Charlie Hebdo: Racist Xenophobes or Martyrs of Free Speech?


On Wednesday January 7th 2015 two masked men armed with AK-47’s  killed 10 staff members and 2 police officers at the Paris offices of the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo. The paper had depicted images of the prophet Mohammad, which the gunmen found offensive.   After news of the massacre hit the press, People flooded the streets of Paris with signs of Je Suis Charlie, or “I am Charlie,” in support of the slain cartoonists.

Je Suis

Then of course, a backlash began,  at least on the internet. and social media.  Many of my well-meaning friends began to re-post blogs and rants stridently attacking the character and political motivations of the slain cartoonists.  Their evidence was cherry-picked cartoons without English translations, or any greater context.. All of the very vocal Americans critics somehow became experts on French culture overnight.  France is not the US, the country has a very different history and the challenges and difficulties in France are not ours.   The French have never viewed themselves as a melting pot, and they do not welcome changes in their culture or even their language.  Some Muslims in France refuse to assimilate and desperately want preserve their own traditions.  So take a proud culture that doesn’t want to change, and then throw in people who also refuse to adapt and you’ve got a recipe for conflict.  There’s more to it than that of course, but that’s the seed of a lot of the tension.

None of these American bloggers openly condoned the killings but they certainly showed contempt and hostility for the victims.  One vocal critic declared, “Why should we feel sorry for privileged white males who spewed xenophobic, racist, nonsense?”  Other critics claimed the Charlie Hebdo cartoonist  “Depicted of Muslims as hook-nosed stereotypes”   I found this unsettling so  I did a quick google search of the words Charlie Hebdo.  I wanted to see for myself if the paper was as racist and xenophobic as these people were saying it was. I easily found the following images:


I’m not sure but that looks like a circle of Catholic bishops engaging in some type of group sodomy.


The French president surround by a cast of naked characters.


The cartoonists do depict Muslims as racial stereotypes, but the same could be said for these Caucasian men.  No one would call these depictions as flattering.

And of course the image that leads this article is


The very white, and very powerful, male president with his dick out.  It appears his penis is speaking for him.

The Pope was also a frequent image on many covers, and of course there were also images of Muslims depicted as racial stereotypes.  I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that the editors poked fun at plenty of other religions, groups and public officials.

Most of the critics denouncing Charlie Hebdo were righteously indignant Americans.  None of them mentioned having lived in France, being French themselves or even understanding the French language, yet these highly opinionated voices were suddenly experts on everything Charlie Hebdo.  One angry rant of click bait entitled In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo Freedom of Speech does not Equal Freedom from Criticism, even included as evidence of the paper’s bigotry, a cartoon mocking the leader of Isis.  The same author cited Gawker as a source, (Gawker isn’t exactly known for being a shining example of journalistic integrity or ethical reporting.)  Isis is of course the same radical group that’s known for human right abuses, mass rapes, and beheadings.  Isis is so vicious even al-Qaeda has urged them to kill fewer civilians.  But I guess to some even the worst radical religious extremists are above mockery.

The same author who seemed completely outraged at the mocking of Isis had no problem getting his point across with words like: fuck, bullshit and labeling nearly everyone who didn’t agree with him as racist.  If you dared to repost an offensive cartoon in solidarity with the slain men, then in his opinion you’re a racist.  His evidence of rampant racism other than the cartoons taken out of context was the following two quotes the murdered editor Stéphane “Charb ” Charbonnier’:

“Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.”


“I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don’t live under Koranic law.”

I don’t really see how either quote makes him a racist.   As an agnostic myself, I don’t view any religious symbol as sacred, and I don’t know why anyone must be forced to revere a religion they don’t believe in.  In his second quote, he’s basically saying that yes he understands Muslims may not like everything they publish, but France, is a country with freedom of speech, not one that is dictated by any one religion.  Someone might also point out to the author that Islam is a religion not a race, and there are Asian, Arab, white and black Muslims.  But since the word racist packs more a punch than bigot, he and other politically correct bullies love to throw around the R-word.

I’ll openly admit I’m also no expert on Charlie Hebdo. I’d suspect the author of that article was also going off of scant information.  He cited Gawker as a source after all.   Some of my French friends have claimed Charlie Hebdo’s editors really did lampoon everyone..  I don’t know what to think, but I’m not going to go with a handful of cartoons out of hundreds, an opinion of some friends, or a few cover images as any evidence of anything.   If we’re really going to discuss freedom of speech and expression, offensive, even racist or bigoted content is irrelevant.

In this country we have restrictions on some images and speech.  We’ve agreed as a society that blatantly lying about someone is a punishable offense.  A person can sue another in a court of law for slander and receive millions in compensation.  We’re also have penalties and legal recourse in regards to defamation.  We’ve also decided that possessing images of children being sexually molested is intolerable under any circumstances. Profanity and nudity are both somewhat limited, yet both are easy to find if one goes looking for them.  We have limits on speech that call for acts of violence against others, or acts of treason. It’s illegal to endanger the public safety by screaming “Fire” in a crowded theater, and you aren’t allowed to joke about a bomb in an airport.

Other than those basic limits, people can write and express themselves however they want.  Free speech is messy.  It sometimes offends or upsets people.  In a free society some speech is so horrendous it’s downright hateful.  But what is offensive to one person, might be the harsh biting truth to another.  If one group starts to dictate what is and is not offensive, then we are allowing one group to decide the actions and behaviors of others.  There is plenty in any religious text that could easily be held up as sacred and untouchable, but no religion should force their standards onto the general public.

We also live in a world with plenty of avenues for recourse.  A person can combat offensive speech with more speech.  They can battle what they see as inappropriate expression with more creative expression.  They can refuse to buy papers they don’t want to read, and they can publish their own.

If we want true freedom of expression than absolutely nothing is above mockery or criticism. We cannot cower to any organization or ideology wiling to kill those who generate offensive thoughts and images.  A free society allows speech from every direction and viewpoint. The same freedom allows the misguided bloggers to label these victims as racist xenophobes, is the same one that gives me the opportunity to write this blog.

Does it matter if they wrote some racist and even xenophobic material?  They still died for their words and expression and that, by the very definition of the word martyr, does make them martyrs for free speech.  Because their death was meant to silence us all, we need to speak out even more ferociously in defense of free speech, even when that speech is harsh satire. .

“I don’t agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire.

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An Artist in Defense of New York City


Recently several older accomplished artists have made public declarations decrying the death of creativity in New York City.  Young hopeful artists should steer clear of the Big Apple and find more fertile ground in other cities.  They’ve been vague about which cities are supposedly the new cultural capitals although one article cited Los Angeles as an alternative.  It’s safe to say that the entertainment capital of the world isn’t exactly welcoming to huddled art school masses.  Detroit was also offered up as a suggestion but it’s hard to picture artists thriving in a city that has actually debated selling off the contents of its acclaimed art museum.

New York City’s critics and I agree though, our cultural soul is in trouble.  I moved here in 2001 when the cracks in the artistic landscape were already several feet deep.  Once concentrated in a few neighborhoods, artists are now scattered throughout the outer boroughs. Some of our most beloved artistic spaces have died, while others have morphed into upscale venues.  Rents have soared, and despite this new injection of wealth, arts organizations across the city find it harder to fight for donations and funding.  Broadway has gotten increasingly corporate and risky work has gotten much harder to produce.  Things are worse for New York City artists then they have been in decades.

Most of New York’s biggest detractors are famous millionaires.  It’s easy for them to look back and see so many other options.  Did they grow up in a smaller city in a solidly conservative state?  Have they ever lived in the South or Midwest?  Did it ever occur to them that an artist’s soul would be crushed anyway living in the middle of nowhere.

Pursuing a career in the arts is like climbing Mount Everest blindfolded while a sherpa throws frozen carp at your head.  Trying to balance paying rent while pursuing artistic pursuits is an incredibly difficult challenge regardless of where a person lives.  It’s not like the high paying jobs in the arts are just waiting for applicants in places like Topeka or Birmingham.

I don’t have a benefactor or well off spouse.  My family is not rich or well-connected, and I struggle to make ends meet every single month.  I share a one-bedroom in a dodgy, crime-riddled neighborhood in Brooklyn.  My life is not exactly easy.  Regardless of the challenges I still call NYC my home for a number or reasons:

  • Audience – The rents might be lower in a smaller city but the audience to sustain artists is microscopic. I regularly performed on a stage in a heavy metal bar that was nothing more but a piece of plywood on top of paint cans.  It might have been a humble performance space but the room was always packed.
  • Resources – NYC has everything.  It’s not cheap but you can find galleries, theaters, dance stages, rehearsal spaces, recording studios, comedy clubs, art studios, and sound stages.
  • Community – My friends are film makers, dancers, photographers, writers, actors, comedians, visual artists, designers, musicians and playwrights.  There are arts festivals in every borough year-round with contributors clamoring for a slot.  Collaboration across mediums is effortless.  A musician can find a dancer, who can find a costumer, who can find a print maker and they probably all live off the same subway line.  Few of us make a lot of income doing our art, but we can always find a way to express ourselves.
  • Competition – New York City is not for the timid or lazy.  A few trust fund brats might live in a studio in Chelsea, but for the majority of us, it’s survival of the fittest.  Being around so many other gifted artists makes us all work harder.
  • Education and Training –  New York city has  Internationally acclaimed Ivy League institutions to funky art schools and some of the finest public colleges in the nation.
  • Politics – In NYC if a performance artist wants to cover their body in lube and roll around on newspaper while projecting a pornographic film on their crotch – no one will stage a protest.  Try doing that in Idaho or Alabama.
  • There is still that one in a million chance of success – I know a few who have succeeded despite the odds.  Try getting a television show produced or a slot on SNL while living in Saint Louis.

New York is hard, in many ways harder than it’s ever been. Generic corporate sprawl of artless residential towers and national chain stores infect nearly every crevice of Manhattan.  We are at risk of losing our creative soul, but we haven’t lost it yet.  We are still creating art all over this city.  The semi-retired wealthy artists might not notice us, or pay any attention to our low-budget ventures but we’re still here.

If young artists heed the warnings and no new blood comes in, the doomsayers will kill the very thing they claim to cherish.   If we want to maintain this cities artistic credibility then we have to stay and fight.  The warnings to stay away from Gotham are nothing new.  Nearly twenty years ago, more than one professor warned – NYC is dead, don’t bother. Yet I’ve survived for thirteen years and I make my living creating art.

We can romanticize the past but there were many artists who crashed and burned in the 70’s and 80’s. NYC has never been an incubator with warm and fuzzy walls that nurtured anyone.  It’s a city that says from the moment you land here – show me something.  Show me why I should give a damn about what you do.

We’re in trouble, but if we tell the next generation to not bother, we expedite our demise.  Any artist who looks the rates of success wouldn’t bother anyway.  When have the arts been a practical career choice for anyone?  We don’t do it for outward gains, we create because we have to create, we must create and there is no better place than a city overflowing with artists.  I would say to young artists – New York might not be for you, but if you really want to push yourself and live among a bunch of like-minded freaks then take the leap. You probably won’t live in Manhattan, and you’ll most likely be poor, but you won’t have watch your dreams die in a small town in Kansas.  If you are going to burn out you might as well dream big.

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Dating in NYC: The Honest Sinner vs. The Phony Saint



Disclaimer: To protect the identity of the men involved in this article – I am leaving out some specifics about them and these events. I will not disclose anything more about them publicly.  I don’t really want to get sued, or have anyone accuse me of slander…I didn’t write this to attack anyone – just as a cautionary tale.

Why do so many people deceive others when it comes to dating? I’ve heard countless stories about men and women who lie about their age, job, marital status, a previous divorce, a live-in partner, even children. People also hide their true intentions. They might act like they are looking for a serious relationship when they are really wanting no-strings attached sex. A man or woman might also pretend they want a casual relationship when he or she is secretly hoping for a committed one. I’m a huge advocate for truth. Honesty will get a person father than secrets and lies. I have two examples in my own personal life that illustrate this perfectly.

The Honest Sinner – An absolutely beautiful man who was over a decade younger than myself and someone I knew casually. When he approached me he was upfront.  He was looking for a casual sexual encounter, no strings, no expectations. Before our hook-up, he even sent me a text with the rules of engagement. It wasn’t exactly romantic, but I knew he wouldn’t try to coerce me into anything I didn’t want to do. I weighed my options, and considered I would take him up on his offer. It wasn’t just that I found him incredibly handsome, I also genuinely appreciated his candor. We ended up meeting, more than once, and the sex was great. I didn’t care if he was hooking up with anyone else, as I never really saw him as much of boyfriend material due to our age difference. I also knew he didn’t have a serious girlfriend so he wasn’t cheating on anyone. There was never any pretense. We didn’t go on dates, and neither one of us indicated that we wanted more out of the situation. I decided to cut it off when it wasn’t working for me anymore, but I actually grew to like him as a person. Sometimes these arrangements can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings and misery but in this example it worked out. His looks were definitely a factor of why I had a casual relationship with him, but his honesty is what sold it. Had he been sleazy or deceptive I wouldn’t have gone near him.

The Phony Saint – A moderately good-looking guy who I thought I might want to date seriously. He was closer to my age, had a good job and was extremely well-educated. He overall was a much better match for me on paper, and I was physically attracted to him. We seemed to get along well, but I barely knew him, so I honestly didn’t have strong feelings either way.

Things went South on our second date when I made the mistake of going back to his apartment. Within minutes he got extremely physical and I felt uncomfortable. His sexual energy made me feel like some sort of live action porn doll – and I just wanted it to stop. My instincts were correct when right before he actually tried to have sex with me, he called me Gillian instead of Juliet. As soon as I saw the condom, I shut everything down. Then I completely humiliated myself and burst into tears. It honestly was the first time I can remember, since maybe college, when I have had a total meltdown while on a date. I was mad at myself for letting things get this far, and I felt like a total idiot for crying. Deep down I knew something was incredibly inauthentic about him so I asked, “Do you do this all the time? Is this what you do with women?” He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Well yeah. I’m basically a child, I can’t have a serious relationship.”

This man had a professional job and was in his mid-thirties. He had also asked me out on a date, he wasn’t upfront about wanting just a hook-up. Unlike the Honest Sinner who kept all his correspondence sexual and to the point, The Phony Saint laid it on thick with multiple emails and texts as if he had some real interest in me. He even claimed to have looked me up online. When I point-blank asked him, “Which videos did you watch of me?” he responded, “Um, two. One of you getting interviewed on television and another one – I don’t remember.”  Now I don’t know how he couldn’t recall a short video he claimed to have watched just the day before, but I really didn’t care.  I knew he really didn’t really give a damn about me when he called me by the wrong name, and treated me like some sort of masturbation toy.

For the next extremely awkward hour, or so I apologized for crying while he begged me for various sex acts.  Even at the time I was unsure why I didn’t just walk out.  I got repeated inquiries from him to “jizz on my ass, stomach or tits”. He actually used the term “jizz” and seemed shocked that I had no interest. I might have honored his requests if I actually liked him, or if we had sex, but at that point it was just pathetic. I was just in shock that things had gone so badly so quickly and I wasn’t really sure what to do.  During all of this he danced around the room naked while speaking to me in a sing-song jokey way. I guess he was trying to cheer me up, but it just made him lose any remaining dignity. He then offered me leftover take out from his fridge.  When I say leftover takeout, I mean takeout that was at least a day old if not older.  I told him I didn’t want his “used food” and I refused to drink anything.   Any spark of sexual attraction I had towards him vanished, but I also calmed down and realized I was in no danger.  Things got even stranger when I realized he seemed to enjoy being chewed out by me. The Phony Saint just became a test subject to me of sorts. Thankfully I was completely sober, but my sobriety just meant I would remember every horrible detail of what was now, the worst date of my life.

So which man got what he wanted? The Honest Sinner got free sex from a consensual enthusiastic partner. The Phony Saint experienced an extremely embarrassing and sexually humiliating evening. If I could scrape that night from my brain I would, and yes it will make great material for my stand-up, but I have SO MUCH material already. HA!!!!!! I would have much rather had a lovely evening than another horror story to share onstage. Had he been honest from the beginning, I probably would have turned him down for sex as I get offers for that from total strangers all the time. The Honest Sinner was someone I knew already and that factored into my decision to hook-up with him. But even though I would have turned down the The Phony Saint, plenty of other women would have taken him up on the offer. He was good-looking, had a nice build, a great job and his own apartment – he had plenty of qualities that would get him laid in New York City.

The moral of this story: When in doubt, just tell the truth – everyone will be much happier for it, and no one will end up dancing around the room naked begging a women to let him – jizz on her butt.  Also, never call a woman by the wrong name when you’re trying to seduce her – it’s just bad form.
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Celebrity Crowd Funding: Brother, Can you Spare a Dime for a Millionaire?

English: Zach Braff at the Vanity Fair party c...

English: Zach Braff at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are walking down the streets of New York and you see a famous celebrity.  Your heartbeat speeds up as it’s someone you like and admire.  You don’t want to bother him, but his last movie is one of your favorites, despite yourself you go up to him, extended your hand and say, “I really love your work.” a broad smile flashes across his face and he returns with, “Could you spare a few bucks for me then?  I need it to help me finance my next picture.  He reaches into his bag and hands you a brochure complete with all the details. “For $25 I’ll give you a pre-screening invite.  If you give me $100 I’ll throw in a DVD. For a $1000 we’ll include your name in the credits and you can go to one of many after-parties, for $10,000, and I know that’s a lot, you’ll get a small part in the movie! Whadda think?”   As strange as that scenario seems, it’s a new reality.

Crowd funding is a relatively new innovation brought to us by the internet.  Anyone can create a fund-raising campaign by themselves for just about any cause: a sick friend, help with a new small business, playground equipment for a school and just about every type of artistic endeavor.  Theater companies and bands especially rely on these sites to help raise cash.  In return for their monetary gift a donor might get tickets to a show, a t-shirt, backstage access or some other type of premium.

Recently celebrities have joined the crowd-funding bandwagon to help fund their own pet projects.  Zach Braff took to the internet and asked fans to help him raise the money himself, so he could retain creative control.  He ended up surpassing his original goal, eventually raising over $3 million on the website Kickstarter.  After his fundraising ended, he accepted a few additional millions from traditional investors.  So whether they gave him $1 million or $4 million they are sill going to want to have some influence.  The last film he wrote, directed and starred in, Garden State had a budget of $2.5 million but went on to gross $35,825,316 in box office sales.  With a film that successful under his belt, did he really need to resort to begging the public for money?  He is also not a poor man with a net worth estimated at $22 million.

And now Adam Carolla, with an estimated net worth of $15 million, is hoping he will be just as successful raising $1 million for his latest project on   His last film, The Hammer, although critically well received grossed only of $442,638 in box office with a $850,000 budget according to  It would definitely be harder to get financing for a film if your last one lost money, regardless of film reviews.

Another thing that makes me a little annoyed by this is that Carolla and Braff are not only multi-millionaires with contacts and relationships in Hollywood we could only dream of having, they are also members of the one demographic with the easiest time getting their stories on-screen – white males.   Women and minorities have a much harder time getting hired as writers, actors, and directors, much less getting movies produced.  It’s not exactly as if Braff and Carolla are trying to tell the life story of an obscure black poet, migrant farm workers, or the women’s suffrage movement.

Of course people can spend their hard-earned dollars however they want, and there is nothing wrong with what Caroll and Braff are doing here.  They have every right to use whatever means necessary to get their projects up and running.  I just don’t understand why anyone would give them money.  A popular incentive is to get a chance to meet the celebrity at an after-party or other promotion.  It might sound exciting, but as a person who has met a lot of celebrities over the years – I’d save my money.

Plenty of directors have completely self-financed their own projects.  Sure it’s risky and maybe they might have to cut back on a few luxuries, but even if their films bomb, they don’t end up bankrupt.  A lot of people make career risks from time to time, but most of us would never dream of asking our friends and neighbors for help.  We usually only ask for help after a disaster or devastating illness.

Instead of donations, would it be unheard of to sell shares in a movie’s profits?  Small investors wouldn’t expect any artistic control, they could still be a part of a project they really love and they might get something in return besides free tickets to a movie they would have paid to see anyway.  Wouldn’t it even make good marketing sense to have thousands of ambassadors around the country begging their friends to see the latest film they have a direct stake in?  It might be an accounting nightmare, but it could be a publicity bonanza. 7/10/13 A couple of different readers have point out that apparently profit sharing in this way is currently not legal.  I have known a few small companies that have done exactly what I am describing, but it’s not available for something like this.  

Maybe this is the new normal, and soon dozens of small independent films will use this method of fundraising.  After all our media is already saturated with celebrity obsession.  Once a person is famous they shouldn’t have to risk, or take chances when they could just ask their fans to help them out.  In return the fans get a tiny speck of the drug that is elusive and inviting – fame.

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Dating in NYC: Sorry stranger, I’m Not Meeting you for Breakfast

Egg Sandwich 5of7

Egg Sandwich 5of7 (Photo credit: Food Thinkers)

I have only been single for four years in New York but it seems like forty.  So far in my dating escapades I’ve been stood up, watched as my dates have had meltdowns, broken out into tears, ramble on about an ex, tell me they want to date one of my friends, insult me to my face and expect sex immediately.  I have had a few wonderful dates – only to never hear from the guys again for reasons I will never understand.  What can I say?  It’s been fun.

Lately the trend is a man who I have written about before on this blog – The Coward.  A coward will ask me out only to never actually make the date happen.  It run into cowards more often than actual dates now.  I would say for every date I actually go on, I get about 8-10 men who ask me out, but never follow through.  I tell them when I am free and the claim they are busy.  This goes back and forth a few times until I give up.  The newest ploy  is an invitation to a mid-week breakfast date.  I have gotten such an offer a few times, yet I have never taken such enticing bait.  A typical proposal goes like this,

Well I would love to see you but things are really bad at work for the next couple of weeks.  You seem awesome though, and I really love your pictures.  Do you really play the ukulele?  How about we meet for breakfast sometime next week.   That’s the best I can do.

Even if I had a normal 9-5 job.  It’s not as if New York City is a calm and tranquil place in the morning, and virtually no one has an easy commute.  So what would I have to do?  Get up at 5AM, get ready by 6AM to meet you some place at 7AM so I can rush get a cup of coffee and make it to my place of business by 8:00?  For that to work we would need to work pretty much in the same neighborhood, which is unlikely in a city with five boroughs and 8 million people.

Lets say I don’t have a 9-5 job.  So I am still going to have to get up at 5AM get ready.  Get on a crowded train to meet you near your workplace, where we fight to get a table, then rush to get a plate of eggs.  You go to work, and I go home.  Wow that sounds like fun!  I really don’t get enough time on a rush hour train from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Or maybe you work in Brooklyn, but in an area that is going to cause me to take the Q train into Manhattan then transfer to an L to then walk several blocks in Williamsburg to meet you for that same plate of eggs and make the trek home.

I seriously want to ask these men.  Has anyone ever done this before?  Has it ever occurred to you why most dates are in the evening and on the weekends?  Do you think your God’s gift to women that I will crawl on hot coals to share a brief time in your presence only to have you decide I live too far away, have a weird job, and I am just not worth the effort.  And lets not get BRUNCH confused with BREAKFAST.  You didn’t ask me for a leisurely weekend morning activity in the East village filled with Mimosas, Bloody Marys and vanilla bean french toast.  Brunch is a morning after a drunken night New York tradition!   You asked me to breakfast – a meal many restaurants don’t even serve because why should they?  No one but tourists goes out for breakfast, unless it is a local place in a residential area of the city, and there is a 90% chance you don’t work on an area with cute little bistros on every corner.  Maybe by breakfast you meant a latte in an impossibly packed Starbucks in midtown, the neighborhood where every Starbucks is ALWAYS IMPOSSIBLY PACKED!

The weekday breakfast date is telling me one thing – I am not worth the effort.  I get it, as we are just strangers and the likelihood that this is going to be some match made in heaven is slim.  So I understand not wanting to jeopardize your job for the sake of a bad date.  Something tells me though you are still finding time to go out drinking with your buddies, and occasionally hooking up with random women.  You keep an OKCupid profile up more to tell yourself that deep down you really are looking for something with more substance.  I get it.  But you are probably going to end up liking one of the random women you hook up with, and you obviously couldn’t care less about some online blonde.  So instead of insulting me with a “breakfast date” just get off of the site and stop wasting my time.  Breakfast is normally the awkward meal you might feel obligated to have AFTER a date, not before!

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Rape Jokes: The Freedom of Expression goes both ways

English: A Sennheiser Microphone

English: A Sennheiser Microphone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are not a comedian, you may not have heard about a debate swirling like a tsunami of controversy all over the internet.  Is it ever OK to tell a rape joke?  Is it acceptable if the subject of the joke is the rape victim?

This whole thing started about a year ago at Laugh Factory during a set by Daniel Tosh.  A heckler responded to several rape jokes in a row by shouting at that stage, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny.”

Tosh snapped back with, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got gang raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now?  Wouldn’t it be funny if a bunch of guys just raped her?.”

One thing every comedian should remember: nowadays most of the audience have some type of recording device in their hands and can share any joke or interaction with the world.  Comedy sets intended only for a small live audience can now go viral. This is not going to change anytime soon.  I am not a fan of things being taken out of context, or sets being uploaded to youtube without a comedian’s permission, but that is the world we live in.  In this case, Tosh’s interaction spread to the internet.  He eventually apologized saying his words were taken out of context.  Lindy West at wrote the following article regarding the incident, How to Make a Rape Joke

To directly quote West:

In case this isn’t perfectly clear yet: You can say whatever you want.  You can say whatever you want. You can say whatever you want. You can say whatever you want.  You can say whatever you want.

In fact several times in her article she writes to the effect of, “You (comedians) can say whatever you want.”

West also goes on to show 4 clips of comedians telling rape jokes she thinks actually work – in each case the victim is not the subject of the joke.

Then this May, West wrote the another article about the topic, An Open Letter to White Male Comedians,

Jokes” about rape and gendered violence are treated like an inevitability instead of a choice; like they’re beyond questioning; like they’re somehow equally sacred alongside women’s actual humanity and physical sanctity. When women complain,however civilly, they’re met with condescension, dismissal, and the tacit (or, often, explicit) message that this is not yours, you are not welcome here. It’s fucked up, you guys. And I’m saying that as a friend with the best intentions.”
“Please. You are not being silenced. There is no “thought police.” Your freedom of speech is firmly intact. You are a member of the single most powerful political bloc on earth. Your voices and your perspectives saturate nearly all media. You are fine. We are just having a conversation about your art, and your art is what you care about the most, right? Right?”

Recently West participated in a live debate with comedian Jim Norton about the subject of rape in comedy.  Here is the link: Totally Biased: Extended Talk with Jim Norton and Lindy West

West said a lot of things in the debate but never once called for censorship.  The reaction on the internet was the following.

  • She received threatening emails and tweets
  • Many attacked her personally including her weight and appearance
  • Many comments were sexually threatening

Here is a link to West actually reading some of the threats out loud.

If Comedy Has No Lady Problem, Why am I getting so many Rape Threats?

It all seems like a circular argument.  If comedians want freedom of expression, they have to remember it’s not just a one way street.  Audience members can complain, heckle, boo, walk out, or blog about a joke they found offensive.  Everyone has a right to their opinion.  It is not if holding a microphone makes anyone immune to criticism.  Anyone who works as a stand-up comedian knows an audience will shout out whatever they want during anyone’s set.  The behavior is rude, but it has been around as long as stand-up has existed.  If anything our current navel-gazing lifestyle of Facebook, twitter and blogs has made things worse.

The men threatening West with rape and other sexual violence are actually giving her fuel for her side of the argument.  It is difficult to claim that rape jokes are not endorsing rape, and then turn around and use rape language to physically threaten and intimidate another person.  For all their cries of censorship they are basically trying to silence their critic through bullying tactics and degrading language.  Speech does have power – powerful rhetoric has swayed entire nations to do all sorts of wonderful and horrible things.  Many have paid the ultimate price for exercising their right to free speech and speaking out against those who might harm them.

Comedians are just like anyone else with an opinion.  Politicians face repercussions when they say something that offends people, as do actors, musicians, authors, pundits, and anyone else who voices their opinion publicly.  Instead of trying to ridicule and intimidate the random critic, a comedian should instead listen to their audience.  If night after night they are getting groans, hecklers and boos after a joke – instead of patting themselves on the back and telling themselves they are an edgy genius.  Perhaps they should reconsider the joke.  After all a white comedian can walk into a black comedy club and do nothing but a set of racially charged material but they run the risk of getting booed off the stage.  Women also have every right to respond in kind to a joke they think is not funny or inappropriate.

If we want true free speech we have to take it all forms.  A comedian can make rape jokes, and a blogger can write a critique of those jokes.  A disagreement should not result in intimidation or physical threats.  If a person has to resort to commenting on someone’s appearance, or threatening their physical safety – they don’t know how to make a point, and they don’t know how to debate.  West was never threatening any comedian with physical assault, or rape.  She wasn’t even calling for censorship.  Even West’s opponent in the debate, Jim Norton, has condemned the threats towards West as disgusting.  If white male comedians wanted to prove that they aren’t misogynistic and immature they just accomplished the opposite.  Since I work in comedy I know that these men are the exception, not the rule, but their treatment of West, is making the everyone in comedy look bad.

For instance in my article about Adam Carolla: Adam Carolla So Women Aren’t Funny?. I never once made a nasty comment about him personally, and I certainly didn’t wish for him any physical harm.  I simply disagreed with his point of view, and tried to make my best argument using specific examples.  I don’t know him, he is probably a lovely human being and I assume he is an excellent father.  The debate was about ideas, not about tearing him apart.

If a comedian is really confident in their material they shouldn’t care about a random blogger.  Comedians are always going to have critics.  The best way to deal with our critics is to prove them wrong by getting laughs on stage.  So grab those microphones and go for it.  If you have rape jokes in your set, then make those rape jokes!  Just don’t freak out if someone in your audience or a blogger dares to criticize you for it.  Freedom of speech goes both ways – get used to it!

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For Some: All Women are Fat

When my article “Dating After Divorce in a City of Sluts” exploded all over the internet I was strangely picked up by the humor website  I have no idea who really reads but most of the comments seemed written with a 14-year-old male perspective.  I did have some supporters, but the majority of comments were along the lines of “Women aren’t funny” and “This chick is fat“. Someone had re-posted photos from my website.  The glaring evidence of my reckless obesity was this photo.


My article had nothing to do with my physical appearance   So I am not sure why it was the main topic of discussion.  And when I look at this photo I think I look great, as do the women behind me.  I guess for some because my body is not up to the extreme standards of a photoshopped maxium model or the cartoonish proportions of a porn star I am basically huge.  Physical attractiveness and weight are subjective, but at 5’7″ and a BMI of 21 I am not by any reasonable standards fat or overweight.  A modeling agent would call me large, but they would also tell me the industry standard is a minimum of 5’10” and the highest paid models are extremely young – many in their teens.

When I shared my story with the women backstage at a burlesque show it unleashed an avalanche of similar tales.  It seemed every woman in the room, regardless of shape or size, had been hit with some completely non-related beauty related insult or remark.   The very thin women complained of getting snide remarks such as,

  • Eat a sandwich
  • You’re anorexic
  • You look sick

Women with plastic surgery have heard,

  • Your body is fake
  • You have a botox frozen face – even if they haven’t had botox
  • Your boobs are plastic

And for some any woman over the age of 35 is simply too old to even appear in public. Tabloids and the media just feed into this.  I am always floored when I see a photograph in a magazine of an actress in her mid-forties with an arrow pointed to a slight bulge in her lower abdomen with the question

  • Baby bump?

She is far less likely pregnant, then simply going through the physical changes of a typical 45-year-old woman.  And can we just accept that slightly dimpled skin is simply part of being female, especially when it doesn’t seem to correlate to a person’s weight, fitness level or even age.  Why does any sign of cellulite warrant panic, fear and terror when about 90% of women have some amount of it.

But regardless of any of this, when was the last time a man speaking to another man decided to unleash the nuclear option in an argument and blurt out a

  • You’re fat
  • You’re ugly
  • You’re old

I can’t think of a single time in my life I have seen that happen.  I have never seen a woman say anything like it to a man, unless the argument was somehow about his weight or age.  Some feel the lowest nastiest thing they could say to a woman is basically – you are not sexually attractive.  As if any of us will just crumble to a pile of low self-esteem dust when someone makes such a judgment call.

I have reached a point in my life where I just flat-out don’t care anymore.  I don’t give a flying f*ck if someone thinks I am fat, unattractive, if my ass is too big, and my breasts are too small.  I don’t care if they think I am too old, my skin is starting to sag on my face, or that I have wrinkles around my eyes when I smile.

I know I am not 25.  No one needs to point out to me the year of my birth.  Being older is not a weakness.  What my age has given me is the wisdom and knowledge to understand there will always be another younger more beautiful and attractive woman just around the corner.  Physical appearance is fleeting, and real perfection is impossible to obtain.  Our real value comes from our hearts and minds, which will live on long after we are at our physical sexual peak.  We either get old or we die, there is no way around it.  So I accept my age, and I don’t try to run or hide from it.

My favorite comeback was once uttered to a wardrobe coordinator on the set of a now cancelled television show.  When she kept making remarks about my weight I hit back with.

“Listen, I can see my ribs through my skin.  I don’t think I’m fat.”

Insults like these are just another way to try to disarm us and to dilute the real point.  We are women with opinions, sexual pride and we are more than the sum of our physical parts.  How dare a woman who is not a size 0 get onstage and take her clothes off in a burlesque show!  How dare a woman without perfect facial symmetry or glowing skin pick up a microphone and speak her mind!  How dare a woman in her late fifties write an article criticizing the status quo!  Shouldn’t we all be trapped in our homes existing on salads and lean proteins while working out three hours a day in the hopes that we will be the youngest, prettiest, thinnest woman in any room?  F*CK THAT!  The next time a man calls me fat, unattractive, or old I will simply turn to him and say.

Thank you sir may I have another!  What does that have to do with anything!

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Melissa McCarthy is Obese – So what?

Actresses Melissa McCarthy and Jane Lynch atte...

Actresses Melissa McCarthy and Jane Lynch attend Audi and David Yurman Kick Off Emmy Week 2011 and Support Tuesday’s Children at Cecconi’s Restaurant on September 11, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo credit: Audi USA)

In his recent movie review for the newly released Identity Theft Rex Reed refers to comedic actress Melissa McCarthy as tractor-sized, humongous, obese and a female hippo.  Rex Reed hated the film, tearing apart the screenplay, the direction and even the very premise.  He has every right to his opinion on the film as a whole; however, he goes too far when he attacks the weight of one of its stars.

According to the average hippo is 15 feet in length and weighs about 3.5 tons, or 7,000 pounds.  Hippos are also incredibly aggressive towards humans making them one of the most dangerous large animals in Africa.  I don’t know Melissa McCarthy’s weight but I would take a wild guess that it is nowhere near 7,000 pounds.  I also doubt that she would be considered dangerous or aggressive.   The average weight of a farm tractor is 18,661 pounds, or roughly 2.5 hippos, so she is not quite as heavy as a tractor either.   His use of the term, humongous is subjective I guess, but it is especially harsh since the origin of the word comes from combining huge with monstrous.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines obesity on a person having a Body Mass Index or  (BMI) of 30 or higher. The CDC lists the average weight of an American woman at 166 lb. with a waist circumference of 37.5 inches.  I don’t know McCarthy’s height or weight, but based on photos I would have to make a guess that she would probably be classified as obese.  The CDC estimates that approx. 35.9% of adult Americans would be considered obese.    Since such a significant portion of the population has a BMI of 30 or higher, is it really so extraordinary that an actress of that size appear as a lead character in a film?  Wouldn’t one-third of the country want to occasionally see someone who represents what they look like on the silver screen?

What does her size matter in this or any film?  It is not like she is portraying a personal trainer, runway model or starving refugee.  In this movie, her weight is about as relevant as her eye and hair color.  If the role specifically needed a slim woman that he might have a point, but in this case her weight might have actually helped her get the part.  She is portraying a common thief in Florida, shouldn’t she reflect the weight of a more common American?  Not every story or character calls for the usual 22-year-old Hollywood waif.

I suspect that McCarthy’s gender may have played a role in being ridiculed for being overweight. Eric Stonestreet best known for his performance of Cameron Tucker in the acclaimed hit television show, Modern Family, is hardly svelte.  Stonestreet is heavily featured in the film’s trailer yet Mr. Reed didn’t see the need to call him a beached whale.  He didn’t even mention him in his review.

Could we just move on from talking about any actresses weight?  The average size of most actresses in American films is alarming slender.  When someone as slim and in shape as the awarding winning actress, Jennifer Lawrence complains about being considered a fat actress by Hollywood standards, clearly the criterion in Hollywood is completely out of whack.  Shouldn’t it be about talent or finding the best actress for any specific role?

Haven’t we had enough already?  Isn’t the success of the film Bridesmaids proof enough that an obese actress can not only be extremely entertaining but help make a movie into a blockbuster.  According to the world-wide gross for Bridesmaids was over $288 million dollars.  Somehow I don’t think it would have been as successful without the hysterical McCarthy, no matter what her weight.

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Adam Carolla – So women aren’t funny?

English: Adam Carolla at 107.7 The End's Lonel...

English: Adam Carolla at 107.7 The End’s Lonely Hearts Valentines Party (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Adam Carolla, he wouldn’t place a bet on women being funny.  I am going to quote from the following interview from the NYPost.

The lesson you learned from a sexual harassment seminar was “Don’t hire chicks.” Do you hate working with women?

No. But they make you hire a certain number of chicks, and they’re always the least funny on the writing staff. The reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks. If my daughter has a mediocre sense of humor, I’m just gonna tell her, “Be a staff writer for a sitcom. Because they’ll have to hire you, they can’t really fire you, and you don’t have to produce that much. It’ll be awesome.”

The “are women funny” debate has grown very contentious. You’re not worried about reactions to this?

I don’t care. When you’re picking a basketball team, you’ll take the brother over the guy with the yarmulke. Why? Because you’re playing the odds. When it comes to comedy, of course there’s Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey, Kathy Griffin — super-funny chicks. But if you’re playing the odds? No.

If Joy Behar or Sherri Shepherd was a dude, they’d be off TV. They’re not funny enough for dudes. What if Roseanne Barr was a dude? Think we’d know who she was? Honestly.

Well he managed to not only be misogynistic but racist in just a few statements.  He also implies that it is easier for a woman to get a job writing for a sitcom, or that women somehow have it easier in comedy based on their gender.  My head spins on that particular premise.   What Carolla misses is that we don’t all share the same sense of humor.  Comedy is subjective, and for many female comedians their audience is not guys like Adam Carolla.

Carolla is just expressing his opinion and he has every right to do so, but he made a huge mistake in singling out Roseanne Barr.  Love her or hate her comedy, Rosanne Barr had a hit TV show  Roseanne that ran for nine seasons on network television and attracted millions of viewers. At its peak it was the #1 show on American television.  She has been one of the most successful comedians in American history, not just one of the most successful female comedians.  The only other equally successful sitcoms created by and featuring a comedian would be Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond both also ran for nine seasons on network television and were widely popular.

Other successful women in television include.

Lucille Ball –  She revolutionized the television.  Her show “I Love Lucy” is so popular that it is still in syndication all over the world and is considered a cultural icon by many.

Carol Burnett – Creator of The Carol Burnett Show originally ran on CBS for 11 seasons a total of 278 episodes.

Tracey Ullman –  She has had several popular and award-winning shows both in the US and the UK.

Jennifer Saunders – Creator of the highly successful British series Absolutely Fabulous another female based comedy.   Absolutely Fabulous is still broadcast all over the world.

Ellen DeGeneres – Creator and host of a hit syndicated talk show since 2008.  Also had a popular sitcom “Ellen” that ran for four seasons on network television.

Women also go to movies, the most recent phenomena being “Bridesmaids” a film made up of mostly female comedians and comic actresses grossed $288 million.  Some other female based comedies(I made a mistake earlier and only included domestic grosses for these fims, the new numbers reflect total worldwide grosses) My source was

  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding – $368 million
  • Sex in the City – $368 million
  • Runaway Bride – $309 million
  • My Best Friend’s Wedding – $299 million
  • Miss Congeniality – $212 million
  • Nine to Five – $103 million (1980)
  • Mean Girls – $129 million

Adam Carolla has had a very successful career and according to the Guinness Book of World records the most downloaded podcast in history.  Carolla’s best known work would be “The Man Show” a popular television show on basic cable.  I would agree that it might not make much sense to have a female writer for a show like “The Man Show” designed and made for a primarily male audience. “The Man Show” although popular on Comedy Central would never survive on network television its content too controversial and its audience too specific.

And as far as Carolla’s claims that women have it easier in comedy, the LA Times blog reports on a recent study done by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, in which they took a look at the top 100 grossing films last year and found that women only accounted for 33% of all characters on-screen, while women currently make up 51% of the world’s population.  Another study shows that although minorities buy plenty of movie tickets, they are also underrepresented on screen.

Yet despite this, Mr. Carolla somehow thinks women have it easier in the entertainment industry and are given jobs out of some sort of “politically correct” atmosphere, when the opposite is actually true.  But when women can find and connect with their core audience, they can surpass their male counterparts.   We all find different things funny, I didn’t laugh once when watching “The Man Show” but then again I wasn’t its intended audience.  Some of the most successful comedians have been women, yet this stereotype is perpetuated.  I don’t know how many more Lucille Ball types will have to exceed their male contemporaries until this debate finally ends.  Had Carolla bet against someone like Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball or Tracey Ullman he surely would have regretted his pick.  All I know is that I would rather watch “I Love Lucy” over “The Man Show” any day.

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