It Happened To Me: I Heckled At A Sexist Comedy Show

I avoid most mainstream entertainment, particularly comedy, because frankly, I find it dehumanizing to be told over and over again that sex and sexual appeal are all, or the most important things, that women have to offer.
Publish date:
March 5, 2013

The first and only (so far) time that I heckled at a comedy show was during a free amateur night at New York City’s the Pit.

A young male, wearing a New York Film Academy sweatshirt and admitting to have “not really seen many” Meryl Streep films, started some bit about “bang-able” actresses. With much difficulty, he explained that he was struggling to think of a time in her career in which, if he could, he would have wanted to have sexual intercourse with the talented actress. (He used much different words, as you can imagine.)

To which, I responded, “She asked you.”

This was not premeditated. I’m not even the kind of person known to yell out loud at the TV. From my seat in about the middle of the audience, where more than just a few heads had turned to look, I found myself wondering, why should someone who is such a great role model to many -- not to mention, just a really gifted performer and human being who has given so much to the world -- be subjected to such objectification? And that drivel is supposed to make us laugh? Who? How? And why?

Three years later, and I’m still asking myself these questions, not just about this incident, but about the industry as a whole.

From the sexist takeover of this year’s Oscars to the subsequent tweet attacking a 9-year-old girl that echoed, hollow and ugly, around the world (excused for because it’s satire?!), it’s clear that comedy culture hasn’t caught up to today’s reality. Not only are females not less-thans (as such comedy would have use believe); in mostinstances, we’re greater-thans. Or perhaps this particular (simple-minded) breed of male is scared of the future? The end of men. Is all of this the soon-to-be-extinct dude’s last hurrah?

In that way, I sort of felt sorry for the guy I heckled. If he possessed the ability to think of something clever and humorous to say to make us laugh, it certainly hadn’t come out of him that night, not before or after I heckled him.

From what I recall -- and this could be my self-righteous ego doing the remembering -- he shuffled off without saying much more. I could feel my male cousin -- then 20, a recent transplant to the city and wanting very much to break into the comedy scene -- getting fidgety in his seat next to mine. He had yet to have his five minutes up on stage (the whole reason I was there in the first place, to watch and support him), and didn’t want, in any way, to be associated with the woman (who let her in?) who broke some amateur night code of etiquette, or something.

Within minutes, I too was feeling fidgety. And something similar to whatever my cousin must have been feeling (regretful, sheepish?). Just a few acts into the night, and I’d already used my one chance -- if I didn’t want to risk being kicked out or further humiliating my cousin -- to voice my disgust. I had heckled too soon.

What followed next was a joke, if you could call it that, about both rape and incest. Then another male, claiming to be a comedian, tried to make us laugh about child sex slaves, of all topics.

Does any human being, or gender, deserve to be so demeaned in the name of a few laughs?

Whatever the reason -- though I found it mostly possible to navigate through my high school and college years without being demeaned by the opposite gender, the fact that I’m the “top breadwinner” isn’t an issue with my husband and on the whole, have thrived in my professional working life in which I’ve reported solely to female bosses and managers -- it seems nearly impossible to find comedy that doesn’t use such degrading, intellectually feeble tactics.

While I want to believe we've arrived at and are living in the feminist idyll so hard-sought for and dreamed of by previous generations of women and men, I avoid most mainstream entertainment, particularly comedy, because frankly, I find it dehumanizing to be told over and over again that sex and sexual appeal are all, or the most important things, that women have to offer.

Is it a coincidence then that only two, of 20 or so performers, that night at the amateur performance were females? Or that I was one of a handful of women in the audience? Or that only two women in the history of the Academy Awards have been solo hosts to the Oscars? Or that a simple search for “women in comedy,” results in articles like “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” and “Why Aren’t More Female Comedians Booked for Comedy Shows?”?

I for one am ready for such articles -- now mine included -- and the industry that peddles such outright discrimination and glorification of gender violence as entertainment to just get on with going the way of the dinosaur.