Why Comedy Is Filled With Sexual Misconduct, Harassment, & Assault

Having a tough day.

There are lots of reasons comedy scenes tend to attract predators. Here are just a few:

1. We, as a society, don’t like women. We just don’t like them. We don’t value them; we find them gross. (For evidence, see: Everything.) Most of us don’t do this on an explicit level. They’re attitudes we pick up from the culture around us. Remember that time when Brad missed the free throw and you called him a pussy? Did you mean he was warm, soft, and delicious? No? When you think of a sexual partner penetrating you, even one you’re interested in, are you ho-hum-not-my-thing, or is there a lizard-brain revulsion? Ever made a drop-the-soap joke about prison rape? Congratulations! You have internalized misogyny!

2. When women enter male-dominated workplaces, harassment spikes. This is not just limited to comedy. This is true everywhere: Silicon Valley. Finance. The sciences. Video game fan communities. When women begin to infiltrate these spaces, the men tend to freak out. It’s almost like these guys want their spaces to be…wait for it…safe! (Oh! The irony is crushing!)

Comedy was a bro-zone for decades until the 1980s (thanks, second wave feminism!), when women — sometimes one or two at a time! — started showing up and getting their girl-cooties on everything. Thus begat a backlash (see Clay, Andrew Dice). Comedy was sold as an aggressive, macho enterprise. Comics weren’t lovable losers who can’t get any respect, but ticking rage bombs. This trend is sometimes called “outlaw” comedy (how flattering! Fetch me my Hicksian duster!) or “politically incorrect” comedy (what naughty, incorrigible children!). They might as well be called Reactionary Comedians, which is what they were, reframing male grievance and resentment as oppression from the Mighty Femme.

3. There can be only One Good Comic, and it’s not you. Standup, unlike sketch or improv communities, likes a hierarchy. There’s the headliner/featured/opener pyramid, the Last Comic Standing-esque competitions, etc. We like to think of comedy as a dominance sport. Our language demonstrate this: we crush. We kill. Or else we bomb. We die. It’s pretty violent imagery for a bunch of people talking about their inadequacies into a microphone for strangers.

But of course, that whole metaphor is ridiculous. Comedy, in my experience, is less of a pissing match than a love connection. Comedy is seduction. It’s stoking the crowd into waves of ectasy. It’s sex, not violence.

How can one say that Mike Birbiglia is a “better” comic than Maria Bamford? Or that Bamford is a “better” comic than Kevin Hart? They’re practicing completely different styles.

Some people like Kanye West. Some people like Aimee Mann. They’re both highly skilled musicians. They don’t have to face off in a death match to prove their worth.

But thinking of comedy as a pathway to dominance serves as a magnet for people who feel they’d like a slice of that Big Dog meatloaf. Open mics are notorious for these maladjusted weirdos. Most of them fizzle out and find something else to make them feel like tough guys. Some of them get good at telling jokes and capitalize on their aggression. And some of them exploit the “I don’t play by your rules, man!” ethos to harrass or assault women.

A reminder: sexual misconduct — like, say, forcing a person to watch you masturbate, to pick a random example — isn’t about sexual titilation. It’s about rage, dominance, and aggression. It’s a power trip.

So that’s why.

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Playwright. Comedian. Professor. Delightful person. Hailed by the Chicago Reader as 'blond-haired' and 'blue-eyed,' Megan Gogerty is 'a woman.'

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Megan Gogerty

Playwright. Comedian. Professor. Delightful person. Hailed by the Chicago Reader as 'blond-haired' and 'blue-eyed,' Megan Gogerty is 'a woman.'