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British Comic Gropes Woman Onstage In The Name Of Funny

Illustration for article titled British Comic Gropes Woman Onstage In The Name Of Funny

Someone should have told comedian Johnny Vegas that fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life. Vegas is the stage persona of British stand-up comedian Michael Pennington, whose act has been described as dangerous, confrontational, [and] out of control. Last Friday night in London, Vegas appeared as a "special guest" on a tour called 10 Greatest Stand-Ups, and many reviewers who caught his act found the performance nothing short of sexual assault: Vegas brought a young woman who appeared to be about 19 onstage, and proceeded to squeeze her breast, finger her through her clothes, and kiss her, after he had repeatedly told her that he wanted to be "inside" her.

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Here's a more detailed account of how it went down, according to the Guardian's Mary O'Hara:

Vegas stepped on stage to cheers and immediately announced that he had no material, and that he was there mostly to get laid. There followed a short meandering ramble (mainly about lap dancers) before he turned his attention to the audience - and to one young woman in particular in the front row who, he announced, he wanted to be 'inside'...The woman he focused on was about 18 or 19 and was very obviously unnerved by his attention...Once she was on stage, Vegas told her to lie very still. She couldn't stop her nervous giggling; he threatened to kick her in the ribs. It didn't come across to me as a joke - and near to where I was sitting, no one was laughing. Eventually Vegas crouched down beside the nervous girl and started stroking her breasts while repeatedly saying, "don't fucking move". Then he ran his hand up her leg and began pulling her skirt up. Every time he looked up to address the audience, she would reach down and pull her skirt back down, but he kept pulling it back up.

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According to a commenter named James Williams on the Not BBC forums, Vegas then started "fingering her through her clothes for a second or two" before ending his act.

Supporters of Vegas on the Not BBC forums and elsewhere argue that at no time did the woman refuse Vegas's advances; another commenter said he particularly enjoyed the "the discomfort [Vegas inspired] in the predominately middle-class section of the audience I was sitting in." Mary O'Hara and others point out that the woman, young as she was, may have felt she couldn't say "no", as Vegas was singling her out in a crowd full of cheering, jeering people and that she had no idea what was going to happen once she got onstage, and perhaps felt unable to fight back.

This is complete conjecture, but in an interview with the Guardian from two years ago, writer Decca Aitkenhead talks about how when Pennington created his "Johnny Vegas" angry-drunk-aggressive persona, he was "bitter and directionless, drifting between bar jobs in London and Glasgow. By 25 he still hadn't had a girlfriend." He created "Vegas" after he moved back in with his parents. Is Johnny's treatment of this woman payback for all those women who rejected him in late teens and early 20s? It's unclear. What is pretty evident, however, is that Vegas crossed the line on Friday night and called it "comedy." James Williams on Not BBC put it this way: "I don't like to think that any area is out of bounds for comedy, even if the comedy is lazy nonsense (which on this occasion, I think it mostly was) - but that really only applies when you're talking about words and ideas. Once you've got someone pinned down on the stage, it becomes a rather different matter... Really, did no one else see it?"

Since When Is Sexual Assault Funny? [Guardian]

Here's Johnny! [Guardian]

Johnny Vegas Thread [Not BBC]

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DISCUSSION

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applejuice

@snarkhunting: "My ingrained thought is, "Don't interfere. Don't get involved." Overcoming that training is not easy, especially in a setting where you're not sure if it's wrong or not."

I actually made a conscious decision when I was a teenager that I was going to be the one who "did something" even if I was unsure. My thinking was - better to do something and be wrong than to not to anything when I could have helped.

I made this decision after a friend of mine was left on the street to almost die after people figured she was "just drunk" or passed out on drugs or something. She was in a diabetic coma and no one helped her. A police officer eventually found her after who knows how many people (in a fancy area of her city) walked right on past her.

From then on I ALWAYS try and help, even if I am unsure. I once saw a guy shove another guy dramatically into a car, the one being shoved screamed once (in a quite camp way) "call the police!" as they sped away. So I did. Turns out when the police came they spoke to 30 people on the street who had seen the same thing and I was the only one who phoned. The rest said "I wasn't sure if he was joking." Or "I like to mind my own business." HOLY CRAP. What if that was you or me? Wouldn't you hope that someone would listen and call the cops? (The police traced the partial number and make I got and found the car. It was a "domestic" dispute, but one guy was pretty badly beaten up and he did press charges in the end.)

I would like to think that if I was at a show and witnessed something like the scene described and I was that uncomfortable I would do something. What would I do? I don't know exactly(maybe get up and go tell someone in the theatre I was going to phone the police, then go from there? The threat alone might get it stopped), but I know I do try to react actively in situations like this. I always try to think "Who cares if I am wrong and get embarassed. What if I am right? Can I let this happen?"

I just always try to think of myself or someone I love in the situation, and try to just not give a damn about getting embarassed if I am wrong.

Maybe I am screwed up, but it's how I have lived my life for a while, and I think, in general, I sleep better at night because of it.