After the attacks by Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, comedy locations increase security

It was a joke about a mother, cocaine, and Walmart that blew up the man.

He had been sitting with a woman at Chicago’s Laugh Factory this winter, shouting enthusiastically in response to a drug joke when, after being haunted by his relationship with the woman, he said it was his mother.

So when Joe Kilgallon, the next comedian, picked up the microphone, a line jumped into his head.

“It’s healthy: cocaine with your mom on Monday,” recalled Mr. Kilgallon jokingly. “Get some real Walmart vibes here.”

The man jumped from his chair, swore and headed for 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.

In the end it was nothing more than a minor confrontation, the kind comedians have had to contend with for years, as making fun of people and confusing him with hecklers is basically part of the job description. But a couple of recent high-profile physical attacks on comedians … Will Smith slaps Chris Rock on the Oscars stage in March and a man facing Dave Chappelle while performing at the Hollywood Bowl last week – left some comics wondering if the stage is becoming less safe and led some clubs and venues to take steps to strengthen their safety during comedy shows.

Laugh Factory officials say that in the wake of the recent riots, 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!” – the standard monologue on the minimum of two drinks that people hear as they walk through the door. Uptown Comedy Corner in Atlanta last weekend hired an off-duty police officer to bolster his security, moved one of his guards closer to the stage, and started using metal detection wands to check patrons and their bags at the door. And the Hollywood Bowl said it implemented its “additional security measures” after the attack on Mr. Chappelle.

“When a comedian takes the stage, what is his only goal?” asked Judy Gold, the comedian and author of “Yep, I can tell: when they come for comedians, we’re all in trouble.” “To make you laugh. That’s all.”

“When you take the comedian intent out of the formula and decide ‘I’m going to take this line the way I perceive it, instead of the way the comedian meant it,’” he said, “and then you say ‘I did.’ I don’t like that line, I want that person to be erased or silenced or beaten, ‘I mean, it’s just terribly sad.’

In interviews, cabaret owners and comedians themselves expressed varying degrees of concern about recent events. While some have spoken of a worrying increase in audience outbursts preceding the Oscars, others have warned against confusing what happened to Mr. Rock and Mr. Chappelle and drawing overly broad conclusions.

Trevor Noah addressed the situation with comedy last week when he cautiously stepped out onto the stage of his Comedy Central show, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” under the watchful eye of a man in a black anorak saying “Security” that seemed to be muttering into a Secret Service-style headset as Mr. Noah opened the show.

Noam Dworman, the owner of the New York Comedy Cellar, said he viewed the Smith-Rock fight as a highly specific “one-off” in which Mr. Smith seemed to try to embarrass Mr. Rock rather than physically hurt him. Seeing an audience member confront Mr. Chappelle was troubling, he said, but it could be part of a broader trend.

“It seems that violence is creeping on us,” Dworman said, citing recent riots and protests that have turned violent. “We have many 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 have ignored the concern for their personal safety, pointing out that they are not, for the most part, big names like Mr. Rock and Mr. Chappelle. Many made it clear that they had no intention of softening their material. But some feared that social forces, including the bitter debates of the Trump years and the hardships many faced during the pandemic, may have left people increasingly nervous and less willing to joke.

Jamie Masada, the owner of the Laugh Factory, said he advised his comedians to take into account 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 long alone, “people don’t know how to behave in public”, be it in cabarets, bars or sporting events.

Comedy clubs have long employed bouncers and security guards to deal with the one-time customer who has been over-served or is a little too disturbing. And long before Mr. Smith took the Academy Awards stage to slap Mr. Rock as punishment for a joke about his wife, there were scattered instances of people confront the comedians during their setsor in some cases, physically attacking them.

In the aftermath of the Oscars slap, some comics have warned of the potential for copy cats. Mr. Smith was not only not removed from the Dolby Theater after hitting Mr. Rock, but he received a standing ovation soon after when he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor. (Thing subsequently banned from the Oscars for 10 years.)

“These people gave him a standing ovation and no punishment,” Ms. Gold said of Mr. Smith. “We have all said that there will be imitative assaults. And there was “.

The attack on Mr. Chappelle was darker. A man with a gun confronted Mr. Chappelle on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, where he was appearing as part of him. “Netflix is ​​a joke: the festival. ” The Los Angeles City Attorney accused Isaiah Lee, 23, of four minor offenses in connection with the attack, including beating and possessing a weapon with the intent to attack; Mr. Lee pleaded not guilty.

LAPD has not released any information on Mr. Lee’s motive for attacking Mr. Chappelle, whose comedy has sparked controversy in the past. Mr. Chappelle discussed meeting at another comedy show in Los Angeles that week, according to The Hollywood reporters. Mr. Chappelle told the audience that he had spoken to Mr. Lee after the incident and claimed that Mr. Lee had said he did so to draw attention to the plight of his grandmother, who had been forced to leave her. neighborhood due to gentrification, the industry publication reported.

“More than the incident itself, it’s the reaction people are having and saying – saying this is an ongoing or repeating thing,” said Angelo Sykes, co-owner of Uptown Comedy Corner, who reinforced his safety after the attack on Mr. Chappelle. “When you hear those things you feel like, ‘OK, we can’t take that risk. We have to be safe. ‘”

In phone interviews last week, several comedians in Los Angeles said the attacks had been a topic of conversation among the comics after the shows. Ms. Gold described some of her fellow comedians as “tired and tired” and said others were “going crazy”.

Comedy, he noted, is often a work in progress. “We don’t know where the line is until we get our stuff out,” she said. “The public informs us”.

Tehran Von Ghasri, a Los Angeles-based comedian, was among those who said a growing share of “hypersensitive” audience members seemed to come to the shows and invite confrontation, “try to be offended” – or both.

Mr. Kilgallon said social media is also to blame. He noted that audience members are now ready to whip out their phones if a controversial topic is discussed or a tense moment arises. But he said the fundamentals of comedy remained the same.

“For the past five years, people have come to me after a show and said, ‘It must be hard these days doing comedies, they’re all so sensitive,’” said Kilgallon. “And I say, ‘No, it’s not.’ I perform in the bluest parts of the country and some of the redder parts of the country. If you’re funny, no matter what the joke, people laugh. “

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