The act of heckling performers has to be as old as time itself. I'd bet even way back in the prehistoric, early days of mankind that whenever one cavemen got up to entertain his fellow cave dwellers that some neanderthal in the group would heckle him midway through his bit.
It just seems to be part of the human condition for those in the peanut gallery to feel the need and right to shout out their criticisms, even if unjustified, at those giving their all onstage. Those onstage include stage actors, musicians, comedians (perhaps the number one target of hecklers), and even politicians. Additionally many self appointed critics have also been known to scream out their feelings at the movie screen, proving that heckling is meant as much for the benefit of fellow audience members as for the performer(s).
And even though it comes with the territory, especially for stand-up comedians, it has to be pretty tough for those up onstage, already performing a demanding draining job, to have some uninvited (often drunk) loud-mouthed bozo scream out his/her dissatisfaction with your performance. For the rest of the audience, however, a heckler hounding a performer can often result in some entertaining interplay between the two parties. Of recent performer/heckler altercations, probably the one that first pops into most minds is the November 2006 incident at the Laugh Factory comedy club where Michael Richards (aka Seinfeld's Kramer) went off on a nasty tirade on some African American audience members (see below). How he handled it is a textbook case of what not to do if you wish to remain active in showbiz, especially in these camera phone/YouTube digital days when every move is being documented to be later used against the respective parties.
But every performer handles hecklers differently and it is pretty interesting to study the different approaches applied. Below I have included video clips of some that deserve a peep, such as the late great stand up comic Bill Hicks who, in a bit that superficially seems to rival Kramer's, really rips into a female audience member-- even using the "C" word on this woman. But the key difference is that, even in his most riled rant, he stayed in control and remained entertaining -- even if the audience didn't know where he was going with the bit. And at the end he made fun of himself. More importantly, it was within character - the sort of thing that you might expect from the notorious comedian who ruffled many feathers by always telling it like it is (or was).
Another clip below with a performer using the "C" word is one of Thom Yorke with Radiohead in concert two years ago, in the middle of performing a mellow dreamy song, snapping back at some guy in the audience who shouted out something (it might have been a request for "Creep") to "Shut up ya cunt." But it is the way that those four powerful words so effortlessly and effectively just slip off Thom Yorke's tongue without him missing a beat or lyric or disrupting the flow of the song (coincidentally "I Want None of This") one iota that make it so memorable.
Below too is an interesting CNN clip about the current state of political heckling which outlines the difference between how politicians and entertainers deal with hecklers. And also below is the infamous Michael Richards rant that pretty much buried his already downward spiraling career.