You sneaky little Jew! (and other insults)

You sneaky little Jew, I found myself shouting during a show. And again: You sneaky dirty lying little Jew. It’s probably the hardest lines I’ve ever said on stage. Not because I’m a big censor of words. I don’t think art shouldn’t hurt. Sometimes it’s needed to wake the audience, look at the same stories from a place of discomfort to create some change.

The guy I spit the lines out to is one of my best friends. He’s Israeli and, yes sometimes with glee, I compare him to an IDF soldier kicking in the door of a poor Palestinian. It’s usually after he tells me my solution to difficult situations is to shout Allahu Ackbar and blow myself up. We have fun with it and only rarely do we cross the subjective invisible borders that turn a provocative joke into a vulgar stab.

So, why is this remark so different? Maybe it’s because I remember walking down the street of Prague with my friend. Two struggling artists in a city that displays the history of its disappeared Jews for tourists to consume. In the shops we saw little figurines of happy Rabbis for sale. Between the ones playing instruments and clapping their hands we saw a few clasping a big bag of money. In another we saw the statue of the devil, a squat little man with a pot belly, a bald head and a big hook nose. If they hadn’t put the horns on his head he would have simply been the charicature of the greedy Jew of Nazi propaganda. Scratch that, I’m sure there’s more than a few images of the Jew with horns. That day ended with us having a kabab in an immigrant shop. When the owner asked us where we were from I answered with a cheerful Iran and Israel. The Iran he was happy to hear, but he made sure to tell me my Israeli friend has a million Euros tied to each finger of every hand. I tried to make a joke out of it, what we don’t have money for a proper meal when we perform but all this time you have been hoarding a secret treasure? My friend simply looked at me with a tired look in his eyes.

In that trip I could joke about the IDF and my friend could denounce Israeli policy or hit me back with the politics of my own native country, I could mock extremist Rabbis and my friend would point at the Ayatollahs, or simply distance himself from this or that cult. But if I would call him a sneak with his hidden money, manipulating the world, simply for being Jewish, that would be an accusation he could never run from. Because that’s what a sneaky Jew would do, right? Every one knows it. It’s in their blood. It’s a taint that will forever follow him.

I knew that if on stage I would call my friend a sneaky Jew an intelligent audience wouldn’t see it as an insult to him. They would find me the pathetic one. That’s what we wanted in our piece, in one moment I became a weak coward and very little of what I would say after that comment could be taken seriously.


The same night of my performance a comedy show was happening in the Mezrab. I always regret not being present at one of our nights. I like to see the success and the struggles of the artists, the mood and enjoyment of the crowd. I like to see what works and what can be improved. Especially when something big happens. And oh boy did something big happen this night. We where visited by a rowdy group of female visitors. The host in his frustration called them out a few times and finally said he’d like to put his dick in their mouth, just to shut them up. From there it escalated. The comedian after added similar choice words and what could have been a night of thought provoking humour ended in frustration on the side of the visitors, the staff and the performers.

Now, anyone who’s been on stage has said things they’ve regretted. You try to be edgy, but fall on your face from time to time, especially when you say something from a place of frustration. We check our inner compass and try to do better next time. The Mezrab audience is a pretty forgiving one, especially when the performers come with intelligent material. They give beginners a chance without giving them a hard time. But they also expect a performer not to shut up a black heckler by shouting in frustration that he wouldn’t have to deal with this shit if the niggers just went back to their coloured-only clubs and left us in peace, or a Jewish heckler by telling him you’d wished they’d gassed just a few more of them. Yes, the shifty boundaries of comedy are unclear, but subconsciously the performers of today know that would cross a line.

Not so when it comes to shutting up a woman apparently. I’ve heard more than a few comedians defend the remark. Because not defending it apparently means giving in to the ills of political corectness leaving us only with boring feel-good material. The guests who objected where told this is what you can expect from a comedy show, just grow a thick skin. Or stay home.

Well, no. If there’s anyone who needs to grow a thick skin it’s us performers. If the audience doesn’t like what you do they can stay home and leave you with an ever more homogenous echo chambers that adore your work. Or they can engage in discussion with you, which will hurt, but can lead to understanding and more intelligend material. If only because you understand how to communicate with audiences you don’t agree with, not just the ones you do.

The reason Dick-in-Mouth was objected to was not because it was simply too vulgar. It was because it reduced the audience member to the one thing they can’t run away from, the gender they were born with, and because of which they have likely experienced sexual intimidation or objectification. I’d like to put a dick in your mouth is at best reducing someone to a piece of meat and at worst a threat of rape. It’s also, and this is the cardinal sin for any artist, a lazy cliché. It’s not a joke made up on the spot to deal with a situation, it’s the brain finding the trope that’s been used almost as often as teenage boys telling women to “go make me a sandwich”. Just google the words, here’s what comes up:

dick-1

dick-2

dick-8

(many more at the bottom of this post)

If this spooky political correctnes many people fear creates boring art it will not be in the Mezrab. We’ve never been afraid to shock and try new things. We’ve had comedians talk about sucking off multiple dicks in a Turkish bath house. We’ve spent a whole night watching hardcore porn while Mama Mezrab served soup. We had an artist convince the audience he was an immigration officer and talk about the inventive ways he kills the dreams and ambitions of newcomers. We’ve invited a missionary on stage even though audience members where afraid of him and listened to him call us to the one true religion of the god most of us didn’t believe him. We objected to his story, not because of the content, but because he thought his story was more important than the other ones told that night.

Art in the Mezrab will also not be boring because we will not tell any artist to censor him or herself. No one will be excluded from the line up. But we will call performers out on material if it’s racist or sexist. We will engage in discussion about how the pieces are received and wether they hit the mark or not. Discussions on why if today we’re not ok with casual racism, why we give casual sexism a pass. We will flirt with the line of course, which means that we are absolutely ok with someone writing scathing poems about Turkey’s Erdogan, because he’s becoming a totalitarian ruler, while at the same time we find it intellectually lazy to call him a goat fucker. At the same time we’re not ok with calling Sylvana Simons a monkey and we see there’s a difference there.

Yes, it does take a thick skin sometimes to enjoy comedy in the Netherlands. As a result some people have simply stopped going to comedy shows. If you think that’s something to be proud of then consider the Mezrab audience: it’s grown tremendously in the past twelve years, and it’s the most diverse audience in age, gender, sexuality, religion and race of all the audiences in the Netherlands. Why would anyone not want them as an audience?

Maybe because there’s the fear that performing for such a diverse audience means you can’t cause offence. Wouldn’t that go against the words of our performing heroes such as Louis C.K. and Stephen Fry, who have beautiful quotes on the need to offend people?

stephen

louis

It’s in the spirit of the these performers that we want our performers to offend. With material that’s so intelligent and well crafted that the one who feels offended comes out looking like a fool. It’s comedy that attacks institutions, outdated social norms, our hypocricies. It punches up rather than down. It’s not material that makes you stop listening to the performer, like after the moment I made my stinking Jew remarks.

I very much doubt they’d tell a dick-in-mouth joke to shut a woman up. I also suspect they’d love to play a Mezrab audience.


More Dick-in-Mouth:

dick-3

dick-4

dick-5

dick-6

dick-7

And finally, some internet advice on what to do with a woman who doesn’t shut up:

dick-10

(post was slightly edited for clarity on 7-11-2016)

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3 thoughts on “You sneaky little Jew! (and other insults)

  1. Nice blog Sahand. Makes us think. From what I read, I’d say. The performers get away with insults. however they show more of themselves than they might like. I mostly feel sorry for their need for insulting and wish them to grow over it soon. It’s the host, that should always remain strict, polite, and at distance to visitors and performers. And (like a good teacher) keep order in the crowd. Let’s keep celebrating freedom in the Mezrab. things can’t always be perfect.

  2. I’m happy you’re having soup because that will shut you up, I found myself saying during a show. And later on: I’d love to put my dick in your mouth, just to shut you up. It’s definitely not the funniest, most intelligent or original line I’ve ever said on stage.

    Let me assure you, it’s the type of thing I would never ever say to my daughter, my wife, my mother or any other woman. I did do so last friday night, but why? Here’s my side of the story. And I’m sorry, it has gotten rather long.

    I had really been looking forward to hosting the comedy show at Mezrab. It is one of the loveliest shows there is in Holland. The crowd is young, divers, well educated and they’re always up for a good laugh. I thought it be a fairly easy show to host, as it always such a nice and polite crowd.

    I came onstage in a room with 100-110 people in the crowd. I could tell from the beginning it would be a fun night because there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm. I told them who I was, explained what the evening would go like, did some jokes and some crowd work.

    I noticed that to my right there was a group of girls that kept on talking. By now I can tell the difference between audiencemembers asking each other who wants a drink or having a conversation. In this case, it clearly was the latter and I addressed the situation. It is my duty to make sure the comedians can perform to a crowd that is having a good time and paying attention.

    The first act blows the roof of with a great performance. I decide to take the energy down a bit so the second act has a fair chance, it is very hard to follow someone who’s done so well straight away. Whilst doing so, there again is a constant noise on my righthand side. I do the teacher thing where I try to silence them by just looking in their direction and making sure we make contact so they get the hint. They don’t get the hint. Being an MC shouldn’t mean you have to act like a teacher or a police officer.

    I bring the second act on, a talented dutch girl that I bring onstage without emphasizing the fact she’s a woman because I’m one of the few men who believe women are just as funny as men. She has a nice set, but when I come back on the girls are chatting again. I do a joke, not about them. that doesn’t work. That happens, it happens to everyone.

    Two of the girls get up, talking. I tell them that there’s only one act before the break and ask them to stay. Not talking during a show and not getting up when someone is performing isn’t too much too ask for, right? Especially if you have paid no entrance fee and most of the acts you’re seeing are playing for you for free.

    They keep talking while the third comedian is on, it clearly interrupts his act. The constant chatting is effecting the entire show. Nine girls are starting to ruin the night for 100 other people who came for a fun night out. The dick-in-mouth line pops into my head but I don’t want to use it. They are not that agressive or annoying, it not a nice thing to say in general and it would be uncalled for. When I tell everyone we’re having a break I stress that now is the time to chat.

    When I come back on after the interval, I ask wether or not everyone had a good break. One of the girls reacts that they used to break to chat, the other girls next to hear are already talking to each other again. I see she’s got soup. I’m almost relieved, because now I can say I’m happy she’s got soup in her mouth so that will shut her up during the show. Mind you, me telling her I was happy she put soup in her mouth did not degrade her to a mere foodprocessor and definitely no threat to involuntary overfeeding.

    I get a round of applaus for the lovely soup, I tell everyone that’s there actually video’s on Youtube where you can see Mama Mezrab make the soup and sing songs. I tell everyone because Mama Mezrab had told me so very proudly an hour earlier and I wanted people to check them out. When I want to do some material to get the room al set up for comedy again, the girls are talking yet again. By the way, where not talking an occasional whisper, it’s audible conversation. I make another remark, one of the girls sighs her patience is wearing thin. I ask her if me telling them to be quiet is as annoying as having the constant buzz of nine girls in you’re ear whilst trying to do comedy. This gets a small applaus from some of the people sat in their corner of the room. That tells me I’m right and that they are not just bothering me.
    The first comedian after the break does a very nice job however, his last joke falls flat on his arse. It was a great joke mocking white people in the exact style and manner that is described at the end of the blog. The crowd seems to take it very literal, does not get the joke and falls dead silent. Except for the girls, of course.

    Now I get to the tricky bit of the show. It’s warm, it’s late and the show has just lost it’s energy. I as an MC have to try to get it back up so the headliner can properly close the night. I day something about the last joke of the comedian, it gets a good laugh. I want to carry on but then, for the umppth time, I hear the noise of girls chatting rising again and I blurt out the dick-in-mouth joke.

    I felt I really needed to get out the big guns to get them to quiet down once and for all. They had no respect for the performers, no respect for the other people in the crowd and after telling them loads of times to be silent in in increasing direct way, they had lost my respect.

    Could I have said something else? Something funnier? Sure, but there’s no time to sit down and think of a politically correct line that will shut up nine girls that have been drinking and clearly have no intention of changing their behavior AND be funny at the same time.

    Did I, at any point, take into account the fact they were girls? Did I deliberately choose something to say that only refers tot women, like the examples given about black or jewish? No, not at all. What I said is not gender specific at all, I could (and would) tell it to everyone who has a mouth. Man, woman, LGBT, anyone.

    If you ruin a show and you keep on doing so, I will be polite at first but that will wear off the longer you fail to understand the fact that you are ruining a show for the entire room. It is not about ruining the night for me, I could talk for hours on end while you keep chatting, but I have to make sure everyone has a good evening.

    After this, I still have to get the headliner on. That obviously did no go as well as I hoped. I had lost a big part of my sympathy, and I understand that. That is exactly the reason why MC’s try to quiet people down with jokes and funny remarks rather than acting like a teacher.

    The headliner to made some comments about those girls. I can’t speak on his behalve but I know that had been annoyed by their behavior the entire night as well. He does a very nice set and get’s a big round of applaus.

    After the show three girls approach me and want to talk about what happened. I tell them: Sure, explain to me why you feel this way. The tell me they think it was sexist. That shocked me, because I had in no way intended it in a sexist way nor did I mean to leave anyone feel sexually abused as they said they felt. I’m full aware that my intentions make no difference towards how something is experienced so I do my best to understand why they feel this way.

    I also try to explain to them what happened from my point of view and ask them if they can understand – not condone – understand why said it. They don’t seem to understand that it sometimes is impossible to quiet a group down in a normal way and they keep repeating the fact that they think it was sexist and that I should’ve it differently. Of course, they are entitled to that opinion but it doesn’t leave much room for a conversation.

    They want to know if I feel I’ve done something wrong. I tell them no. I do apologize for the fact that they feel so offended. They were at no point interrupting the show, my remark was never aimed at them so I am sorry they feel that way. I genuinely am. I make a living by making people laugh. Making people feel angry, sad or abused is the opposite of what I want to do. With one exception: people that ruin a show for everyone. If they leave the room feeling angry because of something I said to them, good. It’s their own fault.

    I explained to those three girls that this is, more or less, how things can go at a comedy night if one person or a group keeps interrupting. Sometimes a member of staff steps in and removes them from the room, other times a comedian will lash out. If that is something you can’t handle, I told them, you might be better of not going to a comedyshow.

    I also asked them wether or not they would go up to the group of girls and ask them why they behaved the way did it. They had every right to ask me, but why not ask that girl ‘Why do you think this happened’. And before you get all fired up, I know very well that any woman should be allowed to wear any piece or form of clothing without being assaulted but that right does not apply to talking during a comedyshow.

    In the blog it comes across as if my only respons to those three girls hurt feelings was ‘Too bad, don’t come to a comedyshow’. That is not what happend. We had a conversation about things that ended when they said “We’ve heard enough” and walked out. That conversation did make me think about what I had said and wether or not it is sexist. I know I didn’t mean it sexist but I also know that people felt it was sexist which by definition makes it sexist.

    It also looks like the entire night was some disaster filled with nothing but dick-in-mouth jokes from the get go. In fact, it was a really great night. All of the acts did well. I had more people coming up to me and telling me they liked the show than I had girls complaining. (That does not mean the girls had no right to complain, they had every right to complain.)

    Do I feel sorry about what happened? Yes, because people feel hurt that shouldn’t feel hurt and because it happened at one of my favourite comedy nights.
    Will I change the way I handle a rowdy group? No.
    Will I say something else the next time? Yes, but only because there are funnier things to say.

  3. Wouter, thank you very much for sharing your side of the story. Doing comedy is hard and MC-ing is even harder.

    I still think we have a blind spot when it comes to the words we use and the effect it was on people. I’m curious if a straight male MC would have made the same comment to a straight man. Do we really go there in the heat of the moment and what does it say aout us? But hopefully talking about it creates an understanding.

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