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Just for laughs – heckling as harassment

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Summary of and comment on story from Hollaback, May 9, 2011.

It doesn’t sound like much of a laugh being a female comedian sometimes.

Although all comedians are heckled, it seems that the pattern of heckling to women is of a very specific – and often sexually aggressive – nature.

Jen Lavery interviews several women comedians, including Susan Calman, Beth Black, Jay Lafferty and Fern Brady.

While the broad consensus was that hecklers in general are muppets, I was saddened, but not surprised, at their experiences.

“I think with men,” says Jay Lafferty, “heckles are usually more about what they’re saying in the material and less about them personally…whereas a lot of the time when women get heckled it’s just ‘Get your tits out’…It’s kind of a dead avenue really.”

Susan Calman remembers an experience with a stag party at one gig: “I said to one of the gentleman…’What do you do for a living?’ and he said, ‘I kill fat dykes.’”

Another male audience member “offered to cure me of my lesbianism with his penis recently, which was interesting because he was offering essentially to rape me.”

Neither is she alone in this.

Stand up Bethany Black has been threatened with rape by hecklers so often she has developed a set response.

“I’ve heard that line enough times on stage to know that the correct response to that is ‘Yes, once the rohypnol kicks in and I get the dildo out of my bag. And don’t worry, I’ll drop you near to the hospital so you won’t have to walk far to get your stitches.”

“It’s strange,” she continues: “That in any other job, if a member of the public or a customer said something like that you’d call the police…”

Hollaback, the site hosting this article, is a campaign against street harassment and the broad point of including this article on their site is to point to the similarities between street harassment and heckling.

Undoubtedly both share a common basis, where women are subjected to aggression as women – harassed and heckled not so much for what we do, but for who we are.

And after all this time, that’s still no laughing matter.

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