Last week I did a wonderful gig - it is a night which is held every month at Comedy Cabin in Hoxton, and it’s a really fun format where comedians read out erotic fan fiction they have written. When I was asked to do it I was skeptical, not about the night, but about my involvement in it. Such a night is incredibly off-brand for a comic like me, as I will be the first to admit I am very far from what anyone might describe as a ‘sex comic’.
I am not the kind of comic who talks about sex on stage and the reason for this is twofold;
I am the kind of comic who says words like ‘twofold’
I strongly believe that no comic should ever be allowed to talk about sex on stage - I simply don’t believe any of us are qualified.
Most comics are late developers. Of course, there are some who will brag about having sex in high school, but personally, I just don’t think it counts when you’re 38, Jerry.
I was obviously familiar with the concept of fan fiction, but I’d never read or written any before, so like a true professional adult I spent my day reading fan fiction on the internet before heading to my place of work. I arrived at the gig very nervous, which is not a feeling that I usually have at gigs anymore (I am dead inside). This time was different because I didn’t feel particularly comfortable letting a room full of strangers in on my deepest darkest fantasies. They say that if you are nervous, you should picture the audience in their underwear - but on this particular occasion, such an approach felt slightly counterproductive.
I felt anxious at the concept of talking about my so-called fantasies on stage. Heck, I don’t even like talking about my fantasies in life. The main reason for this is because I know that my fantasies are not something that most men are interested in and this makes it really embarrassing to talk about, especially publicly… Every man that I have been with has never wanted to do the thing that I fantasise about the most - and when I have asked they have always said I am asking too much. I can't believe I am writing this on my blog as well as telling everyone at a gig. It is truly so embarrassing to admit this publicly… but what I want is for men to respect me.
My research prior to the gig was helpful, and actually surprisingly inspirational, as it did open up my eyes to other fantasies of my own - like now, I dream of a world without the internet. I now dream of and long for my past - a simpler time, when I had not read “Edward, Bella and Jacob: What if it was the three of us?”.
I hated everything I read. I don’t want to kink shame or anything but I felt incredibly uncomfortable reading about existing characters (especially those from children’s stories). Sexualising such existing characters seems wrong - after all, there must be serious implications for intellectual property law. I care a lot about Taylor Swift getting to own her masters, I don’t want to read about some weird ass fan who has created a fantasy world in which they are her master.
Despite all this, I did the gig, and I really enjoyed it - I was able to lean into how uncomfortable I felt and I had a lot of fun with the audience, I eventually talked to them about what I would actually like to see from fan fiction. I talked about how my fantasy would be for fiction to be more realistic - I would like young adult fiction to stop romanticising really horrible things, because, slowly but all at once, I have realised that fetishising the death of young people is pretty fucking weird, John Green.
I talked about how I hated Twilight fan fiction the most, because Twilight itself is awful. This is not news to anyone - I know Twilight is awful, you know Twilight is awful, Robert Pattinson knows Twilight is awful. I don't know how anyone is expected to get on board with a love story between a 100 year old pervert and a 17 year old girl. Despite this, I actually think Twilight has potential, and if taken in a different direction, it could have been a fascinating piece; it already had an award-worthy soundtrack, the rest just needed some slight tweaks.
I really do feel for Edward - if Zac Efron and Chandler Bing have taught me anything, and devastatingly, they have - it is that being trapped inside a 17 year old's body isn’t an ideal situ. I wish Twilight would have explored this more. What I really would have liked to see was a truly old soul, grappling with the fact that he is trapped inside this youthful exterior, when all he wants to do is constantly hit on older women. I imagine he would be played by Harry Styles. Contact me for movie rights.
I read out the most PG fan fiction ever written and I had so much fun with it. I didn’t have to talk to strangers about sex at an erotic fiction night in order to entertain them. For the record, I do think it is absolutely fine for comics to talk about whatever they wish to talk about - if that is sex, then wonderful and as the great philosopher Olivia Rodrigo said, good for you! Alas, not me!!!
I had such a lovely time doing this gig that I could've written a completely hate free blog this week! Alas, not me!!! Instead, thinking about how respectful everyone was of my boundaries got me thinking about the subject of this week’s blog - a comic whom, when I first met him, just after I started doing comedy, told me that if I wanted to be successful, I needed to talk about sex on stage. According to him, I needed to loosen up. I was prudish and it made me unlikeable, and I needed to change, he said.
One of the first times I gigged with him he asked me how many people I have slept with. He then proceeded to weaponise my answer against me at every possible opportunity. He called me a prude and uptight and made some erroneous and hurtful assumptions about my character based on my answer to his deeply inappropriate question. We were not friends and I barely knew him at the time he asked me this question - he was simply a colleague.
I think a lot of people get confused about what is and isn’t acceptable in the comedy world; it’s an inherently social profession. I feel really lucky going to work and getting to laugh with my pals, but not everyone is everyone’s pal. At the end of the day, comedy is no different from any other work place - not all of your colleagues will be your friends. I think a lot of people need to remember that gigs aren’t house parties, and if you are the type of person who goes around asking people how many people they’ve slept with at a house party, you’re still a dickhead.
I regretted answering his intrusive question, not because I am in any way ashamed of my answer, but because it’s absolutely none of his business how many people I have slept with and he is not someone I would trust with this personal information. However, I feel completely differently about you, my dear and trusted reader, so I am happy to open up to you - I will tell you that it’s a short list, but much like every other shortlist, this comedian will never appear on it.
I despise this man, and I despise how uncomfortable I was and still am made to feel in his presence at my place of work. I think he’s a gross, misogynistic asshole. Not only does he speak to women in a disgustingly intrusive way, but he also acts like he’s such a fucking legend - getting up on stage bragging about getting girls while impressively simultaneously spouting a load of performative feminism. I truly hate to see it!
What I hated to see even more was a tweet from him last year at a time when many women in comedy were speaking about many instances of sexual harassment (and worse) that they have been subjected to in our industry.. He tweeted saying that if you are a woman in comedy and you think he might be friends with someone who has harassed you, you could slide into his DMs, and as the new self-appointed HR representative of comedy, he’ll talk to his bros and sort it for you, love.
People seemed very impressed with this selfless act, and to be fair to him, I was slightly impressed too - because it was the very first time this comedian had made me laugh. I thought it was actually quite funny seeing a guy who had consistently harassed me by minimising me to my sex life, speaking out against the very culture that he had actively contributed to uphold. It tickled me even further to see the endless praise he received for doing it!
Regardless of his behaviour - even if he wasn’t behaving the way he was to me, even if hypothetically this stand-up was a stand-up guy - it truly made me cackle that he thought that the solution was just to have a chat with the perp. His tweet was at best uninformed and deeply misguided and highlighted a lack of understanding of the very real consequences women face when they speak up about these things. At worst it was yet another thinly veiled act of self-serving faux feminism and one that could further endanger women if they did decide to put their trust in him.
There are reasons for having proper systems to protect women who bravely speak up about abuse they have endured (systems that involve trained professionals not comedian bros, and these systems are still nowhere near perfect). Comedy is severely lacking in this area as it is an unregulated industry, but a woke bois DMs are definitely not the solution.
It sickened me to see someone who had sexually harassed me lauded for being a defender of women. Not only did this guy tweet about sexual harassment, but he spoke about it on his podcast. He has a podcast. Because of course he does. He put out an episode about harassment in the comedy industry. Because of course he did. I decided to listen to it. Because of course I did.
I listened to it hopeful that perhaps he had learned from his mistakes. I thought maybe he genuinely was stupid as shit, and while this doesn’t excuse his behaviour, maybe he just didn’t realise how inappropriate his constant line of questioning with me was - maybe he thought his sexual harassment was banter that I was on board with and and maybe upon learning that women didn’t love being objectified at work he had decided to change his ways.
Unfortunately this didn't appear to be the case - what I heard on the podcast was nothing more than further self congratulation - how he was one of the good ones in amongst awful men. He expressed shock and surprise about about all of the terrible things that women had to put up with, he said he would never objectify or harass women. He solemnly talked about sexism that women face in comedy, and even used a joke to illustrate his point.
He almost won me over because I liked the joke a lot. I thought it was an incredibly astute observation and well written too, but it sounded incredibly familiar - airily so, because it was my joke. On the podcast he said that this joke that perfectly illustrated his point belonged to a female comic he knew - but he couldn’t remember her name because, alas, he was “staring at her boobs”.
Now as you know, I have pretty strong feelings about intellectual property theft. It was quite an intriguing experience to have words that I had written specifically about sexism from men like him, used by him, in order to make himself look like a feminist - the true circle of life. Ah Zabenya!
Obvious objectification aside, I hadn’t been this annoyed about someone else taking credit for my work since 2004. When I was 10 years old, I had the honour of being selected for the highly coveted non speaking role of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in my school play - I peaked early. I was supposed to stand in the corner of the stage and lean, but I pretended to fall over. That's right - I can do physical comedy! I had done this numerous times during rehearsals and each and every time my teacher had told me off and told me to never do it on stage. When I did it on stage, the room erupted in laughter - a high I have been chasing ever since. When I went back stage, another teacher told me she thought it was hilarious, and my teacher said “yes I thought that would work well”. (This story might also indicate that I struggle with taking direction, but I would just like to highlight to any casting directors that I have matured in the nearly two decades since).
Ever since that day, I have been very aware that there would be people along the way who will try to undercut my success or take credit for my accomplishments or my fame*, and that loose lips sink ships all the damn time**. But I thought - not this time. I didn't want him taking credit for my words, so I decided that I would let this guy know that I didn't love what I had heard.
*this is a Taylor Swift quote, I don't actually think I am famous
**this is also a Taylor Swift lyric, why am I like this
As the woman who wrote the joke, I decided to express that I didn’t love that he hadn’t credited me and that he had followed it up with a joke objectifying me. He probably wouldn't have expected me to listen to his podcast, and hear all the things he said about me, but he should know that hate-listening is my absolute favourite pastime. I figured that since, after all, he was the new, albeit, self-appointed HR rep of our industry, he ought to be the right person to reach out to for such an issue.
I thought he responded rather aggressively for someone working in such a people-facing role. He told me that the joke was not mine - he said it belonged to another woman and he had never heard me say that joke. For the record, I don’t actually say the joke anymore because I wrote it fairly early on in my comedy career, it'd not the best joke I’ve ever written nor is it the most original thing I’ve written. There is no such thing as an original thought, and there is definitely a chance that another woman wrote the same silly one liner about sexism she has undoubtedly experienced.
I did however think it was a bit peculiar that this guy said he had never heard me say that joke, given that we had had many conversations about that very joke. I brought up these conversations and asked him why he had previously complimented me on that joke if he thought I was using someone else’s material - surely that’s not something worthy of praise. He told me that when he heard me say it on stage and complimented me on it, he didn't think it was my material - he said he thought I was quoting an “old adage”. I thought it was intriguing that he had never heard me say this joke yet he also thought I was quoting someone when I said this thing that he had never heard me say.
Contradictions in his web of lies aside and regardless of which woman this joke belonged to, I didn’t think making a joke objectifying a woman after failing to give her credit for her work in a conversation about women being undervalued and objectified, was the best thing to do. Thankfully, he then explained to me how jokes work - and thank god because I would never have known! My bad!
After explaining to me that what he said was actually really hilarious and I just lack a sense of humour, he then asked me if I was going to apologise to him. I didn’t respond because I have no interest in dignifying that level of entitlement, and he followed it up with “apparently not”.
I didn't reply because I really cannot be fucked with men who choose to posture themselves as good guys in order to profit off women’s pain - especially when they are actively causing it. I imagine he might get wind of the fact I have decided to write about him instead, and he probably won’t like that. But do I give a shit? Apparently not.
He probably won’t be particularly pleased that I have turned him into material here in my silly little blog - but I’d like to point out that this is not material, it’s actually an old adage because I’m not the first person to have thought he is a twat.