My Scary Encounter With a Stalking Heckler

Part of me thinks it's too soon to be writing about this because I don't think I've completely processed how I feel, but I also think maybe this has happened to other women and I should talk about it in as raw a way as possible. I'm still really embarrassed and ashamed and garbled up inside, but maybe this can start a helpful discussion in terms of women and comedy.

Last night, I was on a stand up show in the East Village. The show started out with a small crowd and the host did an amazing job interacting with them and riling them up. By the time I got on stage, there were about 20 or so more people in the audience and the place had really filled up. The show was still kind of loose because of the back and forth between the host and the audience, so when I got on stage, I riffed a bit about the stuff that had happened before and then talked to one guy on the side of the audience who the host had dubbed "Banana Republic." All joke-y. All in good fun.

Then, I start my actual set and do my first two jokes, which go pretty okay. I start another joke that is vaguely sexual — not crude, not crass — mainly silly and that goes well too. The next joke I do is about my boyfriend.

At a comedy show, when you're on stage, usually you can't see the audience because of the bright lights. So I'm looking into pitch darkness. As I start the joke, someone yells, "Does your boyfriend know?" referring to the sexuality joke I'd just told. I stop, laugh and say that he does because I think it's just more of the loose environment that's been going on at this show. I attribute it to an audience member just having fun.

I start to tell the joke about my boyfriend again, and at the midway point, the same voice yells something else derogatory about my boyfriend, homophobic and misogynistic towards me. I stop, confused. I can't see who is talking to me so I make a HUGE mistake and say, "Sir, if you're gonna talk to me, you need to come to the front because I can't see you." I think calling him out like this will shut him up.

NOPE. Instead, he marches to the front and now I see he's a TERRIFYING looking crazy man I hadn't noticed in the crowd. He comes way too close to the stage and in my fear, I gesture that he needs to sit in the front, not come on stage with me which seems to be his plan. He sits and continues talking to me, making gross, lewd comments, leering, ruining all my jokes and at one point, he takes out a digital camera and creepily asks if I want to see some photos.

I am horrified. He's completely derailed the act I've worked hard on, ruined a night of me doing my job which I'd spent all day looking forward to (and I'd waited an hour to get on stage), embarrassed me and made me feel worthless in front of my friends at the show and my fellow comics and is really, really scaring me.

(Relevant note: I am the only female comic on this show and before me, nothing had happened. I become aware that this is a clear sexist attack.)

When he first started talking, I had tried to do that thing women are taught to do where you're distantly polite to a man who is attacking you in the hopes that things don't escalate. "Just smile and make a joke so he doesn't hurt you."

Part of me is so sick of that line of thinking. Even though I'm still scared, I mock him a bit saying he hangs outside the CVS all day and telling him I know he's just going to show me pictures of his dick on that camera, basically joking that he's a crazy Internet creeper come to life. The audience laughs and is on my side, but it's very, very uncomfortable and I am visibly unnerved. The more upset I get, the more he grins a disgusting, slimy grin at me. I wish I were braver.

Finally, I say, "Sir. I'm going to do my last joke and it's going to be great and you're going to shut the fuck up, okay?" He nods, but then as I start my joke, he yells more horrible stuff at me. I put the mic back in the stand and say, "Now, because of you, no one's gonna hear the punchline of that joke."

Then, I get off stage.

By the time I reach the back, the two people in charge of the show have grabbed the guy and kicked him out of the show. The host gets back up and has the audience boo loudly against hecklers and cheer for me.

In the back of the room, all the other comics come up and hug me and make sure I'm okay. I am shaking. Outside of the showroom is the actual bar attached to the venue. I peek through the curtain of the room and I already know what I'm going to find.

The creepy guy is waiting for me at the bar.

There is no way for me to get to the door without him seeing me. I am supposed to meet my boyfriend at a cafe four blocks away, but if I walk out alone, he'll follow me. I am trapped. I text my boyfriend that he needs to walk to this venue and get me. I feel so worthless and stupid that I need to do that, that I can't take care of myself. I don't see any way for me to lose the guy if he comes after me though. My boyfriend says he'll be there in five.

It's the longest five minutes of my life. The heckler spots me and I don't know what to do. I pace around the room, hide in the comedians' area, and try and disappear into a corner. Eventually, I decide to try standing outside because maybe there will be people there and he won't try and get me. There's not enough people outside, and I realize this was a bad choice. I consider calling the police but I don't know what they can do. I know he's waiting to follow me out of the bar as soon as I walk away. He's going to hurt me.

I stand outside for a bit, clutching my phone. I can see the guy waiting inside the bar. Finally, my boyfriend gets there. I grab his hand and walk away as the door to the bar opens and the creep yells after me, "Byyyyye." I don't acknowledge it, but it feels like a bullet.

My boyfriend and I turn the corner. I start to sob.

"I wish I were stronger," I tell him. "I wish I could have punched the guy or done more, but I was so scared because he was bigger than me and he looked like he was really going to abduct me, rape me and kill me."

(Later, my friend who was at the show says I did the right thing running away because "that guy looked like he had a knife collection he wanted to show you.")

Right now, I feel: beaten, destroyed, helpless, weak, ashamed for being so scared, shocked, worthless, less than, and terrified. I feel like maybe I overreacted but then it's that concept of Schrodinger's Rapist, where I don't know what would have happened. I also feel like I never want to do comedy again — which I guess is sort of…letting the terrorists win so to speak, but I don't know.

The three male comics I talked to about this said they'd been heckled before but nothing on this level. I suspect I can't be the only female comic who's felt threatened by an audience member, but I've never heard of anything like this before what happened to me last night.

Anyway, maybe I'll be more eloquent about this at a time when I feel more eloquent. But for now, I just needed to get this all down somewhere. Fuck, man. Fuck.

Note: At a regular comedy club, there'd be a bouncer to protect the comics from unruly patrons but this was just a bar. Neither of the show's hosts are big guys. They wouldn't have been able to take this heckler physically and though they did eventually kick him out, I think they were also scared of what he might do to them. Also, in my attempt to not seem weak or like I was overreacting I didn't tell either of them that the guy was waiting for me. I know. It was stupid.

This post originally appeared at No Fun Gaby Dunn. Republished with permission.

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