Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/4/2010 (2579 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, and Jane Austen likely would agree, that most of what gets spewed from the mouths of modern comedians is not funny.
But is the best recourse to being assaulted by the juvenile vulgarities of your average jokemeister to haul him up before an inquisition or, its Canadian equivalent, a human-rights commission?
It pains me to admit it, but the conservative American provocateur Ann Coulter, after backing out of her scheduled performance in Ottawa, made this point with her recent publicity stunt, an ironically issued complaint to the commissars of Canuck political correctness.
Here in Winnipeg two weeks ago, the over-Botoxed comedienne Joan Rivers ruffled a few feathers at the Fort Garry Hotel when she cracked wise about Chinese people and gays.
She was performing for, of all things, a fundraiser for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Fortunately, no one thought to charge her with a crime against humanity.
But the most interesting example is a case in Vancouver where a comedian is before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal for a 2007 incident in which he verbally attacked a heckling lesbian over her sexual orientation.
The knee-jerk reaction is to side with the comedian. He made rude, offensive comments? In a comedy club? Now there's news. If you can't stand the heat, why go into the kitchen?
But it's not that simple. Members of minority groups can and do feel harassed, if not threatened, in some environments. Comedy clubs are frequented by enthusiastically imbibing young men.
Some of them, hearing "there's the dyke table" from an irritated comedian who proceeds to unleash a torrent of abuse, could take it as permission to act out their own aggressions.
It has nothing to do with humour and everything to do with intimidation.
What if the comedian had said "there's the Jew table"? Are these acceptable retorts to a heckler?
Seinfeld alumnus Michael Richards tried this in Los Angeles in 2006. Popular opinion pilloried him.
The only thing that would have earned him sympathy would have been a charge from a California human rights tribunal.
Yes, context is everything. The Vancouver club was hardly an A-list room. It was a restaurant, Zesty's. The comedian, Guy Earle, was a talentless amateur, a physicist in his day job (proof that not every physicist is an Einstein).
He was MC-ing an open-mike night. You can imagine the level of wit. There is a dispute over who said what first.
If you want the comedian's version of events, go to YouTube and search "Guy Earle Vancouver lesbian controversy."
You'll find a 12-minute interview with the miscreant conducted by what appears to be a student radio station. It is enlightening, intentionally or otherwise.
Interestingly, Zesty's owner, also named in the complaint, is a chap named Salam Ishmail. Whose side was he on in 2008 when Maclean's columnist Mark Steyn was hauled in front of the B.C. tribunal for his intemperate comments about Muslims?
CBC Winnipeg Comedy Festival artistic director Al Rae says the whole situation is an insult to professional comedians everywhere.
"Regardless of how you feel about human-rights complaints, professional comedians don't get in this jam," he says.
"Michael Richards was just unfunny, and so was this guy."
Comedians learn early, Rae says, not to attack people for the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation.
"There's a difference between talking about the N-word and calling someone the N-word," he says. "They didn't heckle because they were lesbians. They heckled because they were hecklers."
Will something like this occur at the Winnipeg comedy festival? You have a better chance of encountering Jane Austen.