John Lennon Heckled a Comedy Act and Started Throwing Punches: ‘They Threw My A** Out’

In 1974, John Lennon made headlines when he heckled the comedy duo the Smothers Brothers. As comedians, the Smothers Brothers had experienced hecklers before, but likely not on that scale or from as major a celebrity as Lennon. As his behavior grew more erratic, the club’s bouncers were forced to remove Lennon from the show. In the aftermath, he felt humiliated by his actions.

A black and white photo of John Lennon wearing a checkered shirt and glasses.
John Lennon | Michael Putland/Getty Images

The former Beatle temporarily separated from Yoko Ono in the 1970s

In 1973, Lennon and Yoko Ono separated. The pair had been married for four years when Lennon moved out and began an affair with the couple’s assistant, May Pang. According to Ono, the extramarital relationship did not upset her.

“The affair was not something that was hurtful to me,” Ono told The Telegraph in 2012. “I needed a rest. I needed space.” 

Lennon referred to this period of separation as his “lost weekend,” but it actually lasted roughly 18 months. While he experienced bouts of creativity, he also drank heavily and used drugs. 

John Lennon heckled the Smothers Brothers during their show

One night in Los Angeles, Lennon and the musician Harry Nilsson attended the Smothers Brothers’ comedy show at The Troubadour. After several drinks, Lennon began to heckle the comedy act. 

“He was with Harry Nilsson,” Dick Smothers told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2000. “They were just sort of out of control.”

Lennon began to scream obscenities at the brothers, prompting the actor Peter Lawford to tell him to “shut up or get out,” per The Washington Post. Lennon wouldn’t stop, though, and the Smothers Brothers’ manager Ken Fritz walked over to personally ask him to be quiet. Rather than listening, Lennon tried to punch Fritz and then threw a glass at him. After this, the club’s bouncers removed him from the premises. 

“I guess it sounded like a good show to see,” Smothers said. “Then he decided to participate in it. So our fans threw him out.”

Lennon said he had been drinking enough that he didn’t entirely remember how everything unfolded.

“We started yelling at Tommy and his brother,” he said in the book Lennon Revealed by Larry Kane (via Today). “I think we almost screwed up the act. A few weeks before I was in the same place, I found a tampon machine or something in a restaurant, wore one on my head. Heckled some more. And I don’t remember how it happened, but they threw my a** out.”

John Lennon was later embarrassed that he heckled the act

In the aftermath, Lennon felt humiliated. According to Kane, he sent apology letters to the comedians, Fritz, and The Troubadour’s management. 

“The publicity surrounding the incident and the public outrage it caused chastened John,” Kane wrote. “It ended up inspiring not just that typical morning-after apology, but weeks of self-analysis and extreme remorse. It was the beginning of the end of the bouts of drinking that had beleaguered his body, mind, and soul.”

Lennon and Ono reunited in 1975 and remained together until his death in 1980.

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