Forget Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle – Women’s Comics Say Standing ‘Never Safe’ for Women

Several years ago, while performing her routine stand-up at a resort in North Carolina, longtime comedian Bobby Oliver was attacked on stage by a man in a gorilla suit.

It was on a Halloween show, so the gorilla suit wasn’t the most unusual thing about the accident, but it shocked Oliver so much, she stopped wandering. “He started grabbing my breasts and legs,” she told TheWrap. “I look at the manager (of the venue) thinking someone is going to come and help me, but the manager just laughs. He’s in the back like, ‘This place is an idiot – anything can happen here.’ From the verb. Why not be?”

Since March, when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards, male comedians have been sounding the alarm about their physical safety while performing on stage. The attack on Dave Chappelle last month during a show at the Hollywood Bowl further fueled their fears. But the truth is that women’s comedies have suffered from these kinds of threats for decades, making their way through the testosterone-dominated, often-hated comedy scene, performing in raucous clubs full of drunken audiences, often hostile.

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“Men are half joking that they need bodyguards,” said Oliver, the 20-year-old veteran of the Los Angeles comedy scene who opened Tao Comedy Studio, a rare safe haven for young comedians, in Koreatown in 2003. “Like everything else, once it happens to guys, all of a sudden everyone cares, right? I’ve seen people say, ‘Now comedians aren’t safe.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, comedians have Start She was safe. “

Of course, no place is safer than the Kodak Theater during the live Oscars, but that didn’t save Rock from getting hit. Ironically, it was yet another comedian at the Academy Awards who was threatened with extreme physical violence: Amy Schumer was cornered by real online death threats after she did her part in mistakenly pretending to nominee Kirsten Dunst to fill a seat. Schumer issued a gag apology the next day, in an effort to reassure the world that Dunst was in the joke.

As it happens – and just as expected – Schumer wasn’t his first encounter with death threats. Back in 2015, Barbara Walters told that she had been having them for at least 10 years.

From left, comedians Bobby Oliver and Jessica Kearson (courtesy of Oliver & Kearson)

Comedians who don’t recognize names have often suffered abuse both on and off stage. Jiaoying Summers, a Chinese-American comedian who has been defending herself for just over three years in Los Angeles, said she was assaulted outside the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica.

While performing on stage, she heard a man in the audience call her racist after she made a joke about her Chinese mother. Summers decided to ignore him. But after the show, she said, the clipper, who was white, followed her into the alley, pressed her hard in the shoulder and pushed her against the wall, cornering her. “He called me a Vietnamese bitch,” she said. He’s like, ‘You’re a racist whore. You shouldn’t be making fun of the Chinese, you.”

Summers has not performed at that club since then nor has he told them about the assault. Nor did she file a police report. If she was going back one day, she said she would bring a great friend as a bodyguard. “After the Will Smith slap, after the pandemic and the hatred towards Asians, it all made her very unsafe,” she said.

Unlike Chappelle – whose bodyguards handled his attacker while performing at the Hollywood Bowl in May – Summers cannot hire professional bodyguards. Nor are the vast majority of female comedies. And they can’t count on the clubs to provide them with security either.

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In April, rapper T.I. broke into the Atlanta Comedy Theater and demanded that Lauren Knight take off a wig after she reported his sexual assault case at a party in Atlanta. In a video posted to YouTube, women in the audience can be heard shouting, “It’s her show,” but T.I. instead grabbed her microphone before eventually bringing it back and leaving the stage – without any apparent interference by club security staff.

Knight later said that T.I. called her a “whore,” which led to a slew of death threats and insults from his fans, before the two made peace. (Neither T.I. nor Knight responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.)

Stand-up comedian Heather MacDonald, who wrote and produced for E! Chelsea recently: “It’s no secret that there is no one to protect you if something happens.” After the Oscars, MacDonald predicted in her podcast that there would be an upsurge in violence over comedians. Demanding more protection from clubs doesn’t help much either. “You don’t want to be dramatic,” MacDonald said. “You don’t want to be a singer or the club won’t ask you to come back.”

After the Chappelle incident, Shameless MacDonald offered cops free tickets to her next show. “For me on June 17 in Napa, I have about six officers per show,” she said. “It makes me feel better because, even if they’re not on duty, they’re always on the alert…I have a big run in the fall and with enough time to prepare, I always plan to have two or three ex-army or police people.”

From left, comedians Jiaoying Summers and Heather MacDonald

From left, comedians Jiaoying Summers and Heather MacDonald

New York-based comedian Jessica Kearson, who has appeared in the new Bill Burr special on Netflix, “Friends Who Kill,” has relied on other comics, and sometimes her opening act, to watch again if something serious happened. “I don’t want them to fight,” she said. “But, I mean, it just scares me.”

Actual physical attacks are only part of the problem – sometimes it’s just the threat of violence that can make comedy clubs a misogynistic environment. Kearson remembered performing in March in Minnesota when she found herself risky back and forth with an audience member. “I was talking about being Jewish and there was a guy who admitted he was a Nazi,” she said.

Fortunately for Kerson, the rest of the audience was willing to dump her to defend her. “There was a huge table of black people who were like, ‘We’ve supported you — we’re going to beat them — and we’re going to get him out of it.'” The whole audience got engaged. But in my mind, I’m like, ‘This guy is going to kill me.’ And he was sitting next to the podium. I had to walk beside him. I was really afraid for myself.”

Kerson is getting more careful about where you play now. “If there’s a place where security isn’t very good, I wouldn’t go back at this point,” she said. “Even before Will Smith, I made that decision after COVID. There were a couple of places where security was really terrible. You had to deal with harassment all weekend. Security didn’t do anything. I had to deal with it and say, ‘It’s not all worth it. It’s such a fuss for me.”

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