spur of the moment."
Drunken hecklers are often unavoidable, especially at late-night gigs.
"It is a very teenage thing to me. They want attention," said American comedienne Rebecca Drysdale.
"Nine times out of 10 I am probably funnier than the person heckling me."
But hecklers are not always evil personified.
Australian comic Adam Hills said: "I've had shows turned around because about 15 minutes in with a tough audience someone has heckled me and I came back quickly and it was funny. The whole audience was with me completely after that."
But Hills, echoing fellow comedians sounded out at The Fringe festival, concluded "Constant heckling can ruin a show."