Heckling the Hecklers

They sit backstage and face off, the heckler and the heckled, looking equally uncomfortable as the camera rolls. ? "What do you know about comedy?" the comedian asks. ? "I like things that are funny," says the unyielding college-age guy. "It's kind of hard to watch, that crash and burn," he says, then fires off a punch line of his own: "I would have rather sat through a Creed concert than that."

It's a scene from a documentary called "Heckler," which is all the more fascinating because it's made by Jamie Kennedy, one of the most derided comedians since Pauly Shore -- who just happens to share the bill today at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay.

"I didn't really make it as a cry-baby thing. I just want to expose this side of it," Kennedy says of the film now on DVD. But the original topic of why people heckle stand-up comedians expands to address the blurry new definitions of critics and criticism in the age of the blogosphere.

"People don't review your movie. They review your face, your career," says the star of such lambasted movies as "Son of The Mask" and "Kickin' It Old Skool."

"I guess it started with criticism when I would put my heart and soul into a movie for nine months to a year, writing it, getting it made," Kennedy says. "You work your face off, and it's an achievement to get it out there. And the crowd's laughing, and the movie's testing well and people like it. And then you read a review and they not only don't like it, they destroy it.

"It's a comedy!" he says. "I get (that you don't like it), but you don't have to ruin my life or go after me. I couldn't really understand it."

Beyond giving Kennedy the chance to confront some of his accusers -- including Las Vegas film critic Josh Bell, "one of the people who say I should be stopped" -- the documentary addresses how Las Vegas headliners such as Carrot Top and Criss Angel can be so polarizing.

"People just use him as a punch line because his name is Carrot Top and he has red hair," Kennedy says of the Luxor comedian. "He's very, very original. He's creative and makes all his own props and every joke that goes with it."

Las Vegas comedians with more benign audiences, including George Wallace and Louie Anderson, also get screen time. Not all heckling is of the belligerent, "You suck!" variety, Kennedy explains.

"Most people, they don't really heckle, they 'help-le,' " he says. "They want to help, but they're making it worse. They keep talking and you can never get your story out."

A close companion, he says, is the "compli-sult." "They want to compliment you, but they insult you: 'Hey man, I like you. That last movie you did really stunk, but I like the other stuff.' "

Kennedy agrees he's the kind of comedian who leaves the door open to crowd banter, in contrast to comedians such as Lewis Black or the late George Carlin, who recite carefully scripted monologues.

"People come up to me and tell me I smell, or I'm really handsome or my last movie sucked. 'Did you have sex with that girl?' They just ask me whatever, because they think I'm their neighbor. I definitely think it's a combo of relatability and that when people engage me, I engage them back. And that doesn't help it."

Kennedy's diverse career is a good problem to have when he does stand-up. People yell out for characters from "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment" -- a "Candid Camera"-type series where he ambushed people as heavily disguised characters -- or for B-rad, the gangsta wannabe from his movie "Malibu's Most Wanted."

"I think my stand-up is growing on its own," he says. Fans "definitely shout stuff from my movies, but now, they're getting to know me and I'm doing more and more stand-up. I'm still converting them. I'm not like Dave Chappelle where I'm known for amazing stand-up, but I'm working on it."

Kennedy expanded his resume yet again this fall, when he became a regular on "Ghost Whisperer," the CBS drama about a spirit medium (played by Jennifer Love Hewitt). Even airing on Friday, which usually is a miserable night for ratings, Kennedy says the show trounces the best numbers he ever saw for "Experiment."

"We constantly beat 'Heroes.' Go look it up," he says, sounding -- as he does when discussing almost everything -- proud, defensive and amiable, all at the same time.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.