Last Comic Standing Top 5 Finalist Quits Festival, Sets Off Conversation About Harassment and Assault in Comedy

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There has been a story bouncing around social media this week about comedian withdrawing from the SLO Comedy Fest (an annual comedy festival in San Luis Obispo). People drop out of comedy festivals all the time, but when it is a recent top five comedian, particularly one with the stage persona of unicorns and rainbows, people take notice. Erikson’s withdrawal stems from the inclusion of another comedian who has a reputation for being unable to locate boundaries with women after a few drinks. Let’s say he sees himself as more of a “free range” comedian, going where he wants, when he wants. I can’t get into the particulars of the case Erikson references, because the comedian in question was acquitted of sexual assault. He had his day in court and he won. I CAN tell you that the allegations were pretty outrageous and involved a 911 call, and the comedian in question reportedly admitted that he may have gotten too aggressive. The response Erikson received from the festival was this:

 

slofest email

This is where I disagree, not only with the ridiculousness of the phrase “I cannot morally…speak on this?” but with the sentiment of that entire email.  Shouldn’t it be moral obligation of the fest to look into this?  Erikson isn’t the only person to contact the festival. Many women have contacted via email, Twitter and Facebook. To my knowledge, as of this post, no one else had received a response, and the festivals entire twitter account has disappeared. I also contacted the festival for comment, and have heard nothing. Comedian said “I don’t understand why clubs would want to hire a guy like that. I do not care if he was convicted or not. The reality is he is a predatory person. There are SO MANY funny people who are NOT predatory people, to me it makes no sense to hire him. From a simple business standpoint, the guy is a liability. It makes no sense to me. Then again the guy has lawyers who scour the internet threatening to sue bloggers and others who write about him. I didn’t see his comedy. Maybe he is so funny that being a dangerous person is moot. Haha no one is that funny.”

who also was featured in Last Comic Standing this year was not planning to participate in the festival but felt the issue was important enough to get involved.  “I reached out to the festival via social media,” she said. “Several women have reached out that way or via email. The festival responded by deleting my post, blocking me, and completely deleting their Twitter account. Such a weird plan. Email responses to women reaching out have been met with a polite dismissal of their concerns. It’s frustrating that the safety of women on the festival (8 out of the 48 comics by the way) means so little to them they won’t even respond.”  Miller added, “I understand the man in question was acquitted by a judge, but he himself admitted to aggressive behavior. And the woman involved called 911 during the incident. I’ve never called 911 in the middle of consenting to sex. Whatever actually happened with this comedian, the festival should respond. Rather than just losing female performers. What I really hope is that some of the men on the festival will speak up. Then maybe they’ll do something.”

There are countless articles written about sexual harassment in the workplace, but those usually revolve around cubicles, weird interactions at the water cooler and the IT guy. Rarely are any of the work situations described occurring in a green room, after Tom from IT has just snorted a line in the bathroom. Rarer still are the times when Nancy from accounting gets told “oh you are one of those comedians who can’t take a joke?” after someone mentions her tits for the fourteenth time that week. Nancy gets to go to human resources and file a complaint. She doesn’t have to wait for the IT guy to assault someone, get convicted and THEN stare at her boobs in a creepy matter. In this situation, Nancy feels uncomfortable, goes to HR, and then HR probably asks a few other people, “hey how do you feel about Tom in IT?” and if a few people say “he definitely has a weird vibe” there is at least a chance Tom is going on probation for a bit to check his behavior. If the rest of the staff says “Tom is the best!, he is very kind and thoughtful” then HR tells Nancy to keep her distance, and Tom gets told to keep his distance and grown ups go about their job.

We work in an industry that revolves around booze, laughs and pushing boundaries, in a system of clubs that in a phone call or two can all be interconnected, but there is no HR department. We have always relied on word of mouth. Many industries self regulate and the comedy industry is no different. The idea that we aren’t addressing abuse in our own community, where there is usually only one woman to every ten guys IS A PROBLEM. You want to know why we complain about the lack of women on lineups? Because lack of diversity causes weird power dynamics. Because a server who tells a headliner “NO”, worries that comic will tell his club GM buddy to fire her. Because a shitty “nice tits” joke feel less jokey and more rapey when it’s three guys staring at a woman in a green room. We are fully capable of setting a higher standard for how we treat each other. Comedians are the smartest people I know.

I have been lucky enough to be a funny, overweight lesbian. Which means that I get to be accepted amongst the guys and they don’t want to fuck me, so it is not necessary for me to reciprocate their generosity (of letting me work) by providing access to my vagina. I’ve also been the person who sometimes gets texts from female comics, (because I was a female producer and GM) so I know well in advance which of the owners gets extra dirty when they are drunk and I currently have a GM’s unsolicited dick pic (not bad buddy) in my phone. Just sitting there. I guess just standing there is a more accurate description. I digress.

I know there are a ton of amazing men who are comedians. Unfortunately, comedians sometimes come with a persona of non conflict when off stage. Often times the good guys are the features, and they can’t say anything, and risk pissing off a headliner. Yes, in some cases a headliner is so big, we all kiss their asses. Guess what, if you don’t kiss the ass of a sexual predator you’ll survive, I promise. Festival runners, club owners and general managers, you set the tone for the industry, act like it. Act like the boss, not some star fucker who wants funny people to like them.

Not sure there is a problem? I could rattle off hundreds of incidents, honestly. Check out this blog from Womenincomedy.org. I am a ‘woman in comedy’, deeply entrenched in many aspects of the business, and I didn’t know it was this bad. Hell, I’ve been guilty myself of being unsure how to handle a yelling, abusive headliner who got mad when he believed his feature had blown the light, so he yelled at her from the back of the room. While she was on stage. She hadn’t. Sorry bout that one, Alysia.

In closing, this can all be solved with a simple change in expectations. I’m gonna break it down for you fellas, from one lady loving person to another.

STOP EXPECTING TO GET LAID AT WORK. I mean of course stop molesting all people, but I guess if you can’t, check that shit at the door so the rest of us can go to work without your dick in our faces.

BONUS FUN: The unnamed comedian’s website has a scroll of ”inspirational quotes“ rolling on the bottom. I’m no psychiatrist, but these are some of his choices:

“Keep giving them you, until it’s you they want”- James Dean
“The only true gift is a portion of yourself”- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You miss 100% of the shots you never take”- Michael Jordan

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Kristen Becker is a dyke comic tour de force.  The creator, fearless leader, and host of Dykes of Hazard, Becker's brazen attitude and keen eye for irony leaves audiences— both gay and straight— cheering for more. Becker has opened for national comedy acts like Doug Stanhope, Josh Blue (winner of Last Comic Standing), and singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco, and has become one of queer comedy’s most popular comedians. She has been featured in Pride events across the US and Canada. 
Kristen Becker
Kristen Becker
Kristen Becker is a dyke comic tour de force.  The creator, fearless leader, and host of Dykes of Hazard, Becker's brazen attitude and keen eye for irony leaves audiences— both gay and straight— cheering for more. Becker has opened for national comedy acts like Doug Stanhope, Josh Blue (winner of Last Comic Standing), and singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco, and has become one of queer comedy’s most popular comedians. She has been featured in Pride events across the US and Canada.