After Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle attacks, comedy venues increase safety

It was a joke about a mother and a Walmart cocaine that caught the guy.

He was sitting with a woman at the Laugh Factory in Chicago this winter, screaming excitedly in response to a drug joke when he said, after twitching about his relationship with the woman, that it was his mother.

So when the next comedian Joe Killgallon took the microphone, a joke popped into his head.

“That’s healthy – cocaine with your mum on Mondays,” Mr. Killgallon joked. “Get some real vibes from Walmart here.”

Killgallon remembers that the man jumped out of his chair, cursed, and headed straight for the stage. A security guard grabbed the man before he could go up on stage and pulled him out of the club via the emergency exit.

It ended up being nothing more than a minor showdown, the kind that comedians have had to deal with for years, given that making fun of people and confusing them with reviewers is basically part of the job description. But two recent high-profile physical attacks on comedians — Will Smith slapping Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars in March and a man dealing with Dave Chappelle during his performance at the Hollywood Bowl last week — have left some comedians wondering if the stage has begun less security, and has prompted some clubs and venues to take steps to bolster their security at comedy shows.

Laugh Factory officials say that as a result of the recent unrest, they have added cameras and metal detectors and increased the number of security guards at some of their locations. They made a few extras – “This is not a UFC match!” “We don’t care about your political affiliation!” – to the standard monologue about the minimum alcoholic drinks people hear as they walk in the door. The Uptown Comedy Corner in Atlanta last weekend hired an off-duty police officer to beef up its security, and one of its guards moved closer to the stage and began using metal detector sticks to check customers and their bags at the door. The Hollywood Powell said it had implemented its own “extra security measures” after the attack on Mr. Chappelle.

“When a comedian takes to the stage, what is his sole purpose?” “Yes, I can say that: When they come for comedians, we’re all in trouble,” asked Judy Gould, comedian and author of “Yes, I can say that: When they come for comedians, we’re all in trouble.” “To make you laugh. That is it.”

“When you take the comedian’s intent out of the formula and decide ‘I’m going to take this joke the way I see it, instead of the way the comedian intended,'” and then you say “I didn’t” I didn’t like that joke, she said, “I want that person to be scrapped, silenced, or beaten up.” , “I mean, it’s very sad.”

In interviews, comedy club owners and comedians themselves expressed concern to varying degrees about recent events. While some have spoken of a troubling increase in audience sentiment leading up to the Oscars, others have cautioned against confusing what happened to Mr. Rock and Mr. Chappelle and coming to overly loose conclusions.

Trevor Noah took the situation comically last week, when he cautiously stepped onto the stage of his central comedy show, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” under the watchful eye of a man in a black windbreaker who said “Security” seemed to mumble into a Secret Service-like earpiece when Mr. Noah opened the show.

Noam Dorman, owner of Comedy Cellar in New York, said he viewed the Smith-Rock encounter as a very specific “one-off” in which Mr. Smith appeared to be trying to embarrass Mr. Rock more than physically harm him. He said seeing a member of the audience engage with Mr. Chappelle was troubling, but it could be part of a broader trend.

“Violence seems to be creeping in on us,” Dorman said, citing recent riots and protests that turned violent. “We have many people associate words with violence. The logical extension of equating words with violence is to say that it is reasonable to respond to words with violence.”

Some comedians have shrugged off concerns about their personal safety, noting that they aren’t, for the most part, big names like Mr. Rock and Mr. Chappelle. Several of them indicated that they did not plan to soften their material. But some worry that societal forces, including the bitter debates of the Trump years and the difficulties many have faced during the pandemic, may have left people increasingly on edge — and less willing to take the joke.

Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory, said he was advising his comedians to keep in mind that some members of the public have spent most of the past two years inside their apartments during a stressful pandemic. Mr Kilgallon said he believes that after spending so much time alone, “people don’t know how to act in public” – whether it’s at comedy clubs, bars or sporting events.

Comedy clubs have long used bouncers and security guards to deal with the occasional patron who has been supervised, or who harasss a boy a lot. And long before Mr. Smith rose to the Oscars stage to slap Mr. Rock as punishment for a joke about his wife, there were sporadic cases of people encountering comedians during their sets, or in some cases physically assaulting them.

In the wake of the Oscar slap, some comedians warn of Possibility to copy cats. Mr. Smith was not only removed from the Dolby Theater after he hit Mr. Rock, but was hailed soon after when he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. (He was later banned from the Academy Awards for 10 years.)

“These people gave him a warm welcome with impunity,” Ms. Gould said of Mr. Smith. “We all said there would be copycat assaults. And there was.”

The attack on Mr. Chappelle was even more murky. A man with a gun tackled Mr. Chappelle on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, where he was appearing as part of “Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival.” Los Angeles District Attorney Isaiah Lee, 23, charged with four misdemeanors in connection with the attack, including battery and possession of a weapon with intent to assault; Mr. Lee has pleaded not guilty.

The Los Angeles police have not released any information about Mr. Lee’s motive for the attack on Mr. Chappelle, whose comedy has sparked controversy in the past. Mr. Chappelle discussed meeting at another comedy show in Los Angeles later that week, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Mr Chappelle told the audience that he spoke to Mr. Lee after the incident, and Mr. Lee said he did so to draw attention to the plight of his grandmother, who was forced to leave her neighborhood due to gentrification, the trade publication reported.

Said Angelo Sykes, one of the owners of Uptown Comedy Corner, who beefed up security after the attack on Mr. Chappelle. “When you hear these things, it makes you say, ‘Well, we can’t risk these opportunities. We have to be on the safe side.”

In phone interviews last week, several Los Angeles comedians said the attacks were a topic of conversation among the comics after shows. Ms Gould described some of her fellow comedians as “tired and tired” and said others were “terrified”.

She noted that comedy is often a work in progress. “We don’t know where the line is until we bring our materials,” she said. “The public teaches us.”

Tehran von Gasseri, a Los Angeles-based comedian, was among those who said a growing percentage of audience members appeared to be “hypersensitive” coming to shows and calling for confrontation, “looking to offend” — or both.

And social media is to blame, Kilgallon said. He has noticed that audience members are now quick to pull out their phones if a controversial topic is being discussed or a moment of tension arises. But he said the basics of comedy remained the same.

“For the past five years, people have come to me after a stage show and say, ‘It must be hard these days to do comedy—everyone is so sensitive,” said Mr. Kilgallon.’ And I say, ‘No, it’s not.’ I perform in The bluest areas of the country and some of the reddest areas of the country. If you’re funny – no matter the joke, people laugh.”

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