Imagine you’re a woman and you’re funny, so you decide to pursue a career in comedy.
Imagine that even just in making that decision, you’ve unintentionally invited lifetimes of structurally built-in gender bias against you. Sometimes subtle and subconscious, you’re ignored or overlooked when it comes to forming improv teams or lineups large and small for booked stand-up showcases. Sometimes a bit more sinister, as show hosts will remark upon your gender and your looks while introducing you and perhaps even after you’ve performed, as if your very existence is a novelty to be objectified. Sometimes you’re summarily dismissed, prejudged as incapable of humor because of your genetics.
Imagine you know you’re funny enough to clear those cultural hurdles and work toward achieving your creative and professional dreams as a comedian. You’ve tapped into your inner bad-ass and aren’t going to let anyone keep you down.
Now imagine that unbeknown to you, one of your male colleagues in comedy is besmirching your name. Besmirched it multiple times, even. Enough to commit it to recording years ago, sullying your reputation as part of a bit within a 72-minute stand-up special released in 2013.
Imagine that release existed only briefly on a website that didn’t even survive that year, and none of the people who saw it there saw fit to tell you about the bit that mocked you mercilessly for a couple of minutes. Talk about Chill. Talk about “Passive Aggressive,” Ari Shaffir.
Imagine, though, that in 2014, the man who mocked you became a Comedy Central darling, fronting a storytelling series that graduated from the web to the TV, and in the process convinced the network to broadcast two of his stand-up specials this winter: One new hour in January, and then that old “Passive Aggressive” hour a few weeks ago. Shaffir’s 72 minutes from late 2012 edited down to less than an hour after commercials, but still dragged you out for more mockery by first and last name.
Imagine your shock as you realized you were the butt of a joke, that wasn’t even a joke. Just that you were considered “annoying,” “fat,” “smelly,” not to mention the fact that you’d lost an arm in an accident, but Shaffir made sure to mention that, too, just so everyone knew he was talking about you.
Imagine what you might have done to fill him with such hate. Did you do anything? Could you have? What would possibly be worth that kind of a comeuppance? Certainly not being annoying. That couldn’t be it. That could never be it.
So imagine you decide to stand up for yourself. Imagine you recorded a video defending yourself against this comedian who’d bullied you on TV when you weren’t in the audience.
Imagine enduring even more hate aimed your way on social media and in those YouTube comments.
Imagine having an even more reasoned response to them.
comedy is comedy. Being in the public I risk criticism & unkindness. My issue is that he used my FIRST and LAST name.
— Damienne Merlina (@WhatsinaDame) March 29, 2015
Then imagine afterward, waiting to hear your bully defend himself, or apologize, privately or publicly. Doesn’t matter to you.
Imagine instead, he repeats the bit, posting it separately to YouTube and social media.
Then imagine seeing him posting a new podcast that’s all about being a “jerk” in comedy. You listen in. You listen to three hours as he talks with someone he considers a bigger jerk than himself, listen as they jokingly wax nostalgic about being jerks to bystanders outside The Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip. Listen to him talk about empathizing with a homeless transsexual who hangs out near the comedy club who he had been mean to before. “It’s not the messenger that matters, it’s the message,” he rationalizes. Without ever discussing his own behavior further, he instead talks about this other comedian, saying “When I see him victimizing people, it makes me uncomfortable — I can see why you wouldn’t like him.” On the other hand, though: “I can’t say you’re wrong. But also: He’s not a dick to me.”
I can imagine wondering if this is all just another gag.
After all, before his break with Comedy Central, one of Shaffir’s best-known bits was pretending to be “The Amazing Racist,” which he did for one of the worst movies of 2013. He talked about it with me. He’s always talked about things with me and others. He hasn’t been a dick to me.
Could this be a long-con of a prank on all of us?
So imagine hearing Shaffir this morning on SiriusXM radio, telling Opie and Jim Norton that his “Amazing Racist” videos sometimes will pop back up into larger conversations that send hundreds of angry Tweeters his way. It may cost him more, too. “I’ve lost a commercial here or there. But it doesn’t matter! It’s just five, or ten grand, but I get to continue being a free comedian. So none of that money shit matters.”
When Opie brought up the clip about you, however, Shaffir quickly deflected, changing the subject to expensive real-estate brokers in New York City, and eventually the guys were back to talking about their sexual encounters. They’d rather talk about sex than talk about bullying.
I can’t imagine why he chose to talk about you the way he did, especially when the bit didn’t need it — he could have cut straight from the set-up and explanation of annoying conversation-starters to his finishing tag about why Jewish women might provide mixed messages. He could have self-edited. Anyone could have told him to lose a couple of unnecessary, mean minutes. He didn’t have to go there. He didn’t have to say any of that onstage.
I imagine Shaffir will apologize to you someday, somehow.
Until then, know that I’m sorry.
And I’ve never even met you.
Whether you’re annoying to me or not, whether you’re funny to me or not, whether I agreed with all of your video or not, none of this was necessary. It never should have come to this.
I’m sorry. Imagine that.