Just Chiming In – Harassment in Improv Comedy

If you’re in the improv community, and you have a Facebook account, you know that the issue of sexual harassment has become the topic of choice for several weeks. After reading post after post of harassment issues on-and-off stage, I’ve found myself both angered and offended is all the right and wrong spots. I’ve refrained from responding until I’ve come to grips with the issues in a meaningful way. The time has come.

I am going to split the subject into two separate topics. The first is sexual harassment, bullying and physical assault on and off stage.

Sexual Harassment On and Off Stage

Actual instances of sexual harassment have reared it’s ugly head in the improv community recently. Male improv teachers are using their positions of authority to harass sexually female students. Male performers are groping female performers, claiming its part of their on-stage “character.” Female performers coerced into engaging in simulated acts of sex and rape. This a-hole then claims it’s vital to the scene and then follow-up by accusing the female performer of not being a team player.

I’m very capital punishment about this behavior. It has no place in improv, theater or life. Personally, I believe the laws in this country do not protect women enough, and the courts need to find a way to prosecute sexual harassment and other crimes by giving the benefit of the doubt towards women and children victims. Improv troupes and theaters must take this issue seriously and the claims of harassment even more seriously.

No literally means No. When engaged in any behavior with women, romantically, theatrically or otherwise, once the words “no” is uttered you stop PERIOD. If you’re on stage, and your partner rebuffs your advances, you stop PERIOD. The only body you own is yours. You have no artistic right to control your partner’s body, so stop. Violate this and you need to go to jail.

If you are a member of an improv troupe, get to know the words TRUST, SAFETY, and CONSENT. Your teammates need to trust that you will be appropriate to them. If the scene requires the female to close her eyes, she has to know, you will not violate her. Your teammates need to know they are safe in your hands. Zero tolerance. If caught, you are fired from the group. Really, you should go to jail! You want mercy? It’s up to the woman you victimized, if there’s any discussion of mercy.

Intimate contact between any two performers on stage, requires CONSENT. In over 20 years of performing improv, I’ve only kissed a female performer on two occasions. On both instances, I did not initiate the kiss and I did not intentionally “write” or steer the scene, just so I could kiss my fellow performer. You need to be as close to 100% certain you have consent before ever being physically intimate on stage.

Comedy is a Sacred Artform

The second issue is the one that will get me in the most trouble–the portrayal of women on stage and jokes at the expense of women. Specifically, it is the art of comedy and the art of storytelling on stage. During the Internet discussion, someone posted a series of “rules/suggestions” that improvisers should follow to ensure they are sensitive to women and women’s issues.

For over 20 years, I’ve considered my form of improv as art. I’m telling stories on stage. I’m portraying life and turning life on its head for comedy. Regarding theater and comedy, I am incredibly First Amendment about the issue. Comedy, at its best, is controversial. No topic is immune to comedy. We as a society need to protect this freedom. We can not establish rules governing what is funny and what is not.

Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles is one of my favorite movies about racism. It is considered one of the greatest satires about racism in America. Sadly this film could not be made today because of political correctness. What we, as a society, don’t understand is humor allows us to address controversial subjects, laugh at it and discuss the subject. If we’re ever going to grow as a society, we need to loosen up and laugh.

Am I saying that jokes or scenes about rape are funny? Fortunately, I’ve never been part of an improv troupe that performed a rape scene. I’ve also never been part of a team that took on a funny rape scene as a challenge. In my mind, I can not ever imagine rape ever being funny in a scene or as a joke.

I’ve been to countless improv shows, where white actors slant their eyes, drive bad and speak in horrible accents just to indicate they are playing an Asian. Am I offended? Yes. Do I wish to censor them? No. Was any of these instances funny? Admittedly, yes. Some of them at least. The groans from the audience, the exclamation of “that’s racist” and the lack of applause for the scene should be enough for those performers to censor themselves.

As a theatrical community, we can not use censorship to control the way people think and behave. If we censor certain topics, then we can not shed light on the evils of those topics. Let us not censor our community but at the same time we, as individual performers, should censor ourselves.

I fear the day when we begin posting rules about what is funny and not funny. Don’t say the b-word. Don’t take “churning butter” as a suggestion. Men can no longer portray women in scenes. Are these things funny? Most of the time, No…rarely ever. Would I censor you from telling these kinds of jokes? Absolutely not. But good luck not coming off as a sexist.

Who ultimately decides what is funny and what isn’t? I would like to think common sense and the audience is a good indicator. Common sense tells me rape jokes are not funny. Common sense tells me that taking the challenge to make it funny is not one I should attempt. Common sense tells me humping a female performer on stage is not funny and incredibly uncomfortable for her and the audience. If someone on your team challenges common sense and attempts a rape joke, is that someone you want on your team…emphasizing the word “team.”

Serving the Audience

When I step on stage, I am a servant of the audience. Why? They paid me money to give them a fun night of entertainment. As a business, my goal is to entertain the audience and in turn, they come back, and they bring friends. I’d like you to tell a rape joke, grope a female performer or slant your eyes, and see how much that affects attendance at future shows. I support your first amendment rights to do whatever you want on stage. I also support the audiences’ right never to return to your sexist show.

I’m fortunate to be performing in a wildly popular family-friendly improv show in San Diego. To my knowledge, we’ve rarely had to deal with this issue on stage. Common sense says it’s a bad idea. Practically speaking, we have some great women on the stage, and we don’t want to lose them. The modest 100-seat theater sells out almost every weekend, why would we want to jeopardize that just because we have the right to do it.

The more you know…

A Special Moment on Stage #WhitePeopleCantWin

The weirdest moment happened to me during Saturday’s show. The game was blindline and I was performing with an amazing couple. The scene was a lot of fun and the audience, I believe, enjoyed the scene as well. In the scene, I played a guy, who had just gone out on a date with his friend’s sister. After incorporating a few random lines from the audience, the scene’s story was that my character wanted to marry the sister, but the brother thought it was a bad idea, since I had a drug addiction. So far, so good. We have a relationship and a good conflict.

As the scene progress, an audience was read and it had something to do with driving a Porsche (I honestly don’t remember the exact line). The sister then exclaims, “I don’t need to drive a Porsche. I drive a Honda Civic.” Then I responded, “I would even downgrade to a Toyota Prius.” I know…lame. I was just trying to justify the Porsche line and not doing a good job of it.

The scene ends and we all sit down, patting ourselves on the back for a well done and entertaining scene.

Jump to the end of the night and we discussing notes from the show. When it came time to talk about that scene, someone brought up the controversy surrounding the “Honda Civic” line. My first reaction was, “what the hell are you talking about?” Then it was explained to us, that might have gotten uncomfortable because I was being compared to a Honda Civic, because I was Japanese and that we just continued the scene as if nothing happened. My second response was, “Yes, nothing happened.” Apparently I didn’t don on me that I should have been offended because someone mentioned a popular make of car, that happened to be manufactured in Japan. Now that I think about it, I should be offended that people thought I was Japanese (no offense to my Japanese friends…some of you are my best friends).

My immediate reaction was to immediately accuse my fellow actors that they are way to sensitive when it comes to race. How did it come to this? My issue with political correctness is that good people are being accused of racism, when all they did was state on stage the type of car they drive when an Asian is standing next to them.

I rarely ever post about scenes I’ve performed in shows. Personally, I found the situation 100% funny and 0% offensive. I’ve been performing with this group since 2001…15 years. Have I ever felt uncomfortable or mistreated because of my race? NEVER!!! Have I ever felt uncomfortable or mistreated because I’m a Republican? HELL YEAH!!!

My suggestion for my white friends is please expend your energy going after real racists and less on trying find racism in the smallest of areas. There are bigger battles to fight.

When Should I Teach My Daughter to Be Racist?

I’ve been sitting on this essay for a while. There’s a juggling routine that requires precision or the balls come tumbling and everyone you know unfriends you.

Let’s be provocative for a moment. When exactly is the right time to teach my daughter to be racist?

I have a confession to make. I’m a bad father. I’m allowing my daughter to think she lives in a world where race doesn’t matter. Where she is just another kid in the sea of other kids.

From the beginning, my daughter was born in Korea to Korean teenagers. My wife and I were privileged to be selected by her parents and grandparents to allow a Chinese father and Caucasian mother to raise their child in America.

My daughter then was thrown into Chinese family gatherings on my side and the more traditional white American gatherings on my wife’s side. But I chickened out. I made to attempt to differentiate between the two families. So this Thanksgiving we’re spending the afternoon with the white family and the evening with the Chinese family. All my daughter knows is she’s having dinner with her mother’s family and then her dad’s. In other words, two turkey dinners.

Here’s where things get tricky. My daughter soon makes friends with the girl who lives next door. The family next door just moved to our neighborhood from Peru. Every day after school, my daughter asks, “Can I go next door and play?” I say yes, but then I remain silent. As she walks in, I think “They’re different from you.” When it gets dark, I walk next door and catch my daughter and her friend dressed as Disney Princesses.

Then the fateful day, new neighbors move into the house of our Peruvian friends. They have three daughters, all white and the oldest quickly becomes my daughter’s best friend. Out comes the My Little Ponies toys for hours of amusement. Then the endless hours, watching Inside Out and Despicable Me. Now they’re coordinating their Halloween costumes for yet another Frozen Halloween. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking should I tell her about the Caucasian atrocities from long ago. Can she really trust these people?

What about school? Every day I drop her off and most of the students there are white. Sure there are a lot of Asian, Hispanic, African, and Persian-American kids, but it’s mostly white. Every day, I wonder if I should warn her. Will she understand that “mostly white” is the foreshadowing of something more sinister as she grows older? Should I continue to let her believe that her friends are simply individuals with names and that the difference in skin color is no different than hair color? How much longer do I keep the secret from her?

What if I die before I tell her the truth about race in America?  If I died tomorrow, my daughter would naively walk the streets of America believing she is just as good and has the same value of her white, Hispanic, Persian, Asian and African-American friends.

What if one day, my adult daughter confronts her aging father and demands to know what her dad kept the race secret from her?

“Dad, why didn’t you tell me I couldn’t reach my full potential in life because of institutional racism,” she says as she drops me off at the old age home.

“Why didn’t you tell me I’m earning 20% less than my male co-workers and for the same kind of work,” she screams at me just before she pulls the plug on my life support.

For now, I will remain the coward and keep the race thing a secret. For now, I will let her believe she can be whatever she wants to be, even though she’s not white or male.

As with all lies though, you can’t hide the truth forever. So, when do I teach my kid to be racist?

James Bond Returns To The Action and Intrigue of the Past Iterations of Bond – Spectre Movie Review

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Kim Davis – The Christian PR Team Moves Along

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV)

I’m almost certain the Kim Davis is sitting at home right now feeding off this verse. Ms. Davis has decided that she stands for God’s law by denying marriage certificates to gay couples. I’m certain she feels persecuted, insulted and falsely charged by the world because she refuses to follow the laws of the United States and follow God’s law in its place.

One wonders, though, that while she is defending God’s definition of marriage from homosexuals, is she defending God’s definition of marriage from other forms of Biblical aberrations. I’m pretty sure Ms. Davis has issued marriage licenses to the divorced (Matthew 5:27-30) or Christians marrying non-Christians (2 Corinthians 6:14).

I’m sure she’s also issued a license to couples, who have no reason to be married. What about pregnant teenagers or horny grandpa and his teenage bride. She sure would do the world a favor and refuse an abuser from marrying his emotionally manipulated wife. But no, just gay couples.

I digress. Let’s return to the original verse. The blessing of the persecuted is the reward of heaven. Sounds real good doesn’t it. The problem is Ms. Davis has fallen into the trap of focusing on one verse as her personal treasure and disregarding the other verses around it. This is what we call in the world of Biblical interpretation as “Context.”

Matthew 5:11-12 is a part of the Beatitudes, which opens the famous Sermon on the Mount. Jesus describes the attitudes that Christ’s followers must take into their hearts to be a true follower. These are the attitudes: poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, shows mercy, pure in heart, peacemakers and the persecuted.

Let’s highlight a few attitudes: poor in spirit, meek, shows mercy and peacemaker. Now let’s take a look at the picture:

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (L), Attorney Mathew Staver (2n R) and her husband Joe Davis (R)  celebrates her release from the Carter County Detention center in Grayson, Kentucky September 8, 2015. U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered her release after six days in jail, saying she "shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples."  REUTERS/Chris Tilley - RTS7K3
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (L), Attorney Mathew Staver (2n R) and her husband Joe Davis (R) celebrates her release from the Carter County Detention center in Grayson, Kentucky September 8, 2015. U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered her release after six days in jail, saying she “shall not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.” REUTERS/Chris Tilley – RTS7K3

I sense a disconnect here. The Christian PR Team has decided that inciting controversy and denying the legal rights of the gay community is the best image of Christ the world needs to see.

What Evangelicals today fail to understand that our true calling as believers is the Christ-like life. We are living examples of Christ walking the earth today. Non-believers will know who Christ is by our example. The problem is our example is not that of Christ. More on this topic in the future.

Living like Christ is hard. No, it’s impossible. But it is by His Spirit that we can do it. When it comes to the laws of the land, you can not legislate Christ-likeness.

What Evangelicals today don’t understand is what real persecution looks like. Real persecution is having your reputation destroyed because you dared befriend a gay person; because you defended a gay person from being beaten by thugs; because you considered the life of a homosexual as more important than your own.

The Introvert and the Most Hated Man in America

It happened again this past weekend. My wonderful wife informed me that yet another person thinks I am a horrible a-hole. That brings the number up to 42 (btw one of my favorite numbers and you nerds know why). That’s right I’m currently hated by 42 people and it has nothing to do with politics. That number is much higher.

I used to care a lot that people didn’t like me. That ended after countless numbers of private meetings by well intentioned third parties. As the middle child, I was the reconciler and the mediator. Now I’m just the tired.

In the grand scheme, 42 is a pretty low number. It’s less than .05% of people I know. Most people who know me will tell you that I’m usually a nice person or that I’m a very quiet person. Which brings me to the subject of being an introvert.

As an intorvert, I have a incredibly small number of close friends…my wife being the closest. It’s a challenge for introverts to make friends and worse, nurture close friendships. That’s me in a nutshell. I was recently at a party with our local improv community. To me, being at that party was a huge victory, because I never go to parties and when I do I rarely talk to people. I was at the party for about 90 minutes (personal record) and talked to 5 people–two of whom I barely knew. 

What was a huge victory for me, can also come across as a huge failure. Why? I was there only 90 minutes and only talked to 5 people. Again, after 5 hours of poundering what should have been a personal victory, I stopped caring and claimed my victory.

So, why do 42 people hate me? Believe it or not, they all have a lot of things in common.

People Who Hate Me Have Something to Prove

I have a neighbor who believes she is the moral authority of the neighborhood. Word got out that I used to be a pastor and things turned ugly when I wouldn’t go along with her abrasive-style of legalism. Every so often one of my neighbors will tell me what this person is saying about me. As an introvert, I’ll just sit there and take it.

I’ve worked for two managers in a Christian workplace, who hated me with a passion. For one manager I began to impress on of our Executive Vice Presidents and this become a point of jealousy. The other hated me because during planning meetings, I would express my opinions which often did not fall in line with hers. I may sound a little petty at this point, but there was a day with the first manager came to me after 8 years and made amends with me. A lot of truth and crying came out of that encounter.

Both managers felt that I was given responsibilities that I did not deserve and let it be known to everyone in the office. As the introvert, I just sat there and took it.

People Who Hate Me Are Disappointed When I’m Not There For Them

I’m a very empathetic person. If you talked to me, I’ll listen to your story and I’ll feel the emotions that you’re feeling. Empathy. The problem is I’m not a trained therapist or licensed counselor. On top of that, I have my own sh!t to deal with.

I’ve had a few roomates in my life that were going through a lot of personal stuff. As a good roommate, I would listen and listen and listen. For those of you who are empathic people, you know where this is going. When a depressed person talks to you, you become depressed. It takes a while to snap out of it. There’s also this overwhelming sense of hopelessness, because you have no idea how to cure a chronically depressed person. And nice I live with this person, I felt like their 24/7 counselor. Emotionally, I’m drained. As an introvert, my only course of action is avoidance, which leads to perceived betrayal, which then leads to suffering (nerds, you like that?).

Let’s go back to my neighbor. I move in with my beautiful wife and my new infant daughter. Happy and ready to start a family. After about six months, word gets to me that my neighbor hates me because I won’t mentor her two teenage sons. Selfishly, I chose to devote my time and energy on raising my wonderful daughter–the joy of my life.

On Being Passive Agressive

If I was ever to be accused of fanning the flames of those who hate me, that would be my Passive-Agressive tendancies. Yes. Guilty. I’m passive agressive because I avoid conflict like the plague. It’s the only fun I have and the only way I can get back at people. Yes, I’m a bad person.

One day at work, I just about had it with this particular manager. I asked for and was granted an emergency vacation and I took my wife and dog to Lake Tahoe to compete in the World Series of Poker. When I got back, I found out that said manager was on administrative leave and about to be fired. That was one was of the happiest days of my life. Not only was a lot of stress and unnecessary fighting behind me but I found out I wasn’t the only person being tortured.

Yes, I’m a bad person. Soon after this manager’s departutre, I realized my experience with these two managers had taken its toll on me personally. My spirit was broken and my desire to give 100% to a job I loved was gone. 

Years later, I was finally put out of my misery when the company had to layoff staff and I was let go “without cake.” As an intorvert, I wish I had stood up for myself more.

Coming to Grips that I’m Not Mr. Popular

As an introvert, new peope I meet often have one of two reactions to me:

“I’m a really nice person.” When we meet, I’m cordial. We have a little small talk. We have something in common and we friend each other on Facebook.

“I’m not a really nice person.” When we meet, I’m cold. We don’t say much. They block me on Facebook.

Under what circumstances will you meet “nice Alan” versus “not nice Alan”? I wish I could tell you answer. I want to believe it’s the position of the moon. Shoot, I want blame it on you. I’m an introvert and that’s my reality.

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