I took a breath before I posted this. I even saved the draft, worked out and came back to it to see if I could let go of some of the... shock? Anger? Angst? Nope. Still there. I'm not trying to beat a dead horse or breath oxygen into a dying fire, but I wanted to be as honest, concise and calm as possible for this.
There is an item floating around in the news about an LA comic, a friend of mine, Ari Shaffir and his unprovoked verbal attack on an overweight, one armed female comic -- Damienne Merlina, an acquaintance I've known for many years. I'd always thought she was sweet and secretly always thought it was super metal that her arm had been RIPPED off in a car accident and kind of cool that she made jokes about it.
I like Ari, we have always been cool. I am writing this because I believe the subtext behind the events that followed sort of transcend the stage and really speak to a major problem in our society.
When I heard what he said, I thought there definitely had to be two sides to that story. Maybe she had called him a name and it was a proper fight. I believe in a no-holds-barred/equal opportunity offender type of comedy as long as everyone is willingly participating. I think it levels the playing field and sort of forces people to be mindful of what they say, knowing that once you put something out there, you can't control the responses. That rule applies to not just comedy, but anytime you publicly state an opinion... As I am reminded every time I use Twitter.
His attack was mean but, above all, unprovoked, which is what scared me.
As comics, we are supposed to use our "powers" for good. Powers we developed because, perhaps in our lives, we have been the target of unprovoked attacks. When I was seven a boy kicked me until I bled because he decided he didn't like that I was funny. When I was on tour with Last Comic Standing, I had a comic threaten to hit me because he hated that I'd won and that I existed. I'm not saying this for sympathy. I'm saying this because every human knows what it feels like to be attacked just for being themselves.
Ari's clip was an independent entity. There hadn't been a roast battle, there hadn't even been a Twitter tiff. This was from a comedy special, now coming to light, no doubt because my friend has his own show -- and he just went off on a woman that he didn't think mattered.
We've all been there, onstage. You say something you don't mean, you make fun of something on accident but... This wasn't that. This wasn't crowd work. This was a rehearsed set. This was pointed.
Her response was heartfelt and sad. She mentioned how hard her life had been, which, in a horrible way, is sort of irrelevant. What is germane to the story is that she chose to address his comments with poise, tears and positivity. I can applaud that... to a degree. I suppose that's how she felt comfortable standing up for herself. As comics we are taught to fight back with words -- she did, her words just weren't funny, something she was, sadly, faulted for. Should she have used it as a platform to show off her comic skills? Maybe. But her way of dealing with it certainly wasn't wrong.
So that happened. A male comic attacked a female comic he barely knew and it really really hurt her feelings. Horrible. And what happened after is sort of worse.
I tweeted that Comedy Central should be ashamed that they aired that clip. Some were quick to point out that I had done a bit on that network where I said someone's name and shamed them. Here is the difference, and I can't believe I even have to explain this.
In my bit about a sociopath ex-boyfriend who had wronged me in a horrific way, lying to me about his mother having cancer, who he was and everything else. They bleeped out his name when I used it (at least in the version I was shown). Regardless, my attack was a defensive response to a psychopath who involved me in his dangerous choices. Just because I didn't put that all in the Comedy Central version, doesn't mean it didn't happen -- for God's sake I had eight minutes to tell the story.
Regardless, even if you feel I was wrong in that, it was me going on the defense after shots had been fired and I was more than prepared to deal with whatever flak was to come my way.
This girl did nothing to warrant this.
It wasn't a conversation, it wasn't a fight between comics. That's what's scary. She was just a woman who a man decide wasn't acceptable looking and so he put her on blast. Men do it all the time: Donald Trump's favorite past time is calling Rosie O'Donnell fat. Women's looks, fertility and age are always the first things men attack when they are angry. It's sad.
Do we live in a society that complains too much? Absolutely. Is it right to just attack someone, publicly, for something they can't help when they have never done anything to you? Absolutely not. Is it okay if it's Kim Kardashian? Absolutely.
It's not about comedy rules, it's about a moral compass, and I think in the name of "our art" we often forget to check in with it from time to time. If we're going to say that "hey, he's a comic, everyone is fair game," then lets make it really fair! Let's do specials where we just rip apart mentally handicapped children and cancer patients. Let's sharpen our claws on people with MS and really dig into babies born with genetic defects. Let's just do anything for a laugh and hope we never have to deal with repercussions. Is there a town square where we can bring out the crippled and yell at them?
Damienne's act is a lot of self-deprecation. She knows she is overweight with one arm; she points it out. But because she isn't famous, she didn't have the benefit for getting in front of those insults before they hit her. All we saw was Ari's take on her.
It comes down to this: A man found the shape of a woman's body unacceptable so she was publicly humiliated. This is not a new concept to our society. Looking like that, she was asking for it... Sound like a familiar phrase, anyone?
Would it have been a bigger deal if she was black? If he had said "an annoying black girl?" "An annoying Mexican chick?" "A fat Muslim loser?" Oh, you better believe it. Apologies would have been issued left and right. Shows cancelled. Tears shed.
But she's just a fat white girl and by daring to show her face or try to make a living? She was asking for it.
What's scarier is no one seemed to personally speak out. Sure, some websites posted the video, but I saw no female comics of influence stand up for her. If you're a female comic or just a comic, and you took a stand and I didn't see it, then I'm sorry. I tweeted my thoughts about how this was wrong and scary. I didn't even direct them to Ari -- I just referenced what had happened and said that Comedy Central should be ashamed. One genius wrote me back and said "It's not Comedy Central's job to censor the comics." Clearly he had never done a set on TV before. If he had said something anti-Ford or Dorito, or whatever their sponsor is, would have been bleeped? If not, then are we just gonna live in a society where -- if you're ratings are good -- you can pick on smaller people for fun? If you want to bring the idea of Freedom of Speech into it, then let's go balls deep with law terms: Defamation of Character, anyone?
The amount of men that were basically saying "she's a comic; she should just take it" is absurd. Women are just supposed to keep quiet and "take it," and when they fight back then they are "bitches" or "cunts" or something else horrific that I know I've been called just because I dare to speak my mind. Ashley Judd said something negative about a college basketball team and she got rape threats. Do any of these men have mothers?
What's odd is this: As much as women are put down in our society and as "fragile" and "sensitive" and "unstable" as we are told we are ( I'm gonna get a lot of fun hate tweets from guys who have "69" in their handles and have three followers but...) when men (some men) feel wronged or feel that they are owed something, let's say female attention, acceptance, a cool spot at the lunch table, on occasion, they lash out violently. I don't see any women shooting up schools because they feel left out or rejected by the opposite sex. I don't see women often raping men because they need to feel power. This isn't about women being better than men, this is about reactions that have become commonplace.
So let me get this straight: When a man feels rejected (and obviously I'm not an idiot who hates men and think all men are rapists but... women don't rape as often or shoot up schools or movie theaters) he is allowed to go out and take it out on a woman and she is supposed to just take it and if she lashes out, then she's a bitch.
Got it. Again, super pumped for the future of our country, guys.
I'm disgusted at how everyone kept silent. I'm disgusted that there is no sense of what's right or wrong. There is no debate here: What he did was wrong, and all the people faulting her in anyway are wrong. Only an insane person with three followers and an egg for a profile picture would disagree.
We're quicker to threaten to KILL someone over wasting water on an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge than we are to defend a woman who was humiliated simply for living.
And we all keep silent for selfish reasons. People are afraid to get their hands dirty; they are afraid it will affect their careers, or they will be shunned by their peers.
None of that will happen. This isn't McCarthyism. If you work hard on your own merits and stand up for what's right, then you have no one to answer to. Truth is, this story won't even be a subject of discussion in a week -- it barely is now. I'm writing this because it needed to be written. I'm using the little fame I have to make my point heard.
I am not an unknown comic. I'm not a struggling comic. I'm also not afraid of anyone. Girls, don't be afraid. Please. The more you stay silent, the more things stay the same.
I am writing this because, as Billy Crystal said in Mr. Saturday Night, "It's a comic's job, when he sees bullshit, he calls bullshit."
I'm a comic, and I'm doing my job. This post wasn't funny, but neither was what happened.