EDITORS’ NOTE: We received this letter from Blue Pencil comedian Mara Siegel in response to the article “Why We Shouldn’t Support Artists Who Are Assholes” (10/30/15). On Nov. 4, we posted a correction to the article. The original version of the piece claimed that Megan Fair “decided not to book comedians” at her house, the RBG. Regrettably, we published the article without fact-checking this information. Upon receiving Siegel’s letter, we contacted Fair to fact-check a statement in the letter to make sure Fair actually did “ban” comedians from the RBG. She told us that she did not ban comedians but instead implemented a “screening process.” As our reporter did not record the audio of her interview with Fair, we could not verify whether the original version of the article was correct in its assertion. We decided to amend the article according to Fair’s words.
In keeping true to our Code of Ethics, we have decided to publish Siegel’s letter unaltered in an attempt to endorse open, unregulated conversation between ourselves, the community, and our readership. Additionally, we feel this response carries merit and is a strong contribution to the marketplace of ideas.
As a reminder, the views expressed in each article do not reflect our views as a publication.
Mad Penny, Marc Blanc, Jamie Hunyor
Over the summer, myself and two other comedians (all of us are members of Blue Pencil Comedy) performed at the RBG’s Summer Bummer show. After the performance, I was aware of some issues that may have been caused by some of the jokes made and I confronted the situation with the other comedians in our regular meetings and in private. I didn’t want incidents like this to happen again. But no one knows that. And you know why? Because no one ever asked. Instead, months later, I read in an article that no comedians are welcome at the RBG anymore because of the incident. Prior to that, the only acknowledgement of the incident that I saw, outside of my own personal conversations, was a post in the event page after the event reminding people to be self-aware and conscious.
Why are comedians different than musicians? Because musicians are granted the privilege of being separate from their art, while comedians are the embodiment of their art. Until a musician behaves poorly, they are usually allowed to continue doing their art. But comedians and their art are inseparable. Additionally, comedians are independent of each other. The fact that an organization like Blue Pencil exists is not a common trend in the comedy world. Banning all Athens comedians is not the same as banning a singular band. Although we may all in some way be associated with an organization, a comedian’s writing process and their performances are separate from each other. But for some reason, it’s okay to clump us all together. I’m pissed. I’m hurt and distraught. And I’m going to explain why.
Let me set a few things straight before I go any further in this.
I am 100% in support of calling out problematic artists and withdrawing support from them when necessary.
- That being said, I strongly believe that unless an artist is actually confronted about the issues with their art, no progress can be made.
- Comedy is art. I spend hours writing my jokes and stories. I go out of my way to make sure my comedy doesn’t offend anyone. I view myself as an activist and a conscious individual and do not in anyway condone racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or any other problematic comedy (or any of these behaviors in general).
Like I said, a discussion never happened outside of the rooms of Blue Pencil Comedy. But discussion did occur. I understand the intent of banning all comedians is to make sure the space remains safe. But let me ask a few questions. If one musician behaves poorly, are all musicians banned? If one poet says something offensive, are all poets banned? I’m trying to make it clear that this culture, call-out culture as I’ll call it, is a two way street. You cannot expect change to happen if the problem is never actually addressed.
Here’s something to consider about the repercussions of this action [banning comedians]. From my understanding, calling out and banning problematic artists is to protect the DIY community at large. I understand that if members of the community feel unsafe, it must be fixed. But honestly, this specific incident has made me question the idea of “safe spaces” as a whole. Let’s focus on how this affects me personally for a moment. The other performers from that night are not as invested or involved in the DIY community as I am. But when was the last time I went to a show? I can’t even recall right now because I have felt so isolated and unwanted in the community this year. And it goes back to that fateful night where one mistake changed my standing in the community. No one had to say anything to me for me to know that people’s perception of me had changed. Whether this was paranoia or not, it is something that affects how I interact with the community.
Us as comedians, independently of this backlash, had already determined that spaces like the RBG were not the proper environment for us, and that we felt uncomfortable and unsafe there. We, the artists, felt unsafe. Because our art did not conform to DIY standards. And we recognized that! We decided that it would be best if we kept our art separate, especially in “safe spaces” like the RBG. But because of that incident, I feel myself a target of disappointment and anger from the community. And it sucks, it really does. I never thought I would be able to perform comedy in a house venue again, to further my career as a comedian, and with the publication of this article I am feeling this even more.
However, I was approached prior to the publishing of this article by Mad Penny to gather a few comedians to perform at Epilogue. I was eager at a chance at redemption. And I took measures before reaching out to other comedians to assure that this performance would be better and safer. I even went as far as to have a private conversation with the comedian who I am assuming is the one labeled problematic and told them they should probably not perform at this event. And, despite my precautionary actions, I am absolutely terrified to perform now. I am fearful to show my face and perform my art, the art that I put hours and hours into, because of call-out culture.
This letter is my own call-out. I do not mean to be hypocritical by not approaching individuals involved in the incidents I have mentioned, or any specific figures in the DIY community and I apologize if it seems as though I am. What I am trying to say is that if we as members of the DIY community want to encourage and talk about calling-out issues when they arise, action must actually be taken. This is not to say that action has not been taken in the past, I’m just saying that it’s pretty fucked up that an incident that was never actually dealt with was used as an example of embodying call-out culture.