Ah, comedy. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s an interesting thing, it’s one of my favourite things and yet it can be a dangerous thing. Do you remember in Friends how Chandler (the one with the homophobia) often used to say he used comedy as a defence mechanism? If anything became uncomfortably emotional Chandler would crack a joke and the matter at hand would be pushed aside to be solved another day. By Monica. Oh, that Chandler Bing, what a card. He’s simply too funny to be held accountable for his actions. Don’t question him, look he doesn’t like it. You have to laugh and besides… he’s a nice guy.
I’m not about to reveal some sub-plot in which Chandler sexually assaulted anybody, rather I want to demonstrate how a good sense of humour is often used to cover or excuse bad behaviour. In an environment where calling someone out is already seen as rather po-faced, calling a comedian out (particularly when you too are a comedian) is just plain party-pooping. In spite of this, recently there has been a surge in women comedians reporting male comedians who have behaved inappropriately (and what a euphemism that is) or sexually assaulted them.
As is tradition in these matters in amongst supportive, even corroborating responses, has nestled denial. What do people base this confident denial on? What’s the evidence of innocence? Say it with me: ‘Oh, no but he’s a nice guy’.
He’s a nice guy, he makes me laugh! Dare I say it, he’s charming. Yes once he touched me a bit weird on the hip but once he explained to me why it was just a joke I realised that I was being sensitive, nay, humourless. And yes he goes for very young, new, some might say vulnerable comics, but we all have a vice so relaaaaax. Let he who hasn’t slipped a mate the tongue cast the first stone, am I right? He’s lovely, I’m sure it was a joke, I can vouch for him. He wouldn’t do that. He’s a nice guy.
We like to think predators are obvious. There are plenty of comedians and promoters who have had rumours, accusations or reports about them where frankly I have felt, if anything, vindicated. ‘Aha!’ I think, ‘Gotcha! I knew it.’ But sometimes the stories are about someone I’ve thought of as an ally, someone I’ve had a pint with, someone quite woke, someone I love to see perform. Y’know, a nice guy.
Don’t fall for it. Don’t ever let that be your response. We are complicated, we have many facets and just because you haven’t seen the criminal side (let’s remember, because we so often forget and I include the police in this, sexual assault is a crime) doesn’t mean it’s not there. So, should all comedians with a whisp of dodge about them be ‘cancelled’ without question? No, this isn’t what I am saying. However, we must not dismiss reports based on whether or not we like the accused.
When we respond to reports (reports, not rumours) with the Nice Guy defence we aren’t trying to be fair, we aren’t being balanced. We’re saying ‘I don’t believe you’. We’re confirming the fear that if you want to do well in comedy, you are best off keeping your mouth shut unless you have a joke to deliver and keep it light. Literally grin and bear it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a part of an industry like that.
And hey, I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if your friend assaults you… they’re not your friend. And they’re not a nice guy.