It was a joke about a mother, cocaine and Walmart that triggered the man.
He was sitting with a woman at the Laugh Factory in Chicago this winter, shouting excitedly in response to a drug joke when, after being needled about his relationship with the woman, he said she was his mother.
So when Joe Kilgallon, the next comedian, took the microphone, a joke came to mind.
“It’s healthy – cocaine with your mum on a Monday,” Mr Kilgallon joked. “Get real Walmart vibes here.”
The man jumped out of his chair, swore and walked towards the stage, club officials and Mr Kilgallon recalled. A security guard grabbed the man before he could get on stage and pushed him out of the club through an emergency exit.
It ended up being nothing more than a minor confrontation, the kind that comedians have had to contend with for years, given that making fun of people and mixing it up with rowdies is basically part of the job description. But a few recent high-profile physical attacks on comedians — Will Smith slapping Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars in March and a man attacking Dave Chappelle while performing at the Hollywood Bowl last week — have left comics stumped. ask if the stage becomes less safe, and has led some clubs and venues to take steps to increase their security during comedy shows.
Laugh Factory officials say that following the recent unrest, they have added cameras and metal detectors and increased the number of security guards at some of their locations. They made some additions – “This is not a UFC match!” “We don’t care about your political affiliation!” – to the standard monologue about two-drink minimums that people hear when they walk through the door. Last weekend, Atlanta’s Uptown Comedy Corner hired an off-duty cop to beef up its security, moved one of its guards closer to the stage and began using metal detector rods to check on patrons. and their bags at the door. And the Hollywood Bowl said it had put in place its own “additional security measures” following the attack on Mr Chappelle.
“When an actor goes on stage, what is his sole purpose?” asked Judy Gold, the comedian and author of “Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble.” “To make you laugh. That’s it.”
“When you take the comedian’s intent out of the formula and decide ‘I’m going to take this joke as I see it, instead of how the comedian intended it,'” she said, ” and then say “I did it” I don’t like that joke, I want that person canceled, silenced or beaten up, I mean, it’s just terribly sad.
In interviews, comedy club owners and comedians themselves expressed varying degrees of concern about recent events. While some spoke of a worrying increase in audience outbursts ahead of the Oscars, others cautioned against confusing what happened to Mr. Rock and Mr. Chappelle and drawing too general conclusions.
Trevor Noah approached the situation with comedy last week, when he cautiously stepped onto the stage of his Comedy Central program, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” under the watchful eye of a man in a cut-out. black wind that said “Security” that seemed to whisper in a Secret Service-style earpiece as Mr. Noah opened the show.
Noam Dworman, the owner of the Comedy Cellar in New York, said he viewed the Smith-Rock confrontation as a very specific “isolated instance” in which Mr Smith appeared to be trying to embarrass Mr Rock more than physically hurt him. . Seeing a member of the public attack Mr Chappelle was concerning, he said, but could be part of a larger trend.
“It just seems like the violence is creeping up on us,” Mr Dworman said, citing recent riots and protests that have turned violent. “We have a lot of people who equate words with violence. And the logical extension of equating words with violence is to say that it is reasonable to respond to words with violence.
Some comedians dismissed concerns about their personal safety, noting that they are, for the most part, not big names like Mr. Rock and Mr. Chappelle. Several have made it clear that they have no intention of softening their hardware. But some worried that societal forces, including the bitter debates of the Trump years and the hardships faced by many people during the pandemic, had left people increasingly jittery — and less willing to crack a joke.
Jamie Masada, the owner of the Laugh Factory, said he advised his comedians to consider that some audience members have spent much of the past two years in their apartments during a grueling pandemic. Mr Kilgallon said he believed that after so much time alone, ‘people don’t know how to act in public’ – whether in comedy clubs, bars or sporting events.
Comedy clubs have a long history of employing bouncers and security guards to deal with the occasional customer who has been overserved or heckles a little too much. And long before Mr. Smith took to the Oscars stage to slap Mr. Rock in retaliation for a joke about his wife, there were scattered instances of people confronting comedians during their sets or, in some cases, physically assaulting them.
In the aftermath of the Oscars slap in the face, some comedians have warned against the potential for copy cats. Not only was Mr. Smith not kicked out of the Dolby Theater after hitting Mr. Rock, he received a standing ovation shortly after when he received the Best Actor Oscar. (He was later banned from the Oscars for 10 years.)
“These people gave him a standing ovation and no punishment,” Ms Gold said of Mr Smith. “We all said there would be copycat attacks. And there was.”
The attack on Mr. Chappelle was murkier. A man carrying a gun tackled Mr Chappelle onstage at the Hollywood Bowl, where he was appearing as part of ‘Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival’. The Los Angeles City Attorney charged Isaiah Lee, 23, with four misdemeanors in connection with the attack, including assault and battery and possession of a weapon with intent to assault; Mr. Lee pleaded not guilty.
Los Angeles police have not released any information about the motive for Mr Lee’s attack on Mr Chappelle, whose comedy has caused controversy in the past. Mr. Chappelle discussed the encounter at another comedy show in Los Angeles later in the week, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Mr Chappelle told the audience that he spoke to Mr Lee after the incident and said Mr Lee said he did it to bring attention to the plight of his grand- mother, who had been forced out of her neighborhood by gentrification, the trade publication reported.
“More than the incident itself, it’s the reaction that people have and say – say it’s an ongoing or repeated thing,” said Angelo Sykes, co-owner of Uptown Comedy Corner, who reinforced his safety after Mr. Chappelle’s attack. . “When you hear these things, it makes you say, ‘OK, we can’t take these risks. We have to be on the safe side.
In phone interviews last week, several Los Angeles comedians said the attacks had been a topic of conversation between comics after shows. Ms Gold described some of her fellow comedians as ‘tired and weary’ and said others were ‘freaking out’.
Comedy, she noted, is often a work in progress. “We don’t know where the line is until we present our material,” she said. “The public informs us.”
Tehran Von Ghasri, a Los Angeles-based comedian, was among those who said a growing share of “hypersensitive” audiences seemed to be coming to shows and inviting confrontation, “looking to be offended” – or both.
Mr Kilgallon said social media was also to blame. He has noticed that members of the public are now quick to pull out their phones if a controversial topic is being discussed or a tense moment arises. But he said the fundamentals of comedy remain the same.
“For the past five years people have come up to me after a show and said, ‘It must be hard these days to do comedy – everyone is so sensitive,'” Mr Kilgallon said. And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not. I play in the bluest parts of the country and some of the reddest parts of the country. If you’re funny, whatever the joke, people laugh.