Two weeks have passed since Daniel Tosh joked that it would be funny if five guys raped a woman in his audience and the shit hit the fan. But did no one learn anything about how to handle a heckler?
Seemingly not. Comic Eddie Griffin
is going to may be sued — and he took a thrown drink to the face! — for taunting a female audience member about being a lesbian.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, Fiona Walsh, 39, of San Jose, went with her partner Leslie Champlin to go see Griffin perform at Tommy T’s Comedy Club. During the show, they sat in front of the stage. As the set wore on, Walsh thought the comedian was drunk and not very funny. Onstage, Griffin noticed Walsh wasn’t laughing and (drunkenly perhaps) told her she looked “rigid” and like a “librarian.” At some point during all this, he noticed Champlin’s hand on Walsh’s shoulder and started yelling at the couple about their sexuality; he offered to have sex with them, saying he would “show them a good time,” and pumped his hips in Walsh’s face from the stage. She then threw a drink at him and he threw water bottles right back. The couple was “escorted out” of the club while other audience members hollered.
Again we have a case of a comedian 1) acting like a major dick to his audience and 2) not being funny while doing so. But this situation is different than the recent one with Daniel Tosh.
After the Daniel Tosh happened, the defense-of-Tosh we kept hearing again and again was “BUT YOU SHOULDN’T GO TO A COMEDY CLUB IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE COMEDY!” The thing is, I agree with the logic of that argument — just not in this particular case with Daniel Tosh. The moment Tosh joked with the audience about how it would be funny if she got “raped by, like, five guys” just then, I lost all sympathy for him as a comedian dealing with a heckler. The reality is that rape is pervasive in our culture, it is not taken seriously, and joking about a gang rape could very well be felt as a threat by the woman he directed it towards. Did Tosh mean it as a threat? Presumably not. But who knows how the woman felt leaving the theater; it wouldn’t be unreasonable to fear that Tosh’s remarks could be taken as an incitement of sexual violence. I’m reminded of that famous lesson about free speech we all hear about shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater.
This situation feels different to me. First of all, Walsh wasn’t, by all accounts, heckling Griffin during his set; she just wasn’t laughing. And yes, what Griffin said was rude and offensive and at least somewhat based on the ignorant assumption that lesbians just need a good dicking from a man. But honestly? I don’t see how what he said onstage was explicitly a threat (which in my view, would justify Walsh’s freakout). An offer to have sex with two lesbians strikes me as more of a dumb comment about a straight man’s fantasy than a legitimate possible incitement to sexual violence. And although I hate to say it because it sounds like I’m apologizing for this jerk, some people like being mocked onstage by a comedian; it is the reason some people sit in front of the stage, as this couple did. Presumably if he had chosen to pick on two people who were wearing military uniforms or two people who were wearing Wisconsin cheese hats he would have made jokes about them as well. He picked on them for their sexuality because it was easy. But sexuality inherently isn’t an off limits topic and never has been for any comedian ever.
Fiona Walsh shouldn’t have thrown a drink at him. (Although I can understand why she’d want to: she told the San Jose Mercury News, “He was thrusting his genitals at my face, and it felt like it was the only defense I had — to throw my drink at him to stop.”) And Eddie Griffin certainly should not have thrown water bottles at Walsh and her partner; that is extraordinarily unprofessional. Now Walsh is threatening to sue the comedian and the owners of the club if she doesn’t get an apology.
I hope she does get her apology; she deserves it. But more importantly, I hope comedians the world over learn how to handle hecklers (or people just not enjoying their show) even .003 percent better.