Help. Consent Culture in The Comedy Community Is Serious.

I know I’m complicit in rape culture. Something said, or not said, made someone uncomfortable, made mistakes, a moment of betrayal for myself or my connections, shame defanged by the lack of visible damage, the lack of “consequence”, delusion. There’s a lot of things I’ve convinced myself to detract from my guilt: I was young, I didn’t know better; I was tipsy, I didn’t know better; I’m not as bad as this person or that person; nobody got hurt; it wasn’t that bad; it was all in good fun; I’ve apologized; no one remembers/knows/confronted.


I’m not defined by these instances. It’s not apart of, as far as I know, how I’m perceived publicly. But I KNOW what happened. I know who I am, what I represent, my own moral compass and know when that has been compromised. Even though it’s difficult to deal with or talk about, to encourage others to open up and take action, I know I have to be authentic. I’ve been complicit in rape culture, and I can’t bullshit about it anymore. I need help.

This all “started” on May 31st of this year. Matt Gubser, comedian and community leader, keeper of the Bay Area Comedy Network, a local media source and event listing, shared blog article “Your Next Comic is A Girl” to the 4000+ member Facebook group that shares the BACN namesake. In the piece, comedian Emma Arnold describes an increasingly horrible ordeal while producing a comedy show, being assaulted by another comedian. Repeatedly. Arnold proceeded to relay a bevy of similar instances with different comedians that span from victim blaming, to attempted molestation, to trivializing rape. There’s a lot of levity in her writing, but the trauma was prominent, frightening, and to seemingly no end.


Gubser prompted “I’d like to think the Bay Area is a more “enlightened” place than the rest of the planet, but that’s naive… What steps do you think we can take within our community to minimize sexual harassment and assault amongst our own?” We responded. Nearly one thousand messages (and many more uncounted replies): some related, reinforcing Emma Arnold’s experience with their own as survivors in the comedy scene; some panicked, boasting they’d get physical if they ever see or hear about unwanted advances; some claimed that women needed to take self defense classes, others redirected the conversation with calls for innocent-until-guilty objectivity, others talked about safe spaces in general, all before devolving into in-fighting, bad jokes and trolls. A lot of people seemed to misunderstand what consent is, what assault is; the confusion was palatable, alarming. Still, some good came out of the outrage—discussion, organization, action, this very blog written in conjunction with others dedicated to minimizing sexual assault. I hope the progress is long-lasting and…


Again, I know I’m complicit in rape culture! “I know you’ve seen a lot of dudes tonight, but you’re in for a treat because your next comedian is a lady!” I’ve said this! It’s horrible to other comedians by their gender! Got drunk, held physical contact with a comedian a little too long, was asked to stop, relented but still felt shitty. Check! I’ve done that. Hooked up with a comedian, which, while consensual, in hindsight, we were both drunk to a dicey degree, check! Denial, defamation, dismissal, disregard and flinching from vigilance, check times one hundred. All the stories, told in-person or online, the abuse, the harassment, the explicit or implicit indications that “women, survivors, (or any underrepresented minorities in comedy), are not welcomed”, I have either seen seeds of, or have observed the overt, or personally perpetuated. My issues with alcohol, my unchecked mental health, my cowardice shame, reflected in my peers’ pain. My friends, hurting other friends, under the guise of “comedy”.


Comedy, the artform, particularly stand-up, will always be my primary love. It’s intoxicating and revealing, affirming in righteousness and cynicism, the merit and virtue of laughter’s involuntary confirmation, potent as an spectator and felt exponentially more as a performer. I used to be obsessed with and identified by “comedy: the art, the industry, the lifestyle”. Out almost every night of the week, doing stand-up or watching stand-up, completely invested. Everything I am or have, that I cherish socially, professionally or personally, was born on the backs of jokes.


For a while, personally and historically, comedy was the only refuge for feeling weird, outcasted (if not downright estranged). In many cases, the more tortured or strange, the better. There’s a societal shorthand that humor is an vessel to truth. There’s a lot sadness to truth, a lot of truth to sadness. Everybody’s depressed, comedians just have a skill and penchant for expressing it. The problem emerges when those feelings fortify abusive behaviors that are validated, excused or ignored by equally damaged people and the comedy community becomes a haven for harm.


Comedians are artists. Artists are typically broke. And, by destitution (or stigma or mental block), they are unable to seek help.  What happens when the problem becomes unavoidable, undeniable? What happens when a change is necessary? What happens when information is provided and vouched for? What happens when help is available?


I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know. I hope for the best, and will continue to work towards it. I’m just tired. I’m tired of destroyed relationships, crushed people, lost brilliance. I’m tired of the apathy, that all these smart, funny people are disillusioned to inaction. I’m tired of being excited for a show, looking at the line-up, and staying home because a rapist is on the bill (and I just don’t want to deal with potentially interacting with the toxic elephant in the room). I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired of everything that makes comedy, my love, heartbreaking.

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