Elephant in the Room

I went on record with Vulture about Louis CK…

They said only 17 comedy bookers went on record but they didn’t include anything from my interview so I’ll include myself. Maybe because I’m not so much a comedy booker anymore? Well, ok! Probably for the best! ha ha.

I have been performing, hosting, producing, teaching, and booking comedy for many years (IO, UCB, founder of the Magnet Theater, independent weeklies and showcases, comedy festivals, pilots, and a recent three years as Talent Buyer at Union Hall), so have been dealing with these issues personally and professionally for ages, not just in the wake of Louis CK and #metoo. 

The question Vulture asked was whether a comic’s “reputation was really a deal breaker.”

I think reputation is more important than even talent. We are not just making deals, not just looking for profit opportunities and weighing the consumer marketplace like other businesses, but we are truly building communities, amplifying voices and cultures, supporting people we believe in, and by extension endorsing their actions, onstage and off. So these issues are the heart of the integrity we should have as artists, gatekeepers, institutions. When the gates are small, it’s even more important. That’s where you can nip shit in the bud so people can learn and grow, and if they don’t want to grow, you get to close those little gates and keep out the jerks. As I got bigger opportunities, I saw personal accountability lowering, and when agents, managers, bookers, venues, audiences, other artists, keep letting things slide, no one wants to be the person to say anything, and comics fail upward and the silencing increases.

But gatekeepers especially are supposed to be keeping the gates. Sometimes I have done it quietly, like not hiring a comic with sexist, ageist, or anti-Asian material…the last bastions of acceptable humor so I still had to be quiet or else I am the “bitch.” Eh, whatever. Everyone knows I was never quiet just not public because I’m profesh. I always said, to much disbelief and mockery by others in the industry, that I would not book Louis CK, and a long list of many of your favs, because of all kinds of behavior which I had experienced decades ago or yesterday, first or second hand. If I heard a story with some shitty personal behavior à la Aziz, I’d either talk to the parties if I knew them, or take the word of the complainer, because I personally know how hard it is to complain, and I would probably just not work with them again. Of course, this isn’t Madison Square Garden $ at stake-my max has been 3000– and when I got to book Aziz it was for free shows in backs of bars when no one knew who he was and my experience with him was always positive. If I had a chance to book him again, I’d start there and would not be shy to ask if his friends have helped him figure out what he did wrong with that personal issue made public. I’d ask him more because I care about his growth as a person and artist, even though I haven’t seen him in years, than about whatever gig it would be. On the upside we had a nice national discussion about informed ongoing enthusiastic consent from all of that, didn’t we? And we all get it now, right? Hello?

If I have a choice—and I make it my life’s goal to always have a choice—I’d rather work with people who lift other people up than those who belittle, abuse, and silence others, onstage or off. It didn’t take a New York Times article to bring me to that conclusion. But it did take that for some male industry peers to finally say, oh hey you were right! Now we believe you! (About this one at least, you seem to just have personal issues about the others.)

The thing that pissed me off most about the LCK Aspen Comedy Festival story, from the very beginning, when I first heard it, is the way he and his 3 Arts manager silenced the Chicago improvisers who, like LCK, have only their ideas and life experiences as their material. If he thought nothing was wrong with what he did, why not just let them tell their story! It wasn’t like he was a GOP candidate….this behavior was not inconsistent with his stage and bar personality. But only he was allowed to tell these stories? And since these women were often so open with their sexuality in their comedy, too, the vibe they got from the comedy community wasn’t supportive.

And that was the common reaction when the NYT story came out so many years later, too: “Why did they go back to his hotel?” I know what it’s like to be a drinker wanting to keep drinking and hanging out with cool people. You’re at a festival in a small town and the bars close early so you go to the biggest hotel room. And if that’s our lifestyle—this job that sometimes comes with this lifestyle, as a performer, writer, producer, agent, manager—isn’t an unconsented penis the least we should expect? This is a #metoo for sure but I’m still not as brave as these women and sometimes I think I still want to work here.

As to “the moral outrage cancelling out giving them another chance,” another question Vulture asked, I truly believe every person is redeemable. I even sometimes fantasize about Trump having some overwhelming trauma or Dickensian haunting that awakens his humanity, even knowing he has a severe mental disorder which prevents that. I know I have sometimes behaved poorly in the past, and am so grateful I have had the opportunity to set these things right and repair relationships. It’s part of growing as a mature person. It’s actually a pretty amazing thing, and I’m sad more people don’t embark on both the lifestyle of mistakes and also the difficult learning from those mistakes. It’s not a matter of “if audiences have forgiven and forgotten,” that is so cynical and opportunistic. It’s whether the offender has truly listened, understood, been honest, accepted the consequences, and changed their behavior. Then I would wholeheartedly stand behind them, if I believed it. If not, I have no interest in listening to them, especially if their job involves the truth. There was an artist who had issued a non-apology apology for something they did that was pretty egregious to the NPR set, so when I was offered the chance to book them years later I went online to see if they had ever figured it out. They had. They had written about it. I enthusiastically booked them. 

Shit happens. But you own it. Especially in comedy where you can’t walk around afraid to make a mistake. But when you make the mistake you own it. I am repeating myself because it’s really the only point here. You own and own up to your words, your work, your actions. And the sooner the better. And try to minimize the damage to others. Personally I prefer the kind of mistakes that hurt me and not others. I promise I will make it up to me one day.

In Louis CK’s case, he and his manager at 3 Arts were still denying the women’s accounts right up until the NYT publication, trying to continue the silence, continuing to harm the victims. The quick “I didn’t know how much POWER I had over these women I am so POWERFUL” was awful and becomes one of those “sorry to those I offended (but some women were cool with it so how could I know ugh!?)” apology which does not display any of the things, honesty, openness, humility, that show that a person, or a society, has done the work, any work, to figure it out.

As to the Vulture’s question about the Comedy Cellar “Swim at Your Own Risk” bullshit audience warning: this shows how little this venue cares about this issue that they are willing to make it into a lame punchline. What if we instead recreated the conditions we are actually talking about, have men masturbating in front of cis het men in the audience without consent, or do it at their jobs, maybe these men might start to understand. And make those men know they can’t even discuss it without being labeled a troublemaker. Sorry, you showed up, you consented, says so on your ticket. You went to a hotel room *gasp*, you consented. You chose to work in a field dominated by men. You really want to say something and risk not being hired again? Also this isn’t a big deal, get over it.

What Comedy Cellar and these other venues are saying, as the industry says, as society says, if you have an issue, just don’t come. Stay home. And all of the other comedians have no choice but to consent to be on the lineup or lose the gig, which is, of course, not actually consent if not informed, ongoing, enthusiastic….remember?

And the worst part is that we are still talking about this. Good and funny women are wasting time and still losing spaces over this and we are not getting to hear from them. I just wasted time writing this which I probably won’t send. [I did send but they didn’t quote me.] And now there’s another venue I can’t go to, though I want to support the comics I have been supporting my whole life. 

My good friend Emily Flake said it all in an illustration which has LCK taking the mic away from the female comic on stage and using it to masturbate while she helplessly tries to get the attention that has been taken from her. Because that’s the hardest part. It was so hard to get here in the first place, and now how do we take the mic back and get him off the stage?

This is of course a white male privilege and power issue. I’ve become obsessed with problematic fav Latino rapper 6ix9ine (who incidentally is funnier than any of these comedians!) He did something really stupid a few years ago when he was 17 or 18, was present dancing around, not participating, when sex acts were performed by others with a minor, then he reposted on social media the video “the grown men” had uploaded. I find his story kinda believable, that the girl had asked him how old he was, which made him think she was worried about him being underage (he’s a babyface.) But whatever the truth, he showed up at court, went to jail, was on probation, (now in jail on other non-sexual charges. Free 6ix9ine!) Despite his tremendous fan base, most of the online commenters call him (maybe inaccurately) a pedophile, (inaccurately) a rapist, wishing him prison and death. He knows it was wrong and why, apologized to the mother and the girl, but that community isn’t having it. And meanwhile LCK, a grown grown grown white man with predominantly white man fans, admitted criminal sexual assault on multiple women over many years, traumatized them, silenced them, hurt their careers, continued to deny and obfuscate with the help of some of the most powerful people in comedy, and the whole white male world just wants to keep minimizing this, saying “it’s not like he raped anyone,” wants to get back to normal so we can laugh and go back to thinking that this is ok behavior. I mean the white male president of the US did worse than both of them and he’s the white male president of the US, right?

…Just a lil coda since I wrote this Nov 14 and since then the genius everyone was mourning came back repressed repressive oldmanning it about Parkland survivors and gender queer kids which inspired this wonderful rant by a person I don’t know. Is “oldmanning” ageist? Don’t answer that- I don’t think I care this time. Love ya and this crazy biz! ha ha ha ha ha.