I thought we were fighting for freedom of speech

Mitch Fatel's response to the US colonel who objected to his act

I am not Bob Hope. I have never purported to be Bob Hope, nor ever mislead anyone into thinking I’m Bob Hope. What I do purport to be is funny. My 25-year career of making people laugh, which includes two Comedy Central specials, bestselling CDs and winner of the HBO Comedy Festival Best Comedian award, is my ‘ammunition’ to argue this fact.

What my ammunition will never be able to fight, however, is that no matter what I do, no matter what credits or honors I attain, certain people sometimes will not be fans. Colonel Mark K Ciero, who complained about my show at RAF Lakenheath is one of those people.

He has that right, and I will never force him to listen to me or tell him he’s wrong for not being a fan. I’ll always be proud of the United States of America for ensuring that he has that right. What I also will be proud of is that someone who is not a fan doesn’t have the right to tell other people they can’t be fans.

This is the nature of entertainment and from the beginning of time people have argued why someone is entertaining or why they feel otherwise. It is why we have different genres of music, different TV shows and different types of comedy.

I have been blessed with a talent to make people laugh, but no matter how funny I am, some people just don’t get it. I have always made it very clear to whoever hires me to make sure they ‘get’ it.

Even though I was told when I was hired for this military tour that I could basically do my normal act, I still took it upon myself to self-edit certain bits that could be considered edgy until I ‘felt out’ the audiences and saw for myself what they wanted and responded to. My act is a celebration of women and of relationships. I sometimes make fun of women, and equally make fun of men.

The Lakenheath show was my last show of a seven-show tour and by then, I had seen that the act that Col Ciero hated was the one that got by far the best response from the men and women in our military. As a comic who thrives on bringing happiness to people, I would be the first to edit any and all jokes that made a majority of people uncomfortable.

All comedians know that to have a 100 per cent success rate in audiences is impossible, so if a person or soldier heard my jokes and walked out, I didn’t begrudge them this right. I have turned off many movies in the middle that others loved. I didn’t think it was my duty to remove those movies from the public. A comedian’s job, first and foremost, is to get laughs and if my shows weren’t getting laughs, I would have understood if I was fired or stopped.

That is why this line by Col Ciero baffles me:

‘On all accounts, I failed to stand up and take the sword from the attacker, the microphone from the comedian. Instead, I departed and reported. For those I left behind in the Liberty Club still under assault by the headliner, sorry. No airman, no human, deserves the depravity shrouded in comedy associated with our military.’

From that quote, one would have to assume the audience hated me, but actually quite the opposite was true, as this show was by far my greatest response yet.

Does Col Ciero think so little of his troops that he believes without his intervention they couldn’t have just left if they didn’t like the show? Not only didn’t they leave, this show absolutely destroyed! The laughs were so loud and uproarious that my usually 45 minute show took an hour to do.

It was also by far our largest meet and greet with service personnel - men and women alike - lined up around the corner for autographs and pictures. This, too, lasted about an hour.

Clearly, apologising for your troops finding happiness and joy in a comedian doesn’t make sense. One after the other, great men and women kept bestowing thanks upon me. I was both humbled and honored to bring this much joy to our wonderful troops. In fact, the Pentagon that week put out a review of my show, saying the attendance was fantastic and my response was overwhelming. I was also told over and over that they loved that I was doing classic jokes found on my older CDs - many of which the military personnel told me they listened to regularly while overseas.

Commanders at many of the other bases gave me coins, congratulations and told me it was the best show they had had at that installation. This show was the exact same show that Col Ciero said was depraved, so who is right?

In fact, seeing this response and overwhelming love further emboldened me to do a little more of my edgier material, since it seemed to be making everyone happy. My goal at every base was to bring entertainment, not to offend. This would not be my goal in thanking our amazing military. You will not find a bigger fan of the United States military than myself, which is why I jumped at the chance to do a tour for them.

In my 25 years of comedy, I have countless emails from soldiers overseas who listen to my CDs and thank me profusely for giving them the laughs they need during a difficult time. I find it ironic that one of the things our soldiers are fighting for, freedom of speech, is the one thing it seems Col Ciero felt he had a responsibility to shut down. To apologise to the audience for letting the show go on misleads the reader to thinking that in some way the audience was horrified, when quite the opposite was true. The audience responded by one applause break after the other. What those women and men understood that Col Ciero missed was that jokes are just that: jokes.

And as far as me being labeled an attacker, I ask the esteemed Colonel to find one attacker he’s ever met who gladly and happily lets the person being attacked simply leave the room if they don’t like the attack. His criticism is unfair at best and disingenuous at worst. He made entire judgments about the show without even staying until the end, where it becomes very obvious that my act is 100 per cent dedicated to the empowerment of women and clearly calls out any coward who ever would sexually assault a woman.

I also want to clear the air on something else that bothered me about Col Ciero’s assessment. I think he gives the reader a very unfair view of the show by leaving out some very pertinent information. The first is that many of my jokes, edgy or not, are about my beautiful wife, Jessica, and the power and joy of marriage.

My wife is the strongest female I have ever met. In fact, she is my hero and I can assure you she would never let me get away with any jokes that glorified hurting or assaulting women. A comedian needs to walk a line by saying things that are obviously pushing the envelope, but at the same time making it very obvious they wouldn’t really do these things. If Col Ciero thinks so little of his soldiers that he believes that a comedian joking about the way he made his wife marry him was by spiking her drink, would actually make an educated soldier sexually harass a woman, then the military has a much bigger problem than Mitch Fatel.

Another thing Col Ciero fails to mention is that every single show I did was announced as an adult show, with adult themes. In fact, my opening act, Bryan Ricci, mentioned many times that anyone who was offended easily should understand this is a comedy show, not a puppet show, and should probably leave.

Would Col Ciero also remove my CDs, which have the same exact jokes, from troops everywhere? At one base after another, tough, hardened heroes hugged me and told me my CDs got them through tough times in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would the military tell these soldiers to burn my CDs?

A live show is the same exact thing. If a soldier is so bereft of character that a comedian making an obvious joke about his wife giving him oral sex makes him sexually harass anyone, I shudder to think how they would behave in combat situations, after seeing movies like Rambo and Apocalypse Now.

Finally, one other line the Col wrote in his review baffles me:

’Then in his coup de grace, demonstrated how to physically push a lady into oral sex and remove the evidence.’

To just barely explain the premise of a joke, without telling the joke or its context, is very unfair. Nowhere in my act do I talk about forcing a girl to give me oral sex or getting rid of evidence of this assault. I do a joke where my wife tells me she ‘loves giving oral sex and so I childishly can’t wait and encourage her to go ahead. It begs reality to misconstrue this as ‘assault’.

Several years ago, I worked in Australia and a government official in the audience decided a joke I did was ‘gross’. The promoter of the festival liked the joke, but asked that I take it out, simply because this ONE individual didn’t like it. It wasn’t homophobic, racist or sexist… just gross. Even though this joke was getting a huge laugh from the audience, I was told I’d have to leave the country if I didn’t take it out of my act.

It felt like fascism to me, but since I was in a different country, I acquiesced to the demands. The audience, who liked the joke, never got to hear it again. I was horrified that in this situation one person felt they had the right to tell other people what they should and shouldn’t be able to hear or laugh at. I celebrated the fact that I lived in the US, where we are given the freedom and respect to make our own decisions as to what we want to listen to. I’m saddened to learn this may not be the case.

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Published: 19 Aug 2013



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