On March 15, Daily Beast reporter Samantha Allen wrote a piece titled “Dear Ricky Gervais and Other Comics, Your Caitlyn Jenner ‘Jokes’ Are Getting Old.” Allen took issue with how often successful comedians used transphobic jokes in their comedy, citing the work of Ricky Gervais, Bill Burr, and Michael Che. She wrote:
Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” co-host Michael Che talks in Michael Che Matters about realizing that the slur “tranny” is “hurtful” after a transgender friend asked him, “How would you like it if I called you ‘blacky’?”
Che could have just mugged for the audience, or put a quick pin on the joke, but he goes for the easy laugh he knows he can get by simply repeating the slur: “Well played, tranny, well played.”
Che did not take kindly to the criticism, which was minor, considering the scope of the piece. In a series of now-deleted Instagram stories, screencapped by Paste Magazine assistant comedy editor Seth Simons, Che not only responded directly to Allen’s piece but also drafted an email to her and directed his fans write to her to email address.
Despite her email address being public, Che’s post read like an invitation to flood Allen’s inbox with hate mail. And not long after it appeared, Simons was being targeted by Che on Instagram as well.
“The way I see it, both Michael Che and I were doing our jobs: he recorded a stand-up special and I wrote an article. Suffice it to say, his job is way better than mine,” Allen wrote to Jezebel in response to a request for comment. “As for the email, I can confirm that I did not receive it in either my inbox or my spam folder. I found out that I was featured in his Instagram story when I started getting emails from his fans.”
While perhaps on the lower end of the spectrum of online harassment, Che’s actions echo other ways in which male comedians often use their platform to belittle and harass women online. Alec Baldwin deleted his Twitter account in late 2017 after essentially mansplaining sexual harassment to actor and Weinstein victim Asia Argento, but continues to threaten people with lawsuits through the account for his foundation. Comedian Kurt Metzger, who formerly came under fire for his comments on sexual assault, has also harassed his critics on Twitter before.
Che’s apparent sensitivity to criticism, particularly criticism written by women, is unfortunately far from new. In 2013, after the site Black Girl Nerds published a piece titled “The Trouble With SNL’s White Christmas” by Faye McCray, Che reportedly called the site “lazy and unsuccessful” on Twitter. “I haven’t been a fan of his since,” editor-in-chief Jamie Broadnax wrote in an email to Jezebel describing the incident.
“Honestly, I thought it was a great opportunity to engage in productive debate. The article came from a place of honesty and reflection,” McCray told Jezebel via email. “Instead, he made personal attacks on me, the editor and the publication. I was disappointed in him but not surprised given the insensitivity of the skit.”
And in 2014 after a viral video spotlighting one woman’s experience being catcalled made the rounds, Che posted an apology to women on Instagram for calling them “beautiful” and compared street harassment to what he experiences as a famous comedian who gets recognized on the street. After people criticized his comments online, he seemed to double down. “I wanna apologize for my last apology,” he wrote, seemingly sarcastically, in a second Instagram post. “sometimes i forget that i belong to all of you now, and that any thought i have should be filtered through you, and receive ur approval.”
Despite the fact that Che is a successful comedian with a position as co-head writer on Saturday Night Live, he has repeatedly and publicly denigrated women, some up-and-coming writers, over the past few years in ways that read as incongruous for someone of his level of fame and status in the New York City comedy community. And while online harassment is common not just for journalists but women generally—particularly on Twitter, which has a pervasive and largely unaddressed problem with MRAs and white supremacists targeting women of color, including Che’s coworker Leslie Jones—Che’s choice to go after women with far less power and reach is an inequitable and frankly petty use of that fame.
In January 2015, media critic and author of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV Jennifer Pozner tweeted about seeing Michael Che do stand-up. “His set: street harassment=no big deal &complaining about it=racist. Oh, &rape jokes,” she wrote that night, naming the comedian but not tagging him.
“By the time I got up and checked Twitter the next day, he had done a Twitter search for his name at something like 2 or 3 in the morning, found my tweet, and started harassing me on Twitter,” Pozner told Jezebel in an email. “And then for the next two days he obsessively went through many months—definitely more than half a year, but if I remember correctly, eight or 10 months—of my Twitter archives, selectively retweeting anything that he thought made me look stupid, or frivolous.”
Jenn M. Jackson, a writer for Bitch Media and Teen Vogue, also found Che in her mentions one day despite not using his name or his Twitter handle in criticisms of Saturday Night Live. Jackson, who described herself as an unverified Twitter user at the time who had just started out writing, tweeted criticisms of SNL’s treatment of black people in March 2014, referring to Che’s “Black Jeopardy” sketch but not tagging him. Che then tweeted, according to embedded tweets immortalized in text from in an Interrobang post, that the writer “get a life” and that her criticisms were “adorable.” “It became a whole thing,” Jackson told Jezebel, adding that she had to block a lot of people tweeting at her after the incident. “I didn’t expect it to because I wasn’t interacting with him.”
“The way that Michael Che in particular goes after certain writers, [and] I do think I’m certain that I don’t see him going after men in the same way, I do think is a way to bully people on the internet,” she says.
In November of that same year, New York comedian Livia Scott criticized Michael Che on Twitter for re-posting a graphic tweet by a woman wanting to “suck a black guy’s dick” to prove white people aren’t racist following protests of Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson. The next day Che had posted on Facebook that he was attending her comedy set in New York that night in a public post, without tagging her.
“don’t have the balls to tag me?” Scott replied in the comments. “i don’t hate you...i just don’t like you,” Che responded. “you are unlikable based on your personality, even if you do positive things like protest for good causes, or raise money for sick friends, your personality sucks.”
“all i did was draw attention to what you posted, and you are coming for me and riling up your fans to do the same, and now you’re coming to see me perform and live tweeting it to intimidate me,” she replied in a further comment.
On Tuesday, one of the women Jezebel reached out to, a writer and comedy student named Talia Jane, posted a screenshot on Twitter of an email Jezebel sent to her requesting information after she tweeted about Che. The email, which was sent in the course of reporting this story, then made its way to Che, who then posted it on Instagram stories, commenting that he has “that to look forward to.”
Requests for comment sent to Che’s manager and talent agent went unanswered. But Che has acknowledged that his Twitter self, in the past, has gotten him into trouble. A post about SNL’s prickly relationship with online criticism from Splitsider quotes Che talking about deleting his Twitter on the podcast Guys We Fucked:
When I’m on stage, I have control. I can pace it, I can set it up, I can go back… I can do all these things to everybody at once, collectively. On Twitter, or on Facebook, each person is reading. It’s not a joke anymore. It’s a statement. And people are attacking a statement.
But while Che may have deleted his Twitter, it seems like he’s still similarly coming for other writers and critics on Instagram. As of March 20, Che’s Instagram only had three posts and comments were closed. But a recent Instagram story illustrates his feelings for bloggers and critics: a photo of himself, wearing glasses, with the words “this is me as a blogger, now THATS problematic!!”
Update, 3/24/17: On Saturday Che wrote about responding to critics and bloggers in his Instagram story: