THE BLOG

I'm the Ottawa Comic Who Was Sexually Harassed on Stage

05/21/2015 05:54 EDT | Updated 05/21/2016 05:59 EDT
Jen Grant

There are two kinds of comics in the world: ones who say what they want, and ones who do corporate comedy. Some of you might not know exactly what "corporate comedy" is. Basically, it's comedy, in its cleanest form. For example, our requests:

Don't talk about sex.

Dress classy.

No swear words.

Nothing political/religious.

No blue material.

BUT-- make sure you kill.

When doing a corporate you are contracted to entertain people under strict guidelines. If you break any of these guidelines you risk not getting paid and not getting future gigs. In a comedy club you are uncensored. The stage is your platform to say what you want.

You gotta keep it CLEAN. Not all comics choose to do it. But I've done it for years. It's obviously more challenging and restrictive than working in a comedy club. Not always the most artistically rewarding.

HOWEVER -- I want to make a living off comedy. I'd love to be a little more honest -- drop an "F bomb" here or there -- but guess what? The truth is corporate comedy is more financially rewarding and that's the trade off. I'll pretty much attempt to make you laugh however you want. I see it as being adaptable and professional.

Last week I had a corporate gig in a country club.

When I arrived the organizer and staff were very nice and accommodating.

I get introduced to the stage and within about three minutes I am interrupted by a male (late 30s/early 40s) saying to me: "There's a 51 per cent chance that my buddy here will have sex with you. and I will take the other 49 per cent."

Of course I was shocked to hear something like that at a squeaky clean corporate event IN A COUNTRY CLUB. I was taken aback but as a 16-year comedy veteran, I took a breath and tried to push past it and do my best to ignore him. I thought, "Oh great. I've got Mr. inappropriate audience dude that I will have to deal with." It's not going to be easy to do this show with this guy piping up. I never thought in a million years it would get a lot worse.

Then it got worse.

After a couple more minutes he says in a very "rapey" tone, "I bet you do" following one of my jokes. Women know what I mean when I say "rapey." It's that tone that makes you feel like they have verbally taken advantage of you. As he is saying these horrible things, I am embarrassed and feeling small. I am just trying to do my job and I can't. I felt naked and vulnerable. Anyone who knows me knows I don't put up with shit normally. I have developed thick skin from doing stand up comedy. You have to!

If I were in a comedy club it would've been a different story. I am pretty good at putting hecklers in their place and they usually stand down because they quickly realize they can't win against me. I've done everything from rowdy one-nighters in rural Alberta to drunken Friday late shows in Northern Ontario. But I had to be clean at this show and not offend the people in the audience. I felt like I just had to take it. It was all so sudden and shocking too. I was shackled by my corporate constraints.

His words were cutting like a knife. I felt off balance and violated. I looked out into the crowd at one of the few women that were in the room (the crowd was 80 per cent male). She looked at me like "what the hell is going on?"

Then about five minutes later (25 minutes into my 45 minute set) he says to me (again with that tone), "Ohhh the things I would do to you." It's hard enough to focus on what you're saying when someone is talking constantly between your jokes but when they are verbally abusive, it's almost impossible.

I said to the crowd, "Really? Is this really happening right now?" At that point a man at the next table said to the guy, "You crossed the line".

It's hard to put into words how I felt at that moment. Scared. Objectified. Threatened. Invalidated.

I felt like I was going to cry. Turned my head for about 15 seconds, took a sip of water, told myself to just plug through, went to talk and my voice was all warbled like I was about to cry. Realized I couldn't talk because I was so upset. Said into the microphone, "I'm sorry but I can't do this." Put the mic into the stand and walked off stage.

In 16 years --

I have NEVER cried on stage.

I have NEVER not done my time.

I have NEVER been abused that badly on stage.

I was not able to do my job because someone was sexually harassing me. As a stand up comic I do not have a Human Resources Department. The stage is my workplace and I was publicly humiliated, objectified and belittled.

When I got off stage I was shaking and bawling. The organizer came up to me extremely apologetic and said she didn't hear what he was saying because she was at the back of the room. I believe her. She was surprised no one else around who could hear him didn't say anything. It makes me think of what's happening in the news this past week with "FHRITP." Shauna Hunt shined a light on something that's been happening for a year. Good for her for exposing it because it represents a bigger issue. I hope to do the same with this blog. Words have power. They hurt. They humiliate. They violate. Sexism might be better than it used to be, but it is still alive and well.

This man's actions affected me that night and beyond. Here are just a few of the ways...

There were other companies in the audience that could have liked my performance and hired me for their company Christmas party. I don't think that's going to happen now.

  1. This might deter that client/booker to hire a female comic again at risk of something like this happening again. I hope not, but maybe. In the past I have been told to my face by comedy bookers stuff like "the client did not want to hire a woman comic" and a club owner once told me people had cancelled their reservations for a show because they saw there was a female headliner.
  2. I am reminded once again that I am not respected as just a comic. I am a female comic. To some neanderthals, I am an object that can be talked down to and aggressively sexualized.
  3. Hilary Clinton is going to run for president and was asked what clothing designers she likes. To which she responded: "Would you ask a man that question?"

It would just be nice to just be an individual who does _______ and happens to be a woman. I am proud to be a female don't get me wrong. I just don't want to be defined by it.

The VP of the company that man works for called me the next day twice to apologize and insisted that they are dealing with it at the highest level of their company and I had been informed via email that the man who harassed me has been suspended from his job without pay. (Author's note: To clarify that I was informed that he was suspended with pay, I don't know this as a fact.)

This post originally appeared on Jen Grant's website.

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