I broke up my friendship with a comedian and resigned from the creative collective we once shared.
Friendship: it sucks.
It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. This may be the hardest one yet, the closest to the bone, bubbling over for months, but, it’s best for everyone, myself especially. In the past, if a spat occurred, there’d be a brief respite or conflicting schedules that would give enough distance for a natural reconciliation (or not). If things were patched up, the seams and stitches would always be noticeable, an ugly reminder of the clash. If not, there’s a scathing anecdote if the sparring partner is brought up at a party. Either scenario, the feelings are the same:
A bitter resentment, a seething injustice, a swollen ache for absolution. Aggrandizing indignation, muttering shit like, “the right side of history.” Isolation, martyrdom, mentally crossing out the mics, shows, venues, festivals you can no longer go to for fear of an accelerated heart rate and maybe a passing insult. (Or a distressing trigger of the harm they’ve done or fear of future assault). A sense of betrayal for your indifferent or neutral mutual friends—clearly they’re siding with your enemies in their silence. (Not really. Everybody’s just trying do their best, even though, as Maria Bamford said, sometimes our best “isn’t that great.”) A sense of outrage, that the communal and professional institutions won’t formally rain wrath and exile, that it’s more damning to be a joke thief or hack than a bully or threatening. A growing panic that the person maybe assassinating your character in the shadows, poisoning the well, turning those indifferent or neutral friends—or future acquaintances—against you. A desire to scrub them from your social media feeds, untag every picture, delete every keyword, ruin their SEO, sneak diss them hella hard, find others on the skid with them and tag team your dismay, 21st Century vengeance! But all you can really do is sit with it, talk about it, be bummed out. It sucks.
Because I’m not built for combat! I’m very soft. Confrontation is embarrassing. I get too volatile when I’m upset and a coward to the legal and physical consequences of fisticuffs. Words, discourse, arguments, brain-judo. I’m good with those. That’s why I did comedy and not kumite. Comedy is filled with bullied, flinchy outcasts, heavily reliant on logic or charisma or non sequiturs to win an argument, sway influence, bend minds, soothe tension. I didn’t cower at my parents impending divorce shouts to later bump heads with tough-by-proxy hotheads in the audience or back of the room! When I go to a show, I want to goof off and laugh, I don’t want to clinch my fist and make hairy eyeballs. I don’t want to hate ANYBODY! It sucks.
The great Mimi Vilmenay once said “two comics make a Girl, Interrupted.” She was referring to comedians in romantic relationships but the analogy translates to any connection. A ward of uniquely fucked up but endlessly fascinating people. The incredibly intoxicating and toxic codependency to junkies of the stage. As a comic, in no other context will one have more honesty, overshares, inhibition, inappropriateness, inebriation weirdness, awareness, awkwardness, critiques, jargon, visibility, empathy (or some facsimile or none at all) and outright hysterics than with other comics. But then shit goes south. Something comes up, lines are crossed, someone is taken advantage of, someone melts down, bottoms out or hurts themselves or others. The inordinate amount of time together takes a different hue. Whether the association comes at an abrupt stop or slowly fades, the question remains: were we actually friends? Did we have something meaningful or was it by circumstance, prison pals in life’s complex, claustrophobic, and coincidental constructs? I’m not sure.
Laughter, sharing it, providing it, being moved to it, is a tricky barometer for the status of a friendship, especially ones that are functionally shallow and staggered as in comedy. Sure there’s giggling good times or daps for good sets, but what else are we going to do during and after sets? Right now, with the ex-bestie in question, aside from some great hugs, our history feels hollow. I can’t think of one ear given to hearing about my depression, can’t think of one shared travelog that wasn’t by mic-hitting happenstance, can’t think of any discernible effort put into maintaining the relationship. All I can recall in this haze of disillusionment is being told I wasn’t a friend, or not supportive enough, or not congratulatory enough, or not real enough, and me doubling down to be contrary and give love to a beloved, funny person, that seemingly needed an abundance of adoration. Really poor foundation for my boundaries, should have valued my time and instincts more. That’s on me. It sucks.
In the interest of not being tacky, petty or falsely witnessing another’s perspective, I’m only focusing on the “what” of how I feel, not the “who”. It doesn’t really matter who they are. This isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. I’ll only quote our public and personal dissolution here to contextualize this wake:
them: if we were friends… Why didnt you ever talk to me, on some person to person tip?
me: don’t know. didn’t feel comfortable. didn’t seem as immediate as online. didn’t feel like it would have been received. bad scheduling, different sides of the bay, different lives. and to be honest, i didn’t feel like i needed to. it felt like you were going to be you and do you no matter what, and it didn’t matter how i felt, what i thought. & ultimately, I assumed you wouldn’t harass people, or get defensive if called out online about it, or check my blackness, or say shit like “KEEP FUCKING WITH ME”, or call me an hoe ass uncle tom, or NEED me to confront you about it face to face. i was wrong.
The “it” was online harassment. From and to whom isn’t my place to say. It’s the involved’s story to tell. I hope they tell it and tell it well but understand if they want to avoid the blowback.
I will say that it’s ironic that someone in the public eye, a budding showbiz type, who largely perpetuated harassment of unacquainted women comedians through social media, would balk at addressing accusations and call outs on social media. It’s ironic that they would need to be confronted in private, when their behavior has very public consequences (cancelled shows, stress, anxiety and what not). It’s laughable when a corroborated-ad-infinitum, habitual line-stepper plays dumb or asks for proof to make things “less vague”. It’s ridiculous when comics claim an inherent value in telling truths but are mum when someone expresses “your truth is fucked up.”
I should have talked to them about it. Communication is golden. I’m doing it now; feels great! Maybe if I made an in-person appeal, the desired result—an acknowledgment and behavior change, a less hostile environment—would have occurred. Maybe not. I’ll be haunted by each possibility caused by my decision. But here’s the thing. I’m also in the public space. We weren’t two comics beefing about sliding into DMs and the trappings of white feminism in a vacuum; comedians are emblematic of structural dynamics, our interactions are cycles in an ecosystem. From my experience, doing comedy is life abstracted, cultural and social anthropology on easy mode. Since there’s a comparatively small amount of performers to the world’s larger populus, every ill pops louder, hits harder. That’s why racism in the alt comedy community is more glaring, why representative parity is more coveted, why assaults are more affecting. If someone who is vetted and vaulted as one of the funniest or best producers is also known to make others feel unsafe, the perception (or reality) within a scene—and onlookers looking to perform in that town—is that that scene, even if it’s by a small percentage, is unsafe.
This blog is in the public space. In addition to giving accolades, Courting Comedy is a resource, a platform, a personal love letter aimed to promote an ideal environment for telling jokes as well promoting artists that contribute to it. That’s why I can’t let slimy shit slide past or kowtow to traditions, customs or inertia. Putting comedian’s perniciousness on blast or discouraging support for abusers in the scene may seem self-congratulatory, glad-handed, social justice warrior-y or whatever but it’s who I am, it’s what’s important to me, it’s what I’ve committed myself to, it’s what I’ve come to represent. I have to own it as an artist, a writer, a person just as many must pledge allegiance to the laissze-faire, anything goes, apathetic, irreverent, defensive nihilism they identify with.
Additionally, any connections with a people who behave in a way contrary to those values don’t get the benefit back alley pacts and appeasement. Because those connections, those alignments, pronounced or inferred, are serious and important. They matter. You’re a liar if you think they don’t. Comedians progress is based on their reputation on and off stage. “It’s who you know” is a truism. There may never be visible ramifications or consequences to the company you keep, it’s not a crime to love or defend a garbage person, there’ll probably never be a civil war melee in the streets between comics about being cordial in interpersonal communication (at the least) or about booking sexual assaulters (at the most)—but those relationships still matter. Or we wouldn’t try to hold on to them so hard. Unless the problematic person is an enabling avatar for certain shared sour qualities, then I can’t help you.
At the end of the day it comes to what you or I need. Personally, I need to talk about how I’m feeling. I need to be seen. I need to be heard. I need to be loved. [That last one hurts. Any rejection, from friend, former flame, potential flame, or family is brutal in the face of my need to be loved]. I need to mourn everything that has been strained or lost in this breakaway. I need friends to realize it’s a raw situation and to not bring it up to me. I’m sensitive, I need time. I need friends who I don’t need to make excuses for. I need friends to not make excuses for people when that person is abusive. I need friends who make don’t make excuses or halfhearted apologies for their abusiveness without seeking help. I need friends that ask for help. I need friends who won’t directly or allude threats in response to me calling out on their abusiveness. I need friends who won’t directly or allude threats to others in response to being called out on their abusiveness. I need friends that don’t actively verbally, physically, mentally or sexually attack my other friends. I need people who know and acknowledge the difference between hating and harassment, when name checking and shit talking is turning personal or aggressive, and adjust themselves accordingly. I need friends that are mindful of a professional decorum. I need friends that won’t gaslight or derail or smoke screen me if I call out their abusiveness. I need friends who won’t attack my blackness, or use the murder and derision of black activists to discredit my intent, arguments or personhood. I need friends who don’t call me a hoe ass Uncle Tom. I need friends who are actually friends, not just someone on the same path.
And, if all these things considered, you still feel that this is bullshit, that I’m a puppet to feminist, politically correct policing, or that I’m making a big deal out of nothing, or speaking down to and defaming a good guy, or abusing my platform, or that I’m a punk, or that I’m a coward, or I’m destroying what they love about telling jokes, or I’m just complaining for attention or not representing both sides in a personal journal that’s helping me process and cope, or you can’t disagree with me, my principles or how I conduct myself without attacking me personally, I need you to enforce your own boundaries and stop being friends with this hoe ass Uncle Tom. Spring cleaning. It’s not a good look for you to be aligned with someone like me. For real, block me on social media, when I greet you in-person don’t acknowledge it, trash me behind my back. I understand. We’re no longer friends. It sucks.