Comedian faces human rights tribunal over heckler fight

By | March 18, 2010 at 5:11 pm | 6 comments | News | Tags: ,

Back in May 2007, comedian Guy Earle introduced the next comic during the open mic at Zesty’s Restaraunt in Vancouver, Canada. A couple strolled in toward the end of the show, sat down at the front of the stage, and proceeded to heckle Earle. Offensive words were launched from both sides including targeting sexes and sexuality. After the show, Earle snapped a pair of sunglasses belonging to the drunken couple after twice having water thrown in his face by them.

This may not be an entirely common scenario, but something similar happens to every comic eventually. What is unique here is that Earle’s hecklers were a lesbian couple who believe they were victims of a homophobic verbal assault and harassment. A friend of the couple had shared a recount of what was said to have occurred that night and alleged that Earle told the couple, “You’re fat and ugly, no wonder you’re lesbians, you can’t get a man; that’s why you’re dykes. You must be on the rag, you stupid dykes.”

Later this month, Earle faces the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal where, if he loses the case, Earle will owe the hecklers $20,000 plus legal fees on top of the expenses he’s already incurred over the last three years.

“I don’t hate anybody based on their sexual orientation or whatever,” Guy says, “but I do hate hecklers. Sometimes I get a little vehement .”

So readers, what we’d like to know from you is can a comic go too far when handling unruly audience members? Should hecklers be allowed to sue comics over hurt feelings and broken sunglasses? Are there “protected groups of people that should be “off limits” or was this just another Michael-Richards-esque example of the comic not being funny enough to pull it off? Leave your comments.

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Chase Roper

Chase Roper is the Internet’s only comedy writing, podcasting, stay at home dad (maybe). His comedic sensibility has been described as bitingly sarcastic. He’s not sure if he agrees with that but is pretty sure that “bitingly” isn’t a real word. You can check out his show, The Stay at Home Dadcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.

  • Arthur Wolfe

    I use to be fairly left wing, but now I am a closet anti-“unnamed community”. I’d never hire anyone from this “unnamed community” and I will support political parties which fight this “unnamed community”.

    I just wish there was a political party in Canada that was much more right wing than the Conservatives. Funny thing, I use to be president of an NDP constituency about 30 years ago. The times they have changed.

  • R. Franklin Carter

    To get a real laugh, examine the rules and procedures of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. (It isn’t a real court and a trained judge does not preside.) Neither Guy Earle nor the hecklers will get a fair hearing there. But they will get a legally binding ruling.

  • Mark A Roberts

    The flip side of the coin…when the customer response is more artistic than the “artist” who resorts to being a COMMON THUG. Just because there is title or claim to being a entertainer should not give license to being able to assault (even through physical intimidation) or commit battery (by taking something off someone’s body, or touching them in ANY WAY).
    Dancers took up the challenge of giving violence by gang youth an alternative outlet that was a positive and creative alternative to injuring or killing others…to allow a “comic” to devolve into being violent and cry that it is that “comic’s” Right, is patently absurd.
    Freedom of speech SHOULD be defended, but not Physical Thuggery…that just brings up historical memories of book burnings, and Concentration Camps by people who defended THAT sort of totally repressive and barbaric de-evolution of the Human Species. Comedy is an Art that can reflect and even shape our Society, as we have seen by the good works of George Carlin and Lenny B. Mindless thugs like Guy Earle don’t even compare to the dust on the shoes of those Great men.
    With all the supports that are in place for an Artist to take on a good cause, those same supports can be manipulated to cover for desperate little thugs trying to weasel out of culpability for their antics…although some folks might raise an eyebrow at wondering if some ‘mismanaged’ money was really just a few too many outbreaks of “the 24 pint flu”–given the nature of the beast being discussed. I wonder how such benefactors for that sort of thug may appreciate THAT little joke. In my opinion, if it were my money or Good Name endorsing donations gone to waste in such a manner, I’d be a bit miffed. I would call such a thug to task.
    Happily, Freedom of Speech IS NOT THE ISSUE at the upcoming Tribunal…calling to task is.

  • Mark A Roberts

    When the patio of the Eatery closed (due to By Law requirements) the staff, not wanting to let paying customers leave, ushered the Paying Customers into the building where the free venue was taking place.
    Since they weren’t there for the show, the patio was the perfect place to not have to be distracted by it.
    Well, the fellow on the stage that was managing the entertainment was hung over, didn’t want to be there, trying to drink away a hangover and was just simply in a foul mood…and the transition of the Paying Customers being moved into the establishment was too much for him, so he started a little tirade on the Customers–who didn’t submit to his bullying.
    For that they were labeled by him as ALSO being ‘hecklers’
    He couldn’t upstage their responses to him, so he tried to be physically intimidating…which was also not submitted to. So he got physical, taking the glasses off of a person’s body and breaking them.
    What took place was not comedy, entertainment, or anything even remotely professional. It was bullying.
    Police offered to arrest and charge ‘Bad Guy’, but allowed the victim to use alternative Lawful Action as a means of seeking Justice.
    So, since it might be a issue of not being Tried twice for the same crime, the ‘Bad Guy’ wasn’t arrested.
    All this for a hangover…THAT’S FUNNY!!!!

  • http://none brian

    This is awful. Just awful awful awful. Comedy is speech and it should be protected no matter what. Yes, even Michael Richards’ tirade is/was protected. You don’t have to ever like what a person says, but he has an absolute right to say it. I’m not familiar with Canadian laws or this “human rights tribunal”, but it sounds absolute totalitarian and shocking that an artistic performer’s speech can and will be censored.

  • PJBrown

    Michael Richards got off lucky. Earle here messed up the same way, but it’s going to be worse. It’s a shame because the party in question opened their stupid fucking mouths. Asshole behavior transcends race, gender and orientation, and maybe Earle wouldn’t have gone after their sexuality if they had JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!

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