Perhaps the biggest recurring theme in comedy over the past few years has been stand-ups lamenting that performance is no longer a safe creative space – that some fans control edgy content, always ready to tweet about something. an artist who makes a joke that crosses perceived lines. Many began confiscating phones before a performance, perhaps convinced that the biggest threat they faced was secretly hidden Galaxys and iPhones.
But the scene increasingly feels like a dangerous space in a much more literal sense.
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The world was shocked as Will Smith assaulted Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars in March. In another breach of stage security – although not a comedian attacked during their performance – actress Olivia Wilde was confronted at CinemaCon in Las Vegas last month by a bailiff delivering custody papers to Jason Sudeikis (who says he had no idea the papers would be served that way). And then Tuesday, Dave Chappelle was assaulted by a gunman who rushed onto stage while filming the Hollywood Bowl at the Netflix comedy festival Is a Joke.
After the Oscars, several comics expressed concern that Smith’s actions could lead to additional stage attacks. “Now we all have to wonder who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters,” Kathy Griffin said.
The concern seemed unwarranted – the Oscars incident felt like such a shocking outlier. But now, with Chappelle’s onslaught, there are growing concerns about the safety of live performers.
“The first reaction was, ‘Here we go again,’ the second was, ‘Nobody’s safe,'” says Curtis Shaw Flagg, president of The Laugh Factory Chicago, who had already seen an increase of unruly customer behavior during the pandemic (and even had stage charge attempts at his club). “We leave the comedians completely exposed. We allow them to exercise their creative speech on stage, but we do not take the necessary measures to ensure that they are protected. The security team is to blame for not taking adequate steps to ensure [attackers] didn’t even get to [the comics]. It’s their only job and there seems to have been a complete failure to do so.
Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman didn’t think the Oscars incident would inspire any more onstage attacks on comedians, but now he’s not so sure.
“What happened to Dave is actually much more disturbing [than Smith striking Rock], and goes beyond comedy,” Dworman says via text message. “It was not a spontaneous reaction to a slight perception – as bad as that was. It was premeditated and dangerous, and it seems to be part of a general tendency towards creeping violence in many segments of American life. “I’m very, very happy he’s okay. At Cellier, we still have security, but, of course, we’ll be on the lookout.”
Netflix released the following statement: “We care deeply about the safety of creators and we strongly defend the right of stand-up comedians to perform on stage without fear of violence.” A source from the streamer notes that security is handled by the sites and said Netflix is ”actively discussing security protocols for future events.”
YouTube Theater, the venue that hosts its upcoming Netflix shows Is a Joke, released a statement saying, “YouTube Theater has a robust security system for all of our events and is committed to providing a safe, comfortable and enjoyable entertainment experience. We follow a clear bag policy and require all guests to go through magnetometers before entering the venue.
Chappelle also released a statement saying he “refuses to allow last night’s incident to overshadow the magic of this historic moment.” After the fallout from his 2021 special The closest, who many criticized as transphobic and sparked protests from the streamer’s employees, the comedian made the seemingly prophetic comment, “You said you wanted a safe work environment at Netflix. Well, it looks like I’m the only one who can’t go to the office anymore.
The comics were almost entirely silent on Twitter following the incident, perhaps not wanting to be perceived as speaking for Chappelle, who is revered by many in the industry. But conservative comedian Nick Di Paolo, who says he got hit onstage in 2018, addressed the issue in his podcast on Wednesday.
“After the Will Smith case put the seed in some crackpots’ heads, it’s now a copy,” says Di Paolo (the suspect’s motive has yet to be reported). “It’s like any other crime… Comedian friends, protect yourselves.”
Flagg points out that several steps can be taken to increase security and notes that he has spoken to others in the comic space who are also taking such steps.
First, as odd as it may sound, audiences may need to be reminded before a show that comedy is not meant to be taken literally or personally (“[Attackers feel] in general, “I don’t like this joke, I feel offended, so now I’m going to escalate the situation and fight something verbal with something physical… there needs to be better communication before the ‘purchase of tickets’, he says). After that, the problem becomes logistics – making sure no weapons enter the room, having adequate security at hand, and creating space or obstacles (like a raised stage) between fans and talent. .
“It’s not really fair to comedians as professionals — you have to give them the chance to try and fail,” Flagg says. “Not every joke will work, someone probably won’t like one, but the point is to have a good time. The reaction they want is smiles, laughter, happiness. They are not looking to start a fight, or even an argument. I think somehow it got lost in translation.
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