Many believe that audience manners have declined over the past few decades. It is now not uncommon for audience members to text or Facebook during a live show, rather than pay attention to the performer they paid to see. However in a disturbing new “trend”, comedian Tammy Pescatelli was forced to deal with physical violence toward her.
During a recent show at the Comedy Zone in Jacksonville, Florida, Pescatelli called out a woman for texting during the show. After exchanging banter the intoxicated audience member threw a wine glass at her. The comedian ducked out of the way of the flying object and the glass shattered, but wine still managed to get in her eye. The authorities were called however no arrest was made.
Perhaps what is most disturbing in Pescatelli’s case is the lack of desire to do anything about it by the authorities. In their eyes, since Pescatelli is a comedian she somehow provoked the audience member into behaving that way.
In a phone conversation with AmericasComedy.Com’s publisher Steven Bloom, Pescatelli explained, “I asked about pressing charges and the police said that it would be “battery” and even though I wanted her [the assailant] to have some ramifications of her actions, I didn’t want to go there,” says Pescatelli. “Even though she turned a wine glass into a weapon. I thought maybe vandalism or public intoxication, but they began to ask me what I said that set her off. Me?”
“The next day I went to the States Attorney’s office and they basically said, ‘Well, that’s what happens in a bar, what did you expect?’
“So, the Florida State Attorney and the Jacksonville Police just set a precedent that says, ‘Comics should expect, at least in Duval County, that it is okay to react violently if you disagree with a comedian. The authorities will ask you what you did to provoke it and assume that is expected behavior at a comedy show.'” Pescatelli included a link for the public and comedians to take a stand in a subsequent tweet to @AmericasComedy “Here is the email for comedians 2 take a stand- not for me, for themselves!”
Isn’t saying Pescatelli provoked this behavior akin to saying a woman who dresses in a sexually attractive manner is “provoking” her rapist? Just because a comic is standing on stage in a club doesn’t mean she should be subjected to verbal and physical harassment just as much as a woman shouldn’t be subjected to rape because she is wearing a mini-skirt.
“They [Duvall County] will not charge her because, according to the woman, I ‘called her whore’ and that provoked her,” says Pescatelli. “As if I was psychic and knew her. So in Duval County, comedians will not be assured of their civil right to personal safety because their words could ‘provoke’ someone.”
Let’s compare this to the recent Daniel Tosh controversy. While his heckler got far more attention, at the end of the day she got offended, left, then blogged about it. That was freedom of speech, not assault. Just as Tosh has the right to spout off rape jokes on stage, the heckler has the same right to say she didn’t care for Tosh’s rape jokes but not at the expense of those watching and enjoying the show.
“We have learned not too long ago to accept that bias’ based on race, sex and religion is not okay,” says Pescatelli. “But it seems that the bias against comedians still rages. In other words, it’s okay to take rage out on comedians who say things you disagree with.”
For some reason the arena of stand-up attracts hecklers. If someone went to the theatre and heard the same jokes in a play setting, the audience member would be more likely to respect the boundaries of the fourth wall, and sit there, or if worse came to worse, leave the theatre. The same could be said for an improv or sketch show. Why is it any different for stand-up?
Perhaps the conversational and presentational aspects of stand-up make audience members think that they have license to interact. Or perhaps it is the abundance of alcohol pushed on audience members, which makes them rowdy and more likely to be confrontational.
“You just don’t expect these things to happen. I have been doing comedy now for 18 years, I am not an insult comic and now this happens,” says Pescatelli. “The thing is, I am okay, I’m a tough broad, but I feel that we need to stand up for the rest of the comics.” Pescatelli says she plans on incorporating the incident into her act.
Pescatelli suggested a “No Comedy Day” across the country – a single day in which no comic performs in order to show the world that comedy is a valuable part of our lives. Though we believe in the comedian’s right to work at any time, we at AmericasComedy.Com think that would be a great idea to bring awareness to this problem. For life would be harder to get through without the relief of being able to laugh at it.
If you are a comedian or a comedy lover and would like to participate, please email your contact information to NoH8forComedians@AmericasComedy.Com