Thursday, 1 May 2008

A Comedy-Goer's Perspective on Why Johnny Vegas is a Nasty Tosser

Johnny Vegas decides to sexually assault a woman onstage.

Full disclosure: Johnny Vegas ranks only slightly lower than Jim Davidson in my personal list of Shittiest Comedians Ever. I've never once found him funny. The episode of QI he did is not an exception - it's my least favourite episode. He is a slobby drunken loser with the world's most annoying voice and his routines are shambolic. He can get away with more than Jim Davidson because "Vegas is playing a character! He's being ironic!" Alright, but is he being funny? Well... no. What he's doing is getting audience members to carry a girl onto the stage and then assaulting her.

This story is disturbing enough in itself, but made all the worse by hundreds of commenters claiming that the girl can't have been sexually assualted because a) she didn't slap him in face, b) nobody tried to stop it and c) Vegas hasn't been arrested. I don't think any of these people are inveterate comedy fans. We who go to gigs (no, I did not see this gig - that makes none of my points about assault invalid) know that you don't get up and interfere with the act. You just don't. When a comedian drags you up on stage, you do as they tell you. I saw a woman reduced to tears when she was dragged up on stage at a Rex Boyd gig - she was humiliated, he wasn't funny, but she did as she was told. A shy person at a comedy gig does NOT want the audience turning on them, and chances are, if you screw up the routine, any half-decent comedian will immediately being making cruel jokes at your expense, and provided he's got laughs previously, that's enough to make the audience turn on you. We once saw a comedian we suspected was high on crack during his performance. We KNEW he was high on crack when my friend Jess and I started playing noughts and crosses, right at the front of the stage, and he didn't say anything. A lot of people like witty cruelty, and only a comedian high on crack wouldn't pick on us for blatantly disrespecting his act.

Also, the difference between a comedy club gig with four or five small-to-middling comedians and a show with a household name headline act is huge. Take my review of Sean Lock's abysmal gig on Saturday night. No way in hell would he have got away with that performance as an unknown perfoming third in a night's entertainment at Wolverhampton Jongleurs (I assume there's a Wolverhampton Jongleurs). He would have been heckled, booed, snarked at, people would have got up and gone out for a fag. What actually happened was that we sat there mostly in polite silence, forcing laughter at any joke we found even remotely funny. A few people made quiet, unobtrusive exits during the interval. No heckles. You don't heckle a big-name comedian, unless it's a Ross Noble type whose whole show thrives on heckles (and all those are very much pro-Ross heckles. I miss Ross. Come back to England and save me from all this shitty comedy!). It's an unwritten rule that you don't heckle someone whose audience has mostly come to see someone they recognise from the TV. They don't want heckles and it spoils their enjoyment, even if the heckle makes a good point. You do NOT get involved with an established comedian's act unless he invites you, and if he invites you, you do NOT attempt to swing his routine your own way. I like to think that if I'd accidentally ended up at this particular Vegas gig, I'd have least yelled, "Get the fuck off her, loser" or something to that effect. I know I'd have walked out and complained to the management. But despite what a couple of commenters on that Guardian article have said, established comedians have all the power in that room. They can choose not to prepare, to segue away from their planned material to complain about having to wait for a breakdown truck, to actually include the breakdown truck complaint in their written material (you suck, Lock), to insult the audience, to ignore the audience, whatever they choose to do, and the audience will say nothing. I wonder if these people arguing that Vegas has no power at all have ever disrupted a performance. I wonder if they'd be cross if they were in the cinema with two hundred other people, and someone came in and punched a hole through the screen because they thought it was disgusting. If you disrupt a show, the audience will turn on you. Everyone knows this. As one of the Guardian's commenters pointed out, comedians go to great lengths to imply that their brand of humour is edgy and fashionable and funny, and anyone who doesn't get it is a middle-class reactionary. If you don't get it, you're humourless, you're a prude, you're a member of the PC Brigade. You wouldn't know funny if it hit you in the face. I was certainly told this once when I complained about Bernard Manning (Bernard Manning! Edgy, fashionable and funny! Even he would have laughed at that). Why hasn't Vegas been arrested? Because if this girl was indeed assaulted as badly as Mary O'Hara claims, she's afraid of what people will say about her. She'll be the middle-class reactionary, the prude, the girl with no sense of humour. Johnny Vegas is a nationally-acclaimed comedian, so it must have been funny, and she doesn't want to look like a bad sport. And after all, she went up there. She did what he told her to do. She doesn't have a leg to stand on. And the truth is, she doesn't, even though she should. In her position I wouldn't file a complaint - I'd tell anyone who asked that it was 'no big deal', I'd beat myself up for a while then resolve to be much more careful in future, either stopping visiting comedy gigs altogether or only sitting right at the back where nobody could see me. We still don't consider coercion to be a real thing. We don't think everything described above is coercion, because coercion means "someone held a gun to her head". We say, "if you go to comedy gigs, what do you expect?" Even O'Hara, writing to condemn Vegas, says this.

Well, here's what I expect. I expect a comedy gig to BE FUNNY. Even if we assume that Vegas wasn't assaulting the girl, he was apparently using her to take the piss out of Shakespears Sister's "Stay" (I really hate the lack of apostrophe in that band name. Damn you, Siobhan Fahey). From nineteen-ninety-fucking-two. Jesus Christ, Johnny, try to move in the same century as the rest of us! To think we were scorning Sean Lock for doing a riff on Gail Porter's hair. The standard defence of Johnny Vegas as a "character" is crap, too. When his "character" gets involved with people who are not acting, everything that happens is his responsibility. Not his character's. It doesn't fly that it's alright to grope a stranger's breasts if you "don't really mean it". It's not alright to grope a stranger's breasts because "that's what the character would do" or because "he is trying to portray his character's self-loathing" or because "it indicates to the audience that his character is a loser". The last one is especially off, because if it were okay to grope strangers to show you were a loser, it doesn't really seem to have worked. People now think that Johnny Vegas is a criminal, Johnny Vegas didn't actually do it, or Johnny Vegas is allowed to do it because he's Johnny Vegas. It's not about his stupid fucking character.

In conclusion, Johnny Vegas is a nasty tosser. I'm cross and hate everybody. I will delete any of the following comments:
"But you weren't there!"
"Why didn't she stop him, if it was so bad?"
"Why haven't the police done anything, if it was really assault?"
"OMG you just don't get Johnny Vegas he's soooo funny" (I don't want this person on my blog ever again, thank you)
"How dare you condemn him before you've heard his side?"
"But you're forgetting that he's a truly brilliant actor - his performance in the BBC's Bleak House was exquisite." (This is not relevant and smacks of the 'he's an upstanding member of the community with a steady job' that people use to defend rapists.)
"But people saw her chatting to him afterwards! He said thank you!"
"The journalist hasn't gone to the police, which means she's lying."

Seen all of these, at least four times, and I just can't be arsed with them. Jennifer is not impressed. Jennifer SMASH.

Via Shakesville.

Edited to add: On Chortle, this is quoted:

"...[O]ne seemed to understand the point Vegas was trying to make by saying: ‘Not totally defending him but I'm sure that the point was that pathetic individuals/society are totally enthralled with celebrity and let them get away with murder. She, and others, could have told him to get lost but didn't probably for that reason.’"

The POINT he was trying to make? What the fuck? The POINT??? He wasn't making a point. If I killed someone in public and my defence was "I was trying to make a point", people would think I was a psychopath. You don't fuck with people on stage in order to make a point. Making a point, my arse. He wanted to grope a girl. Jesus. I'm interested to see if he'll make any comment on this at all. I always got the impression he'd like people to think that 'Johnny Vegas' was an idiot but that he himself was really a lovely guy. So, what do we think? Will he apologise, will he say nothing? Or will he claim he was making a fucking point? If he claims he was making a point, he will officially surpass Jim Davidson on my shit list. At least Davidson managed to apologise and admit he might have a problem with homophobia after all those 'shirtlifter' attacks. I never thought I'd see the day when a comedian could be worse than Jim Davidson. Christ.


Anonymous said...

johnny vegas is the best comedian we have in the uk.He is the only one makes me laugh till it hurts.If you have no humer dont go takeing it out on the funny man.Look at yourself u sad fucker.

Jen said...

I've only just noticed this comment - I'm going to leave it here because I think it illustrates my point rather well.

Anonymous said...

Agreed Jen! Well done on the blog by the way!
Anyway...Illustrated very well Dominus Domino Despiteous Anonymous! (Stick that up ya latin laughter pipe!) I laugh everyday at all types of comedy & comedians, yet you took prize for the biggest laugh today!