It was a joke about a mother, cocaine and Walmart that turned the man on.
He had been sitting with a woman at the Laugh Factory in Chicago this winter, yelling excitedly in response to a drug joke when, after being teased about his relationship with the woman, he said she was his mother.
So when Joe Kilgallon, the next comedian, took the microphone, he came up with a joke.
“That’s healthy: cocaine with your mom on a Monday,” Kilgallon recalled jokingly. “Getting some real Walmart vibes here.”
The man jumped out of his chair, cursed and headed straight for the stage, club officials and Kilgallon recalled. A security guard grabbed the man before he could get on stage and shoved him out of the club through an emergency exit.
It ended in nothing more than a minor confrontation, the kind comedians have had to deal with for years, since making fun of people and mingling with hecklers is basically part of the job description. But a couple of recent high-profile physical attacks on comedians (Will Smith slapping Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars in March and a man who tackled Dave Chappelle while he was performing at the Hollywood Bowl last week) have left some comedians wondering if the scenery is getting more attractive. less secure, and has prompted some clubs and venues to take steps to beef up their security at comedy shows.
Laugh Factory officials say that as a result of the recent unrest, they have added cameras and metal detectors and increased the number of security guards at some of their locations. They made some additions: “This is not a UFC match!” “We don’t care about your political affiliation!” to the standard two-drink minimum monologue that people hear as they walk through the door. The Uptown Comedy Corner in Atlanta last weekend hired an off-duty police officer to tighten its security, brought one of its guards closer to the stage and began using metal detector wands to search patrons and their bags in the door. And the Hollywood Bowl said it had implemented its own “additional security measures” after the attack on Mr. Chappelle.
“When a comedian takes the stage, what is his only goal?” asked Judy Gold, the comedian and author of “Yes, I Can Say That: When they come for comedians, we’re all in trouble.” “To make you laugh. That’s it.”
“When you take the comedian’s intent out of the formula and decide ‘I’m going to take this joke the way I perceive it, rather than the way the comedian intended,'” he said, “and then you say ‘I did.’ “I don’t like that joke, I want that person to be canceled or silenced or hit,” I mean, it’s devastatingly sad.”
In interviews, comedy club owners and comedians themselves expressed varying degrees of concern about recent events. While some spoke of a worrying spike in audience outbursts leading up to the Oscars, others warned against confusing what happened to Rock and Chappelle and drawing too broad conclusions.
Trevor Noah addressed the situation with comedy last week, when he gingerly walked onto the stage of his Comedy Central show, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” under the watchful eye of a man in a black windbreaker who said “Security” who seemed murmur into a Secret Service-style earpiece as Mr. Noah opened the show.
Noam Dworman, the owner of the Comedy Cellar in New York, said he saw the Smith-Rock confrontation as a very specific “one-off” in which Smith seemed to be trying to embarrass Rock rather than physically hurt him. Seeing an audience member address Mr. Chappelle was troubling, he said, but could be part of a larger trend.
“It looks like violence is creeping up on us,” Dworman said, citing recent riots and protests that have turned violent. “We have a lot of people equating words with violence. And the logical extension of equating words with violence is to say that it is reasonable to respond to words with violence.
Some comedians downplayed concerns about their personal safety, noting that, for the most part, they’re not big names like Mr. Rock and Mr. Chappelle. Several made it clear that they did not plan to soften their material. But some worried that social forces, including the bitter debates of the Trump years and the hardships many faced during the pandemic, might have left people increasingly nervous and less willing to take a joke.
Jamie Masada, the owner of the Laugh Factory, said he had been advising his comedians to keep in mind that some audience members had spent much of the past two years inside their apartments during a grueling pandemic. Kilgallon said he believed that after so much time alone, “people don’t know how to act in public,” whether it’s at comedy clubs, bars or sporting events.
Comedy clubs have long employed bouncers and security guards to deal with the occasional customer who has been over-serviced, or is being a little too disruptive. And long before Smith took the stage at the Academy Awards to slap Rock in the face in retribution for a joke about his wife, there have been isolated cases of people confronting comedians during their performances or, in some cases, physically assault them.
In the wake of the Oscars slap, some comedians warned about the potential to copy cats. Not only was Mr. Smith not removed from the Dolby Theater after punching Mr. Rock, but he received a standing ovation shortly afterward when he received the Oscar for best actor. (He was later barred from the Oscars for 10 years.)
“These people gave him a standing ovation and didn’t punish him,” Gold said of Smith. “We all said there will be copycat attacks. And there was.”
The attack on Mr. Chappelle was more murky. An armed man accosted Chappelle onstage at the Hollywood Bowl, where he was appearing as part of “Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival.” The Los Angeles City Attorney charged 23-year-old Isaiah Lee with four misdemeanors in connection with the attack, including assault and possession of a weapon with intent to assault; Mr. Lee has pleaded not guilty.
Los Angeles police have not released any information about the motive for Mr. Lee’s attack on Mr. Chappelle, whose comedy has sparked controversy in the past. Chappelle discussed the encounter at another comedy show in Los Angeles later that week, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Mr. Chappelle told the audience that he had spoken with Mr. Lee after the incident and said that Mr. Lee had said that he had done so to draw attention to the plight of his grandmother, who was forced to leave their neighborhood due to gentrification. the trade publication reported.
“More than the incident itself, it’s the reaction that people are having and saying, saying this is an ongoing or repeating thing,” said Angelo Sykes, co-owner of Uptown Comedy Corner, which beefed up its security after the attack on Chappelle. . . “When you hear those things, it makes you say, ‘Okay, we can’t take those risks. We have to be on the safe side.’”
In phone interviews last week, several comedians in Los Angeles said the attacks had been a topic of conversation among comedians after shows. Ms. Gold described some of her fellow comedians as “tired and tired” and said that others were “crazed”.
Comedy, he noted, is often a work in progress. “We don’t know where the line is until we bring our material,” she said. “The audience informs us.”
Tehran Von Ghasri, a Los Angeles-based comedian, was among those who said that an increasing proportion of “hypersensitive” audience members seemed to be attending shows and inviting confrontation, “seeking offense,” or both.
Kilgallon said that social networks were also to blame. She has noticed that audience members now quickly pull out their phones if a controversial topic is being discussed or a tense moment arises. But she said the fundamentals of comedy remained the same.
“For the last five years, people have come up to me after a show and said, ‘It’s got to be hard to do comedy these days, everyone’s so sensitive,’” Kilgallon said. “And I’m like, ‘No, it’s not.’ I perform in the bluest parts of the country and some of the reddest parts of the country. If you’re funny, no matter what the joke is, people laugh.”