Comedians seek ‘safe spaces’ | The press

Online harassment, sexist jokes, female underrepresentation, a culture of silence: comedians can’t hear laughter anymore. They are “damn tanned”, “exhausted”, “angry”. And some set up their own “safe spaces,” if such places exist.

Posted at 7:00 am

Charles Eric Blais Poulin

Charles Eric Blais Poulin
The press

The fall of Philippe Bond, who has been charged with sexual misconduct and violence in an inquest into eight women The pressstruck a new blow to the world of Quebec humor.

“Everything is frustrating, but it is above all the carelessness and passivity of our male colleagues that offends me,” rages Alice Lefèvre, who appears under the pseudonym RadicAlice, at the end of the line. “The culture of impunity endangers everyone. »

To prevent a “toxic environment”, the young comedian and his colleague Mathieu Chiasson officiate at the Snowflake Comédie Club. The term “snowflake” mocked here refers to the neologism used to mock a generation deemed fragile and overly sensitive, like a “snowflake”.

These evenings of stand up, referred to as “safe space”, are intended to be inclusive, equitable and progressive. In short, basic and proud woke up, no offense to the Premier of Quebec. Coco Belliveau, Mégan Brouillard, Alexandre Forest, Tranna Wintour or even Colin Boudrias were there.


Alice Lefevre, aka RadicAlice

“Having same nights, not being the only person who isn’t a guy in the dressing room, that’s the basis,” believes RadicAlice, who is presenting a first solo exhibition, Brittle. “It already creates a safer environment that takes us away from the conversation in the dressing room. »

Similarly, Zoofest was introduced earlier this summer The Queer Show, created exclusively with talent from the “LGBTQ2S+ community”. “Women and queer and marginalized people have realized that they have to take care of each other,” says Alice Lefèvre.

Rather “safer” than “safe”

Despite all precautions, RadicAlice – a pseudonym once chosen to avoid online attacks – already regrets having failed to guarantee 100% “safe” events. Like this time, she says, when a well-known figure in the world of emerging humor showed up at an outdoor party at Snowflake Comedy Club. The organiser, who did not know the man from Eva or Adam, was told he was the alleged attacker of a spectator en route to the event.

“I had to deal with all this, even though everyone on the site knew about it,” she laments, with these questions in mind: “Why didn’t you do anything? Why didn’t you go to him? Why didn’t you come talk to me? »

The comedian, who recounts being the victim of online harassment from a next-generation colleague, makes a connection to the “culture of silence” that has long surrounded media revelations about the likes of Gilbert Rozon, Eric Salvail and Julien Lacroix preceded…

The boys are not used to watching each other like that. Why didn’t all the men who knew about Philippe Bond say anything? Because they expect the boys not to say anything when they mess up. I’m sick.

Alice Lefevre

On Facebook, a private group of about 80 women in the laugh industry post their unfortunate experiences with co-workers as sisterly warnings.

“We’re tired,” confirms Emna Achour, a former sportswriter turned humorist, over the phone. “These are names that have been known for years and there is a culture of silence. At the top, they know and continue to hire these people, as we’ve seen with Hockey Canada as well. We’re fed up because we talk, we say things but no one listens to us. »

Lists for want of something better

In 2019, an anonymous email sent to media and industry members listed 21 Quebec comedians and writers who allegedly exhibited “problematic behavior towards women.”

“We use lists to have a common tool and to group leads,” explains RadicAlice, without referring to this specific initiative. “It’s a protective mechanism between us to protect us. It goes back to those old customer lists that sex workers hid in the toilet. But it’s not a fixed solution. That won’t change the environment. »

What about this environment? In 2018, Christelle Paré and François Brouard of the Research Group on the Humor Industry provided insight into this question in a survey on perceptions of gender equality.

Four out of five women (78%) say they have been the victim of or witnessed “sexually derogatory comments” from a co-worker at least “a few times”. More than half (52%) of respondents also say they have experienced or witnessed “explicit sexual activity” in the course of their work. Not to mention that nearly two in three women (64%) believe they risk “becoming a whiner and damaging their reputation if they complain to a member of the industry about a sexist situation.”

female talent

In a gesture of “anger” and “female empowerment”, Emna Achour co-founded the collective and Les Allumettières evenings in 2019 with comedians Caro Monast, Isabelle Monette and Yasmeen Gregs. The organization’s name refers to unionized women workers who rebelled against the bosses of the EB Eddy match factory in Hull in the 1910s and 1920s.


Emna Achour, co-founder of Les Allumettières

The Allumettières shows, slated to resume in the fall, feature all female or non-binary comedians. Let’s ask Emna Achour quite frankly: Does she think the medium of poisonous humor is right? “Yes,” the young woman replies immediately. Initiatives like Les Allumettières are a way out, she says.

I can find my way around this environment, but if you want to climb the ladder there aren’t a thousand options. There’s Just for Laughs, ComediHa!, Brothel… If these places keep hiring troublesome people, what’s my option?

Emma Achour

For their part, Noémie Leduc Roy and Anne-Sarah Charbonneau, graduates of the National School of Humor (ENH) in 2020 and 2021 respectively, have the Womansplaining showwhose title “Mansplaining” or “Mecsplication” suggests, i.e. the tendency of certain men to acquire knowledge with condescension and paternalism.

The slogan of the series? “Let’s destroy patriarchy one joke at a time! “Since the summer of 2021, Katherine Levac, Judith Lussier, Marie-Hélène Racine-Lacroix, Michelle Desrochers, or even Zach Poitras have expanded hundreds of feminist and “ally” rats.

“What I’m most proud of is all the friendships we made in the dressing rooms,” explains Anne-Sarah Charbonneau, who was one of only two women among the 14 students in her year at ENH.

As a recent graduate, Anne-Sarah Charbonneau feels the interactions between women and men in comedy are changing for the better.


Anne-Sarah Charbonneau, co-host of the Womansplaining show

You learn so many things: approval, respect. There is an awareness, something is changing and it feels good.

Anne Sarah Charbonneau

“It’s better now, yeah,” agrees comedian Emna Achour. But before it was so muddy, although it’s better, there’s still dirt there. The lists that are circulating and the denunciations are there. I chose in life to be a person who believes in sacrifice. There are still a lot of names out there, and these people are still going about their lives like nothing happened. »

On Instagram, RadicAlice recently posted a short video taking pictures. She explains that the world of humor is like an old, smelly refrigerator. “But we only put one jar of cucumbers on the market a year! At this rate it will take a long time. […] We should remove all the shelves and do a systematic cleaning,” she pleads.

But no question, in 2022 only women will be wearing rubber gloves and dipping their hands in dirty water. “The responsibility always lies with the victims,” ​​says RadicAlice. The witnesses, the organizers of evenings, the producers, the animators, the bookers, what is their responsibility towards them? Nobody has that answer. »

A few possible solutions

  • One stop shop for denunciations
  • Clear code of conduct and proactive policies against harassment by broadcasters
  • Awareness and education with male comedians
  • Presence of at least two women at each event
  • Financial support for the psychological care of victims
  • Abuser Rehabilitation Protocol

It should be noted that in 2018, following the publication of Les Courageuses v. Gilbert Rozon, Juripop created the L’Aparté resource center, which offers legal assistance to people who are victims of, or witness to, sexual and psychological harassment in the cultural milieu have become a nuisance.

Jokes that never go away

The three organizers of comedy evenings in an interview with The press want to provide a “safe space” in the content of the jokes, both behind the scenes and on stage. In the Snowflake Comédie Club, grossly hostile, transphobic, homophobic, sexist or racist statements are prohibited, there is a risk of icy silence or even exclusion after the first warning. “We’re not talking about censorship here, we’re talking about dignity,” supports RadicAlice, who laments a resurgence of “my girlfriend is stupid” gags. In the garbage, evenings full of humor garbage ? “No”, the young autodidact specifies. But you have to make sure the public agrees. According to Anne-Sarah Charbonneau, from Womansplaining show, all themes are ridiculous provided the posture is empathetic. “It feels like a look that doesn’t exist to be downsized, but is curious and interested. It’s the angle that changes everything and I think there are angles that you shouldn’t do on stage anymore because they hurt. »

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