Misogynists and rape apologists, start your engines! The newest contender in comedy's race to the bottom is Eddie Griffin, who's edging out Daniel Tosh for the title of Least Liked Human. Tosh, for those who've already blocked out the memory, is the oh-so-charming comedian who told an audience member that he'd find it hilarious if she got gang-raped.
Griffin followed on Tosh's heels a few days later when he performed at Tommy T's Comedy Club in Pleasanton on July 13. According to the San Jose Mercury News, audience member Fiona Walshe plans to file suit against both Griffin and the club over the comedian's harassing behavior. Walshe claims that Griffin started making jokes about her appearance when he noticed she wasn't laughing at his set. When he realized she was sitting with her female partner, Walshe claims, Griffin kicked it up a notch, thrusting his crotch into Walshe's face and offering to "show them a good time." (Because, as we know, all lesbians really need to set them straight is a good deep dicking, amirite, guys?) Walshe responded by tossing her drink in Griffin's face. He then allegedly threw water bottles and salt & pepper shakers at her and her partner as they exited the club.
Of course, Griffin thinks he's the one who was wronged -- when TMZ reported the story, he posted the following on his Facebook page:
"These TMZ bitches said I assaulted a 'WOMAN' at my show in cali. I don't know what kind of eyes these mutha fuckas got but that dyke bitch threw a glass of whatever she was drinkin' in my face. All over a joke about dyke bitches! ... Ya'll better retract your story before I sue ya'll bitch asses for defirmation of character!"
So, let's break this down:
I just typed, "Clearly, there are several issues with this," but then backspaced it because I'm not sure if it's only clear to me, or if other people understand why incidents like this are problematic (hint: it's because they represent how culturally acceptable things like rape, assault, and queer-bashing still are, despite all our hopes for the better). My biggest gripe is with the general consensus that, if assault or harassment happens inside a comedy club, it doesn't count as "real," but only as a "joke." Reputable news outlets are still reporting that Daniel Tosh is embroiled in controversy over a "rape joke," instead of calling it what it is: sexual harassment. Eddie Griffin thinks he can call a lesbian (who, by the way, never heckled him before he attacked her) a "dyke bitch" without being labeled a homophobe, and thrust his crotch into her face repeatedly without it being called sexual harassment or assault.
Each time there is public outcry over this kind of comedian behavior, comics argue two points: that his or her detractors just can't take a joke, or that the comedian's actions are a brave stand against censorship. Griffin's rep told the Huffington Post, "Eddie has never and will never censor his act .... Eddie's famous quote is, 'Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke. They shouldn't come to a comedy show.'" However, let's be quite clear: no one is expecting Griffin to censor himself. He can tell jokes about whatever subjects he likes. But Griffin's actions can't all be categorized as "jokes" just because they took place on a stage. When Tosh went from telling a joke about rape to directly threatening a specific audience member, he crossed from comedy into harassment. When Griffin went from teasing an audience member about her appearance to thrusting his pelvis in her face while taunting her sexuality, he crossed from comedy into harassment and assault. Let's not censor ourselves from accurately labeling these actions.
It's scary to admit how infuriating this is to me, because I know I run the risk of being written off as yet another "angry feminist." But I am angry, and nauseated, and disappointed. I believe that censoring my rage is dangerous, because assault and harassment aren't going to vanish from comedy (or the street, for that matter) if no one speaks up against them. There is no magical out-of-bounds zone when it comes to assault and harassment -- not even a comedy club. The same definitions apply, no matter the setting, and the same rules should be enforced. Imagine if one of your co-workers hopped up on your desk today and started humping your face. You might feel as Walshe did, "violated and stunned," and surprised at how "harsh and derogatory," his or her actions were. Your co-worker would be fired, because such behavior is unacceptable in a workplace. When comedians and other entertainers go to work, the same rules should apply.
Here's the thing: Rape sucks. Sexual harassment sucks. Comedy isn't supposed to -- it's supposed to be funny. Yet every time a comedian isn't creative, witty, or hard-working enough to come up with a good joke and blurts out a downright abusive remark instead, he justifies it by claiming that all those "angry feminists" just don't understand his 'art.' He hides behind the idea that being transgressive is, by its very nature, artistic. In doing so, he reveals himself as a weak artist -- an artist who, frankly, sucks.