In Open Letter, Comedy Fans Lambaste Allegedly “Rapey” D.C. Comic
The debate over rape jokes has already reached high boil—multiple times—in mainstream comedy. And for a while there, it seemed like comics had finally learned a thing or two about how to make them—especially after comic Patton Oswalt wrote a smart, nuanced essay earlier this year that, among other topics, addressed rape jokes in the aftermath of the Daniel Tosh debacle. In his essay, Oswalt concluded that comedians should stop crowing over alleged censorship, because no one's proposing a ban on rape jokes. Most are simply asking that those jokes be redirected away from the victims—and toward, oh, I don't know, rapists.
Here in D.C., comics don't seem to be especially concerned with rape jokes. One female stand-up comic told me that the local scene is relatively women-friendly. "It's very easy to book a showcase in which half of the comics are women," she writes in an email, and comics in town seem aware of the "nuance required to talk about rape." Debate on the subject, she says, doesn't seem especially heated here. At least, it wasn't, until a local comedian stepped in it Monday night at Townhouse Tavern.
At the Dupont bar's regular open mic night earlier this week, D.C. comic Tyler Richardson had just taken the stage when he noticed a group of women at a nearby table, one of whom was sitting with her arms folded. He didn't dig her body language; to him, it seemed closed off. So Richardson began to rib them—y'know, to lighten them up. What happened afterward depends on whom you ask. But one thing is clear: His plan backfired.
The women sent Washington City Paper an open letter to Richardson that describes the night from their perspective. (They didn't sign their names, and they asked to remain anonymous.) Addressing Richardson, the women write:
When you got on stage, you immediately turned your attention to us. You started by asking us our opinions about condoms, repeatedly telling us that we looked mean. When you noticed one of us sitting with her arms crossed, you admonished her, saying that she should uncross them so you could "verbally rape" her, and proceeded to describe how your words would slip under her shirt and undo her bra, among other things. Another of the three of us got up to get a beer, and when you called out to her, she said that she didn't find rape funny. It could have ended there, but the rest of your "act" was a blur of offensive and stale jokes—some aimed at our table.
Richardson wrapped up his set early. As he left the stage, he gave the women the finger and told them to go fuck themselves. Some in the room applauded. The women left the venue shortly afterward.
The authors sent Washington City Paper contributor (and stand-up comic) Valerie Paschall a copy of their letter. She passed it along to Richardson, and he responded with his own.
In Richardson's response, he starts off apologizing, saying, "It is never my goal to make someone feel targeted." He doesn't disagree that he made some poor decisions that night. But he doesn't think his behavior was as offensive as the women describe. He says when he saw the patron sitting with her arms crossed, he thought he'd loosen her up with a joke about how his words would paw at them like handsy smoke plumes in an old cartoon. (Er, OK.) "Then I groped a microphone stand," he writes, and soon afterward, someone at the table called him "rapey." (Update, 12:04 p.m.: Contrary to what Richardson says, the women say they did not call Richardson "rapey" during his stand-up act. They just called him "rapey" in their open letter.)
Richardson says he's in no way rapey; he was just being "pleasant." He writes, "I talk to the crowd ... because I like having a very interactive and conversational feel when I am onstage. Normally, I am met with the same pleasantness that I put out; [their] table did not." He writes that anyone who's seen him perform before would know he's not That Guy. "I’m generally silly, and pleasant ... I honestly wanted nothing more than to win [them] over." As for the middle finger, Richardson says he regrets it, but he thinks the other comics in the room had his back.
In their letter to the stand-up, the women say they know hackish humor is Richardson's bag, but that doesn't make it any funnier.
As frequent attendees of open mic nights for local comics this summer, we know that your act generally focuses on invasive banter with the audience (“What race are you?” was a question directed at an Afghan audience member back in September), peppered with cheap jokes that rest on tired stereotypes, like your bit a few weeks ago about prison rape. We're not naïve enough to expect rape to be totally off-limits at open mic nights, but what you did at the open mic night on Monday targeted three women there, plain and simple.
The women also suspect that acts like Richardson's are chiseling away at the local comedy community.
We've heard rumblings from aspiring comics, saying they have either stopped attending open mic nights, or have been dissuaded from signing up altogether because of behavior like yours. This is a problem that is actively limiting your community from growing.
To that, Richardson responds that he doesn't think his act is poisoning D.C. comedy. He says on the contrary, the community is growing, and those who can't handle acts like his probably just aren't that dedicated to stand-up.
To whomever you were referencing as an aspiring comedian; they aren’t. If they were, they would realize that sometimes we all "eat one" up there. ... Most shows in our area don’t have people walk out in anger, as a matter of fact, we have quite a comedy takeover happening in the DMV due to how well shows are going. ... For someone to stop signing up or get dissuaded because of behavior like mine, clearly their heart was never in it. They can continue to make their friends laugh.
The comic winds down his letter by defending his act ("I do not get up night after night to harass people. I leave the house every night to put a smile on people’s faces. I do that well"), and acknowledging that his material just might not be their thing. But if that seems like the makings of an olive branch, he quickly snaps it in half.
"My name is Tyler Richardson," he writes, "and ladies, go fuck yourselves."
Below, read both open letters.
An Open Letter to a “Rapey” Comic,
As frequent attendees of open mic nights for local comics this summer, we know that your act generally focuses on invasive banter with the audience (“What race are you?” was a question directed at an Afghan audience member back in September), peppered with cheap jokes that rest on tired stereotypes, like your bit a few weeks ago about prison rape. We’re not naïve enough to expect rape to be totally off-limits at open mic nights, but what you did at the open mic night on Monday targeted three women there, plain and simple.
When you got on stage, you immediately turned your attention to us. You started by asking us our opinions about condoms, repeatedly telling us that we looked mean. When you noticed one of us sitting with her arms crossed, you admonished her, saying that she should uncross them so you could “verbally rape” her, and proceeded to describe how your words would slip under her shirt and undo her bra, among other things. Another of the three of us got up to get a beer and when you called out to her she said that she didn’t find rape funny. It could have ended there, but the rest of your “act” was a blur of offensive and stale jokes—some aimed at our table. When you got off the mic, you gave us the finger and told us to go fuck ourselves, to the applause of the rest of the room (mostly fellow comics). The emcee excused your behavior, noting that he himself, like many other comics, had had some trouble “with the ‘R’ word.”
Is this a flashback to the Daniel Tosh rape scandal? Or is this some kind of infantile backlash? Regardless, three women who were obviously not amused threatened your fragile male ego, and you essentially bullied us out of public space as a result. We left shortly after you got off stage. As women, we’re used to having our rights to public spaces truncated by haters, but as patrons, we somehow expected a tiny bit more from the comic scene in DC. Maybe we should have heckled you back or put up a fight, but part of our ingrained survival strategy is knowing how to take a lot of flack without flinching in a society that constantly reminds us of our inferiority. Maybe your survival strategy involves going to open mic nights and making lazy, tired jokes to mostly silent crowds.
We realize we’ll get pegged as humorless feminists for objecting to our verbal rape, so please let us explain that we agree with your assertion that rape jokes can, in fact, be funny in “certain contexts.” Wanda Sykes’s “detachable vagina” riff, and Margaret Cho’s David Hager wineglass-on-the-mattress joke are prime examples of this. These “funny in certain context” rape jokes aren’t unique to female comics; Louis C.K. came out with a bit earlier this year about how, statistically, a woman going on a date with a man is like if you could “only date a half-bear, half-lion. ‘Oh, I hope this one’s nice.’” As Patton Oswalt observed after the Tosh scandal, “No one is trying to make rape, as a subject, off-limits. No one is talking about censorship. In fact, every viewpoint I’ve read on this, especially from feminists, is simply asking to kick upward, to think twice about who is the target of the punch line, and make sure it isn’t the victim.” Rape jokes that break rape culture in half are funny; singling out audience members to threaten isn’t.
Three women constituted about 20% of the crowd last night; open mic nights aren’t unbelievably well attended now that the summer is over. But this isn’t only a problem affecting the audience. We've heard rumblings from aspiring comics, saying they have either stopped attending open mic nights, or have been dissuaded from signing up altogether because of behavior like yours. This is a problem that is actively limiting your community from growing. When a fifth of the room leaves, or when you have a long list of possible comics and fans who aren’t getting involved in the comedy scene because they don’t feel welcome, the emcee should take that as a sign that they should assume a more active role in maintaining their talent pool. Is the freedom to harass your audience really more important than expanding your community, in general?
As for you, the "rapey" comedian, you’ve clearly crossed the line from heckling to harassment. We think it’s high time you draft some real attempts at humor or get off the bill.
The Humorless Uptight Bitches at Table 3
Tyler Richardson's response:
An Open Letter to the three women who hate my act,
I thought about addressing you by the name you chose to sign the letter with but instead, let me apologize. It is never my goal to make someone feel targeted, and I felt pretty terrible when I saw your group leaving. I went to apologize but you had already left; I would have loved to address this then, in person. Giving you the finger was totally uncalled for. I also felt terrible that I had affected you enough that you left, when you were there to support your friend. We are a very supportive group of comics, and I robbed her of something; for that I also apologize to her. I am glad that you have an opinion of my act based on seeing me at several open mics, despite the fact that you do not care for it. The reason that there are no limits at an open mic, is because it’s practice. Comedians test out anything they think might be funny, then weed out what is not working.
When I got onstage, I immediately turned my attention to you. I did so, because two of the people at your table sat there with their arms folded. I tend to observe the crowd, and that stands out like a sore thumb. I addressed it, in what I thought was a pleasant manner. I talk to the crowd (peppering them with cheap jokes that rest on tired stereotypes) because I like having a very interactive and conversational feel when I am onstage. Normally, I am met with the same pleasantness that I put out; your table did not. That is your choice; I do not hold it against you. Clearly, you had seen my act before and the disdain that I recognized was about my past performances, and not a general Monday funk. In hindsight; I should have stopped our interaction and gone ahead with the new jokes I had prepared.
I want to paint a clear picture of what occurred. Because, as the victims here, I feel like you left out some important pieces to the story. After our initial greeting, I then said that I would like your friend to uncross her arms because my words creep up on people like smoke in an old cartoon (when it has hands). Then I groped a microphone stand, which is when (I believe) you said that there is nothing funny about rape. I disagree, which you referenced in your letter, and then someone at your table called me “rapey”. I laughed at that, because clearly you haven’t gotten any clue of who I am when you have seen me in the past. I’m generally silly, and pleasant, which I asked the comic you were there to support to back me up on. I do not know her, which is probably why she said nothing. I honestly wanted nothing more than to win you over. At some point, I gave up on that, which was a fault of mine. Others in the crowd, mostly comics, laughed which is the only reason why I continued on that train of thought. I do not normally “play to the back of the room” but I think most people that knew me found the “rapey” title as laughable as I did.
Now, I would like to say something on behalf of the host. I will not bother running down my resume and achievements, because that’s petty. What I will do, is tell you that the reason that the host excused my behavior is because he was in the room and like others there; felt that your anger was unwarranted. He has also seen me consistently perform well in front of more crowds than you have ever been a part of. I bust my butt and perform two to four times a night almost every day of the week. He had my back because he knew I had a rough set and am not a monster. As a friend, he probably knew that I felt terrible about the direction things went while I was onstage; it’s rare I leave before getting the light. He, as most promoters in the DMV area are aware, knows that throwing me on a show generally just makes for a better show.
To whomever you were referencing as an aspiring comedian; they aren’t. If they were, they would realize that sometimes we all “eat one” up there. I do not routinely walk crowds, and you should agree since you’ve seen me before. Most shows in our area don’t have people walk out in anger, as a matter of fact, we have quite a comedy takeover happening in the DMV due to how well shows are going. You hate my act, and that is fine, but if you’re being honest with yourselves you can admit you’re the first table you’ve ever seen me walk. For someone to stop signing up or get dissuaded because of behavior like mine, clearly their heart was never in it. They can continue to make their friends laugh.
I do not get up night after night to harass people. I leave the house every night to put a smile on people’s faces. I do that well. You can call me a lot of things, but if you say I’m not funny, you are lying. You seem to have great taste in comics, and I am happy that you don’t believe in censorship onstage. I accept that my act is not for you, though I don’t think you gave my written material credit, but we’ll agree to disagree. But, instead of coming to me like a woman, you wrote an open letter trying to shame me publicly? We could’ve talked this out, and I would’ve apologized for putting you through that. No one is saying you would have to accept it, but that is an alternative to the way you handled things. My name is Tyler Richardson; and ladies, go fuck yourselves.
Valerie Paschall contributed to this report.