(Note: this is a much shortened excerpt from my book "Notion Sickness", which is almost done, I swear to sweet Sassmouth Jesus.)
I used to run and host a comedic storytelling show at the VAC in Garden City. I booked an out of town comic one month, and in between sets, he kept smacking me on the ass as I walked by. Several times, I politely but firmly told him to please not touch me anymore, but he continued. I had a show to run, so I spent the evening avoiding him as best as I could. After the show, he hugged me and gave my ass a full on, deep tissue squeeze. I stepped back and told him, in no uncertain tones, to keep his fucking hands off of me. He laughed, and told me, sorry, it was just that I was so hot, ya know?
The next night, at an open mic that I also ran and hosted, the same comic called me over like he had a question. When I leaned in so he could whisper in my ear, he grabbed me around the waist and pulled me into a tight embrace. He stuck his other hand up my skirt from behind and fingered my genitals, like full puss contact, his fingers pushing against my underwear into my vagina. When I tried to pull away, he held me in place. “Come on,” he said in a low voice. “Can’t you take a joke?” I wrestled away and tried to yell at him, but unfortunately I was betrayed at that moment by Shaky Lady Voice, or SLV, which is where you want to be assertive and tough, but, instead, your stupid lady voice goes all high and quavering, and your stupid lady eyes go all watery, and you end up warbling “this is my body, you don’t have the right to touch me if I don’t want to be touched, I’m a person, I have boundaries” which has never stopped anyone from assaulting a person, ever.
I absolutely can take a joke. I once hosted a roast where the main theme seemed to be “Emma is fit and has sex a lot, she’s a witch! Get her!” I had a great time, even though my worst insult of the evening was saying I didn’t feel like it was fair to make fun of the other comedians when what they really needed was a little Good Will Hunting. (I hugged every comedian as they took the stage and told them it wasn’t their fault. I’m not good at shit-talking, it’s a problem, okay??) My good friend Brett made the best joke of the evening in which he implied that my husband left me because he finally decided personality was important. It was brutal, but so funny and personal, I loved it. I felt truly flattered that they cared about and knew me well enough to really hurt my feelings.
I just don’t find getting groped repeatedly all that funny. It’s not a joke, and I shouldn’t have to take it. The problem isn’t me, it isn’t my sensitivity or lack of humor. The out-of-town comic later called me to “apologize”, saying he was sorry that I “was so uptight” and didn’t know how to have fun. He explained that he only groped me so that I could feel like one of the guys. I told him that it was upsetting and dehumanizing, being touched like that, and, appealing to his empathy (hahahaha, Arnold, you so cute), asked how he would feel if something like that happened to him.
“I’d love it!” he responded. “You can grab my junk anytime.”
This is just one guy, and I’m just one female comedian. This happens over and over and over. I’m sorry to make generalizations, but you could FOR REALS be a bolo-tie-wearing youth pastor with sweaty meat hands, and still be less creepy than 75% of male comics. (This statistic fluctuates depending on the city, obviously. In Portland, it's much lower, maybe 15%. In Toronto or LA, maybe 50%. Also, I should add I got a "D" in statistics, so...) Here’s a partial list of bullshit I’ve put up with in the last few years, to further prove my point:
-There was the road comic who argued that it was safe for me to sleep in my car at a rest area because the whole rape culture thing was “way overblown”. “Women exaggerate, you know that” he told me. When I explained that most of the women I know had been raped or sexually assaulted, he said, “You must know a lot of bitches”.
-There was the male comedian who asked me for nudes after I gave him my number to get on a show. I sent him pictures of myself making this face with the caption “Let me help you masturbate” every ten minutes until he asked me to please stop. (Seriously. Don’t ask me for nudes. If you want to see me naked, just close your eyes, and picture Jennifer Lawrence. If she gave birth three times and also maybe never had tits.)
-There was the gropey Midwest male comedian EVERYONE KNOWS ABOUT who tried to kiss me, REPEATEDLY, even after I explained that I wasn’t interested or available. He invited me over, under the pretense that a group of comics were hanging out, but when I showed up, it was just him. When I tried to leave, he wouldn't let me, first pinning me against the couch with a "hug", then blocking the door with his six foot plus frame. "Come on," he said. "I just want you to hold me, don't be so mean." Multiple women have told me similar stories about him since.
-There was the male comedian who told me, “You realize it doesn't matter what you say up there, people only laugh because they want to fuck you”. Or the one who said all he could think about when I was performing was what noises I make during sex. (Note: I’m completely silent during sex. Like “Nosferatu”.) Or the guy who told me he thought that "Cosby only raped like 20% of those women" and that some of them were clearly lying. THAT'S STILL 12 WOMEN HOLY CHRIST! Do we have to be a baker's dozen to fucking matter??
That’s just comics, the guys I work with. I still have to deal with the audience, too. And they feel perfectly fine coming up and telling me they want to fuck me, or critiquing my appearance and weight, or scolding me for using dirty language. I had a guy come up to me after a show and tell me that he wanted to paddle me and wash my mouth out with soap for saying the f-word too much. (Note: under different circumstances, when not suggested by a comb-overed septuagenarian, that sounds like a fantastic way to spend one’s Saturday night.) I have to deal with guys following me out to my car, sending me unsolicited dick pics online, and heckling me during shows with catcalls, come ons, and even threats of rape.
After I was upskirt-groped, I walked out onto the patio of the comedy club, rattled and shaking. There was a group of male comedians sitting at a table, and I told them what had occurred. One of them, a man I count as a friend who has otherwise been extremely supportive and kind to me, laughed and said, “Yeah, well, can you blame him? Dressed like that, what did you expect?” This minimizing and normalizing of sexual harassment is also an unfortunate part of my job. When something gross happens to me, far too often, my male peers are all too eager to point out how I contributed to the harassment OR why I should be “flattered” by the attention. “I wish I got hit on as much as you.” No. No, you really don’t.
It just doesn’t fucking end.
I try really hard to focus on the good men I know. Comedy is a boys club--I sometimes feel like I’m playing Wendy to the Lost Boys, except instead of teaching me to fly, Peter Pan’s always trying to give me chlamydia. And I’m like, no thank you, Dan Soder! (Jk, I would totally let Dan Soder give me chlamydia, he’s lovely.)--but I also know some amazing, wonderful men who have always treated me like a person. They don’t stick their hands up my skirt, or minimize the bullshit I deal with on a daily basis, or tell me to get a thicker skin. They don’t treat my unwillingness to be harassed as the problem, they understand that I shouldn’t have to be a walking callous to do my job. They have welcomed me with closed arms, waiting for me to initiate physical contact when and if I feel comfortable. To them, I say thank you. And also, sorry about your premature ejaculation problem.
To my fellow funny ladies, keep fighting the good fight. It’s important and it is working. We’re almost there. In ten years, maybe we’ll just be “comedians”, and no one will ever bring us up to “our next comic is a guuuuurl”. Maybe the conversation will shift from “sexual harassment will never go away, just deal with it” to “how do we stop sexual harassment, it sucks”. And maybe, when a disgusting person sticks his/her hand up the gender-neutral skort of a professional joke-making person, the reaction will be swift and judicious, and no one will even think of saying, “Well, dressed like that, what did you expect?”
Update: I've had a lot of people ask about why I didn't name the comedian who sexually assaulted me here. It's a good question, and one I have struggled with. I won't name him here, but please know that I warn every booker, club, and touring female comedian I meet about him, and he already has a rep for being a creep and isn't allowed in many places even without my input.