How can I unlearn this toxic lesson when it’s so deeply embedded in our everyday lives?
I’m a comedian. I take every job I’m offered. I hate saying “No.”
You can pay me hundreds of dollars, or pay me in drink tickets. I’m showing up. Of course the paycheck is what we’re all vying for. I had one of those paycheck weekends back in September. I played Casino Niagara, four shows, for a total of $500. For doing something I love, $125 per show seems like an awesome deal.
The first show of the week was on a Thursday night. We get there and have to sign in through security. For the night, we are employees of the casino. There are many rules. Many comedians whom I respect, have broken these rules and been banned.
We (the comedians) get memos from this particular club telling us “the use of profanity, name calling or abrasive comebacks towards hecklers should be strongly avoided. If you feel hecklers are not being handled in a proper manner during your show, please voice this to the management.” This whole memo seemed like a joke to me. I never get in fights with crowd members. I try to appease everyone, even when I shouldn’t. I do the same as a civilian. I always tip 20 percent, even if I get crappy service. I don’t bug my landlord unless the toilet DEFINITELY won’t flush. Yesterday I sat at a table in a restaurant that had ants crawling all over it. I didn’t move tables, or tell my server. I just tried to help out and killed them with the pepper shaker.
So when I got the memo, I laughed. I even wrote back to my agent, “Oh yeah! You know me! Old 'Starts Fights With the Crowd' Walkinshaw! Bahahahahahaha!" (I don’t use “LOL!” I prefer the “Bahahahahahaha!”) But of course, like every sixth paragraph of a short story, something happens.
I’m on stage. We all know Thursday is the best night to go out drinking. Pretty much everyone shows up for work hungover on Friday morning. (Or is that just a Toronto thing?) It wasn’t a big crowd, but there were definitely some rowdy tables. Whatever. I’ve handled my fair share of drunk guys as a comedian. Sometimes talking to drunk guys is hilarious. You can make of the way they strap their cell phones to their belts, (a total deal breaker for me) or mock them for drinking lighter beers than you. It’s a blast. But on this particular night, about five minutes into my set, a table of 10 dudes starting chanting:
“Show us your tits! Show us your tits! Show us your tits!”
They wouldn’t stop. And despite the fact I have a microphone, those 10 voices in unison seemed more powerful. I try to make them quiet down as politely as I can. I keep going with my act. Five minutes later, they up their game.
“Show us your bush! Show us your bush! Show us your bush!” (I did my waxing jokes earlier, so I’m extra offended that’s what they picture.) Surely at this point of disruption, a manager or bouncer will come over and tell these drunk idiots to shut up, or get out. But nobody did. So I stared out into the blinding lights, and just finished my set. I did my full time too.
When I get backstage, the headliner, Darren Frost is livid. During my set, he ran around the club trying to get manager and staff to tell the table to shut up, but they wouldn’t. I felt gross, but oh well. Some sets are amazing, and some you just have to learn from. Before I left that night, I approached the woman running the club. I’m terrible at confrontation. The worst. I’d rather put up with a little shitty behavior, not just as a comedian, but as a human being, than start a conflict. I’m the queen of saying things like, “It’s okay,” “I’m alright,” or “Don’t worry about me.” I don’t mean to sound pathetic. I’m actually a very happy person. I’ve been told I smile too much. (How creepy is that!) However, in this moment, I know I have to say something.
“Hey. The next time a bunch of guys are shouting ‘Show us your tits! Show us your bush!’ you might want to tell them to shut up.”
Then I burst out crying. Oh for fucks. I can’t believe I’m confessing on the internet that I cried. I swear I don’t cry all the time. I cried during the movie 'Big Fish.' I also cried the first time I saw the music video to Taylor Swift’s 'Ours.' Other than that, I’m pretty tear free. The manager was taken aback.
“Oh. I thought you liked it.”
Do I need to tell you guys I didn't like it? Probably not.
I endured it, but I didn’t like it. Still, I like to keep my relations with comedy clubs drama free. I accept her apology, then the second she left the green room, I opened the mini fridge, and shoved as many of those little, chubby casino size bottles of water in my purse. It was a small act of revenge, and most certainly passive aggressive, but it felt good. Free bottled water for all disgruntled employees of Casino Niagara! Who says I don’t stand up for myself?
I consider cancelling my Friday and Saturday shows, but I don’t. I need the money. Every comic does. I went back Friday and Saturday and had great sets. I shrugged the awful Thursday off. So what? I had put up with a little sexual harassment from drunk casino folk. Maybe the casino doesn’t want to kick those types of people out. Maybe, just maybe, drunk people gamble the most. I get it. I’ve been to Vegas, and as much as I love playing Craps, I never play it on my first drink. I don’t want to make a big deal about the weekend. I don’t blog about it. I don’t mention it on Facebook. I don’t tweet about it. It’s okay. I’m all right. Don’t worry about me.
A month ago I received another booking to return to the casino in July. I knew it would be weird going back there, but I was willing to put the night behind me. I certainly didn’t think the casino would have an issue with me returning.
Guess what? I was wrong. A week ago I got an email from my agent, saying the casino is axing me from the weekend, due to the night with Darren Frost and the “unruly” crowd. I tried to shrug it off. I thought to myself, “Oh well. Traffic would have been bad anyway. Plus the highways are always under construction in the summer. It will probably be more peaceful to just stay home…”
It’s not easy for me to “say something.” I don’t like to rock the boat. I’m not insecure. I just don’t want to upset other people. I hate being the center of attention. Correction: I hate being the center of negative attention. I’m fine if you want to come up to me and say, “Hey… Nice earrings,” or “Cool purse.” (I’ve got a pretty dope purse right now.) I DON’T, however, feel comfortable being in the middle of a SERIOUS issue, like this. My first instinct was to just let it go... But I couldn’t. Not this time.
I updated my Facebook status with the cancellation of my Casino Niagara shows. Then I blogged about it. The fact is, the casino wants to treat a comedian like an employee, but they won’t protect us like one. I’d be willing to bet all $500 I’m losing from being fired, that if a bunch of drunk guys chanted “Show us your bush! Show us your bush!” to a Blackjack dealer, they’d be kicked out. I bet you couldn’t even say that to the lady who sells muffins at the front door. (Her café is right before security.)
I’m not a perfect comic. I don’t know if I dealt with the situation in the right way back in September, and I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing now. But I will tell you this: For the first time in my life, I’m standing up for myself.
It’s not okay. I’m not all right. You do have to worry about me. (Okay, you don’t have to worry about me. That’s a little excessive. You don’t even know me.) I had no idea how many people were going to read my story when I posted it on Twitter. I thought people just told you they read your blog. I didn’t think anybody actually did it. But people did read it. Then they shared it. Then others shared it. The power of social media has blown me away. It’s overwhelming how much support I’ve received. For the first time in my life, I’m standing up for myself. It feels amazing to be heard. (Is this a bad time to mention I’d love it if somebody brought a Trader Joe’s to Canada?) The only bad part of speaking out, is I’m scared people are going to look me up on YouTube. I haven’t updated my page in two years.
Comedy is subjective. What I consider bad comedy might make you pee your pants. (I’m not trying to assume you have bladder issues. I apologize if you thought that.)
I’ve been lucky enough to make (half) a living off my dream. I’ve had my own half hour comedy special, and toured as a comic for over 10 years. Oh, but I’m Canadian. So you’ve never heard of me.
Doing comedy has been my dream since I was old enough to babysit. After I made the kids go to bed, (I always let them stay up an hour later than I was supposed to -- I was the nice babysitter), I would soak into late night comedies, like "Saturday Night Live." If the parents rocked out really hard, and weren’t home by the time that ended, another show with stand-up comics came on. I forget what it was called, but it was on Saturday nights, and was hosted by Louie Anderson. Watching that show introduced me to Wendy Liebman, who to this day, is still one of my comedic idols.
I don’t think I have the power to get every comic the respect they deserve from an employer. (Though that’s my new dream.) But I definitely like the way we all have each other’s back when we’re mistreated. At the end of all this, I can honestly tell you I’ve learned a lot. I can be a little bolder, without being considered a bitch.
I’ve actually gained respect from people who already know me, plus new people have entered my life, who immediately respect me. How crazy is that?! I’m going to head back to that restaurant tomorrow, and tell them about the ants. And the next time a heckler yells “Show us your tits! Show us your tits! Show us your tits!” I’m going to tell him to shut the $%#&^&^% up. No matter what the rules are.
I still can’t believe this happened to me. I’m an A cup.