Abuse in comedy: Stand-ups share their stories | Trigger warning as they tell of harrowing experiences

Abuse in comedy: Stand-ups share their stories

Trigger warning as they tell of harrowing experiences

Inevitably this section comes with a strong trigger warning. We cannot stress that enough.

Here are just some of the stories comedians shared when completing our survey about the levels of safety in the industry, and some of their experiences are harrowing

In addition, and slightly beyond the scope of this study, several comedians complained of bullying online and of false rumours being spread about them, which they felt jeopardised their careers. And others expressed a feeling of being excluded from the circuit for being ‘different’ in some way.

WOMEN

I was gigging at a London university about Six years ago. I invited a male member of the audience on stage. I only realised how drunk he was when he got onto the stage. His mates were shouting that he was a virgin so I said: ‘Do you want to touch a real woman’s arm?’ I held my arm out and he grabbed my breast. His mates cheered and the rest of the audience had different reactions. I felt humiliated but determined to carry on with the gig. There was a security guard nearby who did nothing. I think everyone was shocked but still. Eventually the compere came back on to sort of help me out as I couldn’t really get the guy off the stage. Afterwards I felt really upset and humiliated. I like to think that if this happened now, people around me would have reacted differently. Maybe not much better, but a bit better.  

Once. I was coming back from a gig around midnight when I lived in Balham. I had been dropped off in a shared car at the top of the Northern line and had travelled home from there. A guy followed me from the high street onto my small side street and started gaining speed. I found my keys in time and got into my flat. I turned round once the door had slammed. There was a circular window in the door and he was banging his head and shoulders against the door looking right at me trying to get it open. I rang the police station the next day. They said I should have dialled 999 on the night and not waited til the next day. I felt very scared coming back from gigs the next few nights. I got cabs from Balham station, the minicabs. I explained to them what had happened. I only lived a 5 min walk from the station. They were just completely emotionless and said it would be £5 as that was their minimum charge. After a few days I stopped doing that as I couldn’t afford it. I just started walking with my keys in my hand. 


I was raped by a comic in front of another comic in his Edinburgh flat. He punched the wall shouting and repeatedly threatened me, and held his hand round my neck until I lay down and relented. They both still consider we had sex. I cannot be in a room with either of them and will pull gigs rather than be so. The only gig I did with the perpetrator he slapped my arse on stage.  I don't "out" him because a) I am scared of him, if I hadn't been scared of him it wouldn't have happened.  It's a scary event. b) He is very popular and the circuit would consider me a slutty liar. I check on women working with him now and then, and he seems OK, but I can't carry the burden of the shitstorm that would arrive at me if I named him. I would lose work and friends and would feel as scared and vulnerable and exposed as I did in his flat. I'd rather leave it behind me and hope.

No problems for many years but in the past had audience member getting very aggressive and physically threatening and the promoter assuming it was part of my job to deal with it. Once was in Kent where an audience member threatened me with a bottle. I walked off stage and the manager was very surprised that I hadn't dealt with it 'professionally'.  I was very shaken.

I was performing on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe and a woman heckler came in drunk . We had a bit of a row as I tried to send her out of the venue for being disruptive and shitty to me. I was alone doing a solo show, with absolutely no security, just me and the audience. The bloke with her got up and got right in my face and went to glass me, but didn’t, thank god. I’m from a rough end of Essex and Ive seen some shit in my time, but this took the piss. I haven’t been back to Edinburgh Fringe since. 

There is a promoter of an open mic gig  who repeatedly comments on female acts bodies and is inappropriately touchy; it makes me feel very uncomfortable.  

Arriving early to one open mic gig, the promoter was like a caricature of a creepy Hollywood exec, putting his arm round me, flirtatiously telling me I'd go far if I stuck with him, it was gross. But I was brand new and felt leaving or saying something would have been very unprofessional.

I have seen female acts face violent misogynistic heckles from audience members and not be thrown out. Where I live (Walthamstow) has seen a spare of violent muggings and some sexual assaults and I stopped gigging so frequently as I was scared to come back after gigs. The policy of 'staying til the end' at open mics disproportionately discourages women from doing comedy as often this means coming home alone very late

I have come off stage and had men touch me and try to kiss me without my consent many times. They think because I’ve been on stage and performed that I’m public property.

I was raped by a male comedian in Melbourne at the end of 2016. He is a stand-up and I am an improviser , and t it has stopped me interacting with the standup world. During the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year I was triggered by seeing him around enjoying himself and interacting with my friends and other women. I feel unsafe and avoid anywhere he will be. I have told others and the police but have not completed my police statement yet. I have informed several places he works and he has been let go. But my story is not widely known and he remains a popular comedian that is continuing to pursue women through his work.

A promoter has made it clear I won't work for him until I sleep with him.  I named him on a forum and was told I have to understand he had mental health issues.  I have post-traumatic stress disorder from being raped. But apparently my mental health issues at the thought of gong back to ask him for work don't seem to need to be as understood.

When I first started, I starting talking to a comic and slept with him. He started getting quite toxic - taking a lot of my money and not giving it back, making me buy him drinks, saying horrible things about me to me, threatening to hit me if I didn’t let him into my flat. He also started coming out with some pretty abhorrent racist, sexist, homophobic stuff. I stopped talking to him. Recently, I have found out he has been telling lots of other comics and promoters personal, sexual details about me. Now I worry who knows what about me before they’ve even met me. I confronted him about it and he just laughed it off. There is no authority to turn to to have a word with him. I’m honestly not surprised people name and shame in Facebook posts, because who are we meant to turn to?

I have been approached after gigs by another comedian where he was trying to hit on me in quite an aggressive manner. He was making me very uncomfortable and in order to get out of the situation I had to order a taxi and quickly leave. 

Being refused gigs or bookings because I refused sexual favours to a promoter or refused to indulge him. Seems that several promoters (no matter how well you do the job) have a blacklist of female performers they exclude because they refuse to ‘play ball’ regarding sexual favours. There are several promoters and bookers who have criminal convictions but no checks are made.

When I was 19, a male comedian asked me to see him outside of stand-up gigs. I went along thinking we could be friends and I did not see it as a date. While walking me home he pushed me against a wall and tried to kiss me. He did it again in a car park near my house. He kept trying to convince me to go home with him but I didn't want to. I ended up giving him half a hand job and went home. From that day on I feared seeing him at gigs and even now, six years on, when I see him or his name on a line up it gives me the creeps. I've never told anyone in person about it.

On a car share back from London to Leeds the male comedian driving pulled up the windows and turned the heating all the way up. He said the air con or windows wouldn’t come down until one of us was naked and he wasn’t undressing. He also kept saying things like how at the next services we should go round the back and get naked or pick up a stranger to get naked with. I kept trying to avoid the questions. He also kept saying that he was a big shot in comedy and I was just an open spot etc. This went on for hours until we were close to Leeds and he gave in and let the windows down. I was so hot, dehydrated and scared. When we got home at 4am, I got out of the car. I’ve never heard from him again.

Once  I woke up to find a comedian who was supposed to be driving me home  having sex with me after I had passed out in his car.


FROM A TRANS WOMAN

I had a promoter threaten to beat me up ‘because I know you're not a woman so it wouldn't be a problem’ this was said on the Chortle forums, when they existed, I went to the police about it and was told: ‘Maybe don't go online, we don't really take that as a real threat’ I used to have rape threats from audiences often enough to have a stock putdown to deal with them.  various promoters have been really creepy and because of the nature of the industry no one ever decides not to gig for them.  There are several comics I've worked with who will MC and do incredibly homophobic, misogynistic and transphobic jokes before bringing me on stage, which makes me feel in danger in front of an audience, and if the audience likes the gags, it makes me hate the audience.

MEN


When I was an open spot I'd often have to walk home long distances late at night and was mugged on one occasion.  Luckily I was able to fight them off - I'm over 6ft and 14 and a half stone, but it was still a horrible experience and I'd hate to have been in that situation as a woman or a man without my size.


I witnessed a (male) MC be groped by a member of a stag do just before he brought me on stage at Portsmouth Jongleurs. The whole stag do was allowed to stay, they proceeded to shout racist and homophobic abuse while I was on stage. they were still allowed to stay.  I was threatened by someone claiming to be a member of the English Defence League  in Basingstoke. They were convinced to sit down by staff but allowed to stay. There are however lots of good examples of clubs that keep comics safe who should be held up as examples of good practice, The Glee and The Stand are obvious examples of this.

I've never had any really bad experiences on the comedy circuit, but I feel that's just because I've been lucky and I'm a moderately large man. When I was starting out as an open micer I'd often do some stupid things like getting lifts home with other acts who'd I thought had too much to drink, I'd walk home long distances through the dark, occasionally I've slept the night in parks waiting for the first trains to start running. I did these things because I couldn't afford a ride home in a taxi, uber, etc. Paying open spots a bit of money to help with transport costs, even just a small amount, would mean young/new comedians wouldn't have to take the risks I did. 

I have been pressed against a wall and had my personal space invaded by an older gay comic. As a man, I’ve been asked on three separate occasions to distract much older and more established comedians on a night out who were each drunk and being sexually suggestive towards young female acts who weren’t at all interested in them

As a gay act I've had an number of audience members touch me in ways I felt uncomfortable with following shows. Usually this is treated as a bit of banter but it is incredibly uncomfortable. Some audience members seem to think that frank discussion of my sex life on stage is an invitation to get involved off stage. I also regularly hear of issues with promoters, particularly those offering progression from open spots acting inappropriately towards female acts. There is a culture where warnings are passed around but nothing is done as acts feel as though doing something will cause damage to their career or mark them as difficult to other promoters. The lack of protection for all acts but particularly those low down the pecking order is incredibly concerning.

For a while I acquired a male London stalker. He would turn up at all my gigs, threaten me physically and always sit front and centre in the audience.

One promoter repeatedly sexually assaulted me when I was performing for him in drag. Police were involved but I decided not to press charges.

I had an audience member climb onstage trying to attack me for dealing with his heckle. There was no security at the gig so his friends had to remove him and keep him sat there till the police could arrive 40 minutes later. After the gig he left threatening messages on my website and said he’d see me at other gigs they knew I was listed for and get me then. Luckily it died down but then he turned up to an EdFringe show I was doing a year later, also with no security in. Thankfully the rest of the audience helped me get rid of him.

At a North East gig, comedians had a hotel room as a green room. When alone with one comic, he was high on coke and he gets his penis out without my consent and starts pissing in the sink and then announces: ‘You'd probably like this with you being a poof.’

In Edinburgh, one of the audience threatened to ‘kick the shit out of me’ after my gig. The venue refused to assist me in throwing him out. He waited around after the show. We had it out. The police said it was a drunken scrap and wouldn't do anything about it The venue were no help at all. I'm a big boy and I can handle myself, but frankly, nobody should have to deal with any level of physical assault for doing their job.

FROM A NON-BINARY PERFORMER

After learning that I sometimes perform in drag, an audience member grabbed me by my dick after a show. When I explained he had just sexually assaulted me, he laughed in my face. Also, one well-established male comedian has also sexually assaulted me twice. Both in Edinburgh. Once in the Loft Bar. Once in Bristo Square. Both times in front of dozens of people. Both times no one did anything to stop him.

Published: 2 Aug 2018

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