By now, I assume you’ve read the report of Daniel Tosh allegedly telling some rape jokes on stage, which led to an audience member shouting out that they weren’t funny, to which he responded saying that it would be funny if she got raped right then. You can read a more detailed recount of the incident here, though it is a “friend of a friend” type of recount of the incident, meaning that some of the facts are possibly (or likely) incorrect.
This incident is just an illustration of a problem in the world of comedy that rarely is seen at venues like the Laugh Factory, but is all too common in places those of us without major industry representation ply our craft. Let’s talk about heckling. In the US, speech is protected under the First Amendment with a few exceptions (making terroristic threats, inciting a riot, etc.) While there are many ideas and subjects that most persons find offensive and are not discussed in polite society, none of those taboos apply to the stage in a comedy club, bar, bowling alley, or wherever else you are seeing someone attempt the art of stand-up. I have seen white people scream the word “nigger” at the top of their lungs. I have seen someone say that 9/11 was a good thing, and that more planes should fly into buildings. I have seen someone discuss the consistency, color, and smell of their bodily excretions, followed by them showing us all photos.
All of these things offended me personally, but you know what I did? NOTHING. That’s because I was at a comedy show, in my case to perform. If I were there as an audience member, I would have considered leaving, and letting the people running the show know why I was leaving on my way out. That is the appropriate response. The inappropriate response is to shout out, interrupt, or in other ways disrupt the show. Comedy shows don’t come with “trigger warnings”, they can’t guarantee that you’ll laugh, and they aren’t for everyone. The woman in the incident detailed above shouldn’t go to comedy shows, unless she knows who the performers will be and is familiar with what they are likely to do on stage.
When you go to a comedy show, you do NOT have the right to disrupt the performance for ANY reason. If a performer is advocating the overthrow of the government, saying that everyone in the audience should be raped by wild tigers, trying to convert you to Scientology, or doing anything else you don’t like, your recourse is to LEAVE. If you do interrupt the show, the performer is well within their rights to say anything and everything they can to make you feel like a horrible human being, because that’s exactly what you are. As always, Louis CK illustrates this best.