Great Moments in HR History: The Heckler


Seth Godin wrote about the heckler and it triggered a repressed memory in my brain.

First of all, everyone feels ‘heckled’ when really important, personal ideas are challenged. Being heckled feels like an affront to your brilliance and your creativity. I say that it’s incumbent upon an artist to have confidence, filter out the good from the bad, and keep on keeping on.

But know this: sometimes the heckler is right. Is this really the best you can do?

But none of that is important to my HR story.

My story takes place in a weird time called the 90s. I lived in the midwest and worked as a recruiter. I hired engineers & chemists & IT professionals for both contract assignments and full-time jobs. I had no idea what I was doing. Barely out of college, all I wanted to do was to pay my bills and find a pathway to graduate school.

But this job sucked up so much of my time. And my boss? Well, she was super nice and wanted to be my friend. One night, she invited me to dinner. Asked me to bring my boyfriend because she was bringing hers. I tried to decline but she said, No, it wasn’t an option, this was a business dinner.

Okay. Great.

Grabbed the boyfriend. We went to dinner with my boss, her boyfriend, her best friend, and some colleague from Iowa who considered himself to be a big deal. Does this sound like a professional dinner to you? And the guy from Iowa just wanted to eat steak and see a comedy show. On a Wednesday night. So that’s what we did.

But first…

…my boss drank too much Kendall Jackson chardonnay. With our big steak dinners. And when the comedy show started, she was really feeling it. It spoke to her. Lots of HELL YEAHs and YOU GOT THAT RIGHTs coming from her mouth.

People in the audience shushed her. Someone flashed a laser pointer on her forehead. (Remember, it was the 90s.) And at one point, she dropped her purse and spilled the contents on the floor and then had a conversation with herself as she picked everything up.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been with a drunk boss who starts inserting herself into a comedy routine, but time stops. Part of me was praying for a miracle: gas leak, earthquake, or snake infestation. Anything would do. And when my boss started arguing and heckling the comedian on stage — YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME, BUDDY? GIMME A BREAK! — I thought my life was over.

The guy from Iowa? Oblivious.

My boyfriend? Well, I was pretty sure that it was over and I was walking my fat ass home.

So the point of this whole story is that my poor, youthful HR soul was crushed. That’s it. It was one of those nights where I saw my future in HR and business — with warm glasses of mismatched chardonnay — and I wanted to die.

And part of me did. But I also learned that heckling someone at a comedy club is a leading indicator for personal dysfunction and chaos in one’s life. You heckle someone on stage? You’ve got problems bigger than working in HR. You deserve empathy and pity.

And that’s a good lesson.

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