Mitch Fatel on Air Force colonel who calls act ‘depravity shrouded in comedy’ (Exclusive)

By | August 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm | 18 comments | feature slider, News, Opinion | Tags: , ,

It seems Colonel Mark K. Ciero, a vice commander of the United States Air Force, is not a fan of comedian Mitch Fatel. Earlier this month the well-respected, veteran comedian performed at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, England. He did a series of shows, in fact– shows with plenty of Fatel’s trademark sexually-charged material. Ciero and the folks that booked Fatel should’ve done 12 seconds of research before contracting Fatel. They should review the Constitution– especially, since now the Air Force is going to review the way in which comedy acts are booked in the future. Nothing like good old-fashioned censorship to get American troops stoked about the country for which they’re fighting! Ciero took to his base’s official site to say, in part, the following:

The headliner started his assault obliquely joking about dating and his newlywed status. He was crude but not across. He touched the line and then retreated until his routine turned south spiraling into sexual subjects. Some cannot be repeated, as he insulted women’s anatomies, added a punch line about spiking drinks to facilitate sex, described repeatedly removing undergarments while whispering “she was asleep,” and then in his coup de grace, demonstrated how to physically push a lady into oral sex and remove the evidence. The headliner hit the line obliquely, kept assaulting, and crossed headstrong…I left the show. I could have taken charge, upheld the line of our new military culture of professionalism and respect, and interrupted the comedian. As Airmen and leaders, we are taught to intervene – Every Airman a Sensor – Be a Good Wingman – Intervene, Act, Motivate – STOP! Make the Right Call. On all accounts, I failed to stand up and take the sword from the attacker, the microphone from the comedian. Instead, I departed and reported.

imageCiero (pictured to the right) wrote a very detailed — and melodramatic — missive about the show, which you can read here. Fatel sent Laughspin the following response, which we highly recommend you read in full:

I am not Bob Hope. I have never purported to be Bob Hope, nor ever mislead anyone into thinking I’m Bob Hope. What I do purport to be is funny. My twenty-five year career of making people laugh, which includes two Comedy Central specials, best selling CDs and winner of the HBO Comedy Festival Best Comedian award, is my “ammunition” to argue this fact.

What my ammunition will never be able to fight, however, is that no matter what I do, no matter what credits or honors I attain, certain people sometimes will not be fans. Col Ciero is one of those people. He has that right, and I will never force him to listen to me or tell him he’s wrong for not being a fan. I’ll always be proud of the United States of America for ensuring that he has that right. What I also will be proud of is that someone who is not a fan doesn’t have the right to tell other people they can’t be fans. This is the nature of entertainment and from the beginning of time people have argued why someone is entertaining or why they feel otherwise. It is why we have different genres of music, different TV shows and different types of comedy.

I have been blessed with a talent to make people laugh, but no matter how funny I am, some people just don’t get it. I have always made it very clear to whoever hires me to make sure they “get” it. Even though I was told when I was hired for this military tour that I could basically do my normal act, I still took it upon myself to self-edit certain bits that could be considered edgy until I “felt out” the audiences and saw for myself what they wanted and responded to. My act is a celebration of women and of relationships. I sometimes make fun of women, and equally make fun of men. The Lakenheath show was my last show of a 7 show tour and by then, I had seen that the act that Col Ciero hated was the one that got by far the best response from the men and women in our military. As a comic who thrives on bringing happiness to people, I would be the first to edit any and all jokes that made a majority of people uncomfortable. All comedians know that to have a 100% success rate in audiences is impossible, so if a person or soldier heard my jokes and walked out, I didn’t begrudge them this right. I have turned off many movies in the middle that others loved. I didn’t think it was my duty to remove those movies from the public. A comedian’s job, first and foremost, is to get laughs and if my shows weren’t getting laughs, I would have understood if I was fired or stopped. That is why this line by Col Ciero baffles me:

On all accounts, I failed to stand up and take the sword from the attacker, the microphone from the comedian. Instead, I departed and reported.
For those I left behind in the Liberty Club still under assault by the headliner, sorry. No airman, no human, deserves the depravity shrouded in comedy associated with our military.

From that quote, one would have to assume the audience hated me, but actually quite the opposite was true, as this show was by far my greatest response yet. Does Col Ciero think so little of his soldiers that he believes without his intervention they couldn’t have just left if they didn’t like the show? Not only didn’t they leave, this show absolutely destroyed! The laughs were so loud and uproarious that my usually 45 minute show took an hour to do. It was also by far our largest meet and greet with soldiers – men and women alike – lined up around the corner for autographs and pictures. This, too, lasted about an hour.

Clearly, apologizing for your soldiers finding happiness and joy in a comedian doesn’t make sense. One after the other, great female and male soldiers kept bestowing thanks upon me. I was both humbled and honored to bring this much joy to our wonderful soldiers. In fact, the Pentagon that week put out a review of my show, saying the attendance was fantastic and my response was overwhelming. I was also told over and over that they loved that I was doing classic jokes found on my older CDs – many of which the soldiers told me they listened to regularly while overseas. Commanders at many of the other bases gave me coins, congratulations and told me it was the best show they had had at that installation. This show was the exact same show that Col Ciero said was depraved, so who is right?

In fact, seeing this response and overwhelming love further emboldened me to do a little more of my edgier material, since it seemed to be making everyone happy. My goal at every base was to bring entertainment, not to offend. This would not be my goal in thanking our amazing military. You will not find a bigger fan of the United States Military than myself, which is why I jumped at the chance to do a tour for them. In my 25 years of comedy, I have countless e-mails from soldiers overseas who listen to my CDs and thank me profusely for giving them the laughs they need during a difficult time. I find it ironic that one of the things our soldiers are fighting for, freedom of speech, is the one thing it seems Col Ciero felt he had a responsibility to shut down. To apologize to the audience for letting the show go on misleads the reader to thinking that in some way the audience was horrified, when quite the opposite was true. The audience responded by one applause break after another. What those women and men understood that Col Ciero missed was that jokes are just that: jokes.

And as far as me being labeled an attacker, I ask the esteemed Col to find one attacker he’s ever met who gladly and happily lets the person being attacked simply leave the room if they don’t like the attack. His criticism is unfair at best and disingenuous at worst. He made entire judgments about the show without even staying until the end, where it becomes very obvious that my act is 100% fully dedicated to the empowerment of women and clearly calls out any “coward” who ever would sexually assault a woman.

I also want to clear the air on something else that bothered me about Col Ciero’s assessment. I think he gives the reader a very “unfair” view of the show by leaving out some very pertinent information. The first is that many of my jokes, edgy or not, are about my beautiful wife, Jessica, and the power and joy of marriage. My wife is the strongest female I have ever met. In fact, she is my hero and I can assure you she would never let me get away with any jokes that glorified hurting or assaulting women. A comedian needs to walk a line by saying things that are obviously pushing the envelope, but at the same time making it very obvious they wouldn’t really do these things. If Col Ciero thinks so little of his soldiers that he believes that a comedian joking about the way he made his wife marry him was by spiking her drink, would actually make an educated soldier sexually harass a woman, then the military has a much bigger problem than Mitch Fatel.

Another thing Col Ciero fails to mention is that every single show I did was announced as an adult show, with adult themes. In fact, my opening act, Bryan Ricci, mentioned many times that anyone who was offended easily should understand this is a comedy show, not a puppet show, and should probably leave. Would Col Ciero also remove my CDs, which have the same exact jokes, from soldiers everywhere? At one base after another, tough, hardened heroes hugged me and told me my CDs got them through tough times in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would the military tell these soldiers to burn my CDs? A live show is the same exact thing. If a soldier is so bereft of character that a comedian making an obvious joke about his wife giving him oral sex makes him sexually harass anyone, I shudder to think how they would behave in combat situations, after seeing movies like Rambo and Apocalypse Now. Finally, one other line the Col wrote in his review baffles me:

Then in his coup de grace, demonstrated how to physically push a lady into oral sex and remove the evidence.

To just barely explain the premise of a joke, without telling the joke or its context, is very unfair. Nowhere in my act do I talk about forcing a girl to give me oral sex or getting rid of evidence of this assault. I do a joke where my wife tells me she “loves” giving oral sex and so I childishly can’t wait and encourage her to go ahead. It begs reality to misconstrue this as “assault.”

Several years ago, I worked in Australia and a government official in the audience decided a joke I did was “gross.” The promoter of the festival liked the joke, but asked that I take it out, simply because this ONE individual didn’t like it. It wasn’t homophobic, racist or sexist…just gross. Even though this joke was getting a huge laugh from the audience, I was told I’d have to leave the country if I didn’t take it out of my act. It felt like fascism to me, but since I was in a different country, I acquiesced to the demands. The audience, who liked the joke, never got to hear it again. I was horrified that in this situation one person felt they had the right to tell other people what they should and shouldn’t be able to hear or laugh at. I celebrated the fact that I lived in the U.S., where we are given the freedom and respect to make our own decisions as to what we want to listen to. I’m saddened to learn this may not be the case.

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About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.

  • Don Barnhart Jr

    Here’s my blog on the subject. It’s a fine line we walk between working within the guidlines we’re hired to do and giving the crowd what they want. http://donbarnhart.com/blog.htm/?page_id=24

    A comedian’s job is first and foremost to make the crowd laugh. We are blessed to have such a wonderful tool as the English language to make that happen. However, certain venues such as TV, corporate events, cruise ships, military shows and colleges ask, more so require us to perform clean or “family friendly” shows.

    As a comedian, we often use our comedy to poke the bear, challenge the status quo and call into question the stupidity of our leaders. George Carlin was truly a groundbreaker and leader in this venture and thankfully, albums and cable TV gave Carlin a new outlet to find his audience.

    To me, comedy clubs are pretty much the last venue in which we as comedians can let loose and push the boundary of free speech but even those clubs that allow us free reign are few and far between. In order to have true creative freedom, comics like Doug Stanhope and Louis C.K. have had to produce their own shows in alternative venues to remain true to their art form free from censorship and language restrictions.

    A lot of young comics seem to have the viewpoint that if you accept work from someone that requires a clean show you are selling out and compromising your ideals and beliefs. If you can work clean, it’s not. However, if you can’t then it’s best to stick to venues that allow you that freedom.

    From my perspective, working clean is not selling out, it’s just another way to communicate your message and I’ll admit at times it can be a more challenging one. It still lets you perform albeit within a smaller box.

    I was recently on a cruise ship doing the “adult show” and asked how dirty is acceptable and the reply was, “when you get complaints you’ll know you’ve gone too far”.

    This issue came up recently while comedian Mitch Fatel was performing for the troops. He played to the crowd and killed. The audience loved him but the bookers are now in hot water because of one Colonel’s complaint and the entire comedy program for the troops is under scrutiny because of Mitch’s choices.

    Is it ludicrous? I think so since the shows are not mandatory. Should the men and women putting their life on the line to protect our freedoms such as the first amendment be allowed to hear an uncensored comedy show? You bet! Do I hate having to pull my punches? Without a doubt! However, the rules in place state a “wholesome” show and to break those rules put in jeopardy the entire comedy program for the troops and I’d rather give them a clean, filtered show than no show at all.

    If you can’t work clean or within the guidelines of the producer, don’t bother to take the gig. However, to complain about the restrictions and break the rules after you accept the job seems a little less than altruistic.

    Ultimately, it’s the person paying our fee that gets to pick the parameters that we must adhere to.

    • oaklandfunk

      Did you not read this line? ” Even though I was told when I was hired for this military tour that I could basically do my normal act, I still took it upon myself to self-edit certain bits that could be considered edgy until I “felt out” the audiences and saw for myself what they wanted and responded to.”

      • Don Barnhart Jr

        Yes, I did. He was told “basically” which means not entirely…What he was “told” is not what is in his contract. Unfortunately, many people tell me to let loose and “go for it”, don’t hold back but in our contracts, it says otherwise. Personally, it’s ridiculous to censor the shows but that’s what we signed up for…

  • Marcus B. Sanders

    First: The US Military is not a democracy with all of the conventional freedoms civilians are accustomed to enjoy… it is run from the top down. If this was on base and the Colonel believes there is something that goes against his values or the values of his chain-of-command, he has a duty to stop it. That is not censorship. It is leadership and performing your duty as the ranking officer. What happens if another soldier took the jokes the wrong way, left the venue and raped someone? Ultimately the good Colonel would be answering questions as to why he didn’t stop it. He should apologize for not stopping it if he felt it was wrong and thank his lucky stars the fore-mentioned scenario didn’t happen… with the way things roll these days it certainly could have meant his career.

    Second: With all the headlines getting the spotlight, particularly in the USAF, over sexual assault it is amazing the folks in charge of hiring entertainment didn’t think enough about his jokes to not hire him without significant guidelines.

    Personally, it is not my cup of tea but I do agree that everyone has the right to enjoy what makes them happy as far as their rights don’t infringe on someone else’s.

  • Witt

    I’m a retired Airman (27 yrs)…never went to these types of shows cause not my thing and Col “Darius” shows why. All I can say is the USAF has been raising Lap Dogs for years now…good job, looks like they’ve perfected the art!

  • Don Barnhart Jr

    Great article Dylan. I feel for Mitch and understand his situation more than most.

    Here’s the problem:

    When you accept a gig you have to abide by the rules. The military wants and clarifies a clean/wholesome show. Is it right? That’s not for me to decide but it’s the rule stated when accepting the gig. It’s like doing tv. They say work clean and don’t make fun of sponsors then you work clean and don’t make fun of the sponsors.

    I’ve been doing military shows since ’92 and 99.999% of the time the crowd wants us to let loose but the booker: USO, AFE, etc did not book us to do that. Yes, the crowd will love it, stand up and cheer but it’s not what we were booked to do. It’s a stupid rule but the one we accept when we take the gig. I’m sure Leno’s audience would love a comic to let it all loose but it’s just not going to happen.

    Often times, military shows are booked independently and the comics can be their true self but when booked through the above mentioned, you sign a piece of paper acknowledging the acceptance of such rules. In the whole time I’ve been producing/touring for the troops, I’ve only known of 3 comics that have ever disregarded them to such an extreme they were actually sent home.

    I love Mitch’s act and I book numerous acts that can push the boundaries with cleaver, edgy material but before they go on a tour for the troops like any other corporate gig, I emphasize the importance of pulling your punches, not playing to the crowd and doing the job they were booked for and if they can’t do that, then they shouldn’t accept the gig.

    The Colonel is way too sensitive and Mitch pushed it too far but now because of Mitch’s disregard for the rules and playing to the crowd, all the comedy tours are under scrutiny and are being threatened to be cancelled. The Col could have pulled Mitch or the tour Manager aside and said something along the lines of, “I know the crowd loves you and it’s not my cup of tea but we need you to abide by the rules or we’ll have to send you home” and not make such a big issue as to threaten the future of comedy tours for the hard working men and women of the United States Military.

  • SAMWIU99

    I was at this show. I am extremely embarrassed by Col. Ciero’s
    comments. He didn’t stay until the end when the room gave Mr. Fatel a
    standing ovation and waited in line after the show for a meet and greet.
    Everyone who was there wanted to be there, but just because he was
    offended, he feels like he should ruin it for everyone. It sickens me.

    • Marcus B. Sanders

      Was this on base? Was he the ranking officer?

  • Guest

    “should’ve did”???

  • keith lyle

    Let me start by saying I am a BIG fan of Laughspin and Dylan Gadino. I normally don’t say anything and just lurk. I have something to add on this.

    I’ve done 3 tours for the troops as a stand up comic. At each base, you meet the Commanders. They always let you know how far you can go with your material. Each Base Commander is different. Also, in the contract with Armed Forces Entertainment, it’s pretty clear what’s expected of you as a stand up comic. This isn’t about freedom of speech. It’s almost like a corporate gig.

    I have never met Mitch Fatel. But I’m not surprised that he starts his rebuttal by tooting his own horn, as if he deserves a certain amount of respect (which he does, to an extent). Don’t get me wrong, he paid his dues, but he is not a comic legend At least in the sense that he can do and say whatever he wants, no matter how harsh the warning from those that are in charge of the base (of which you are a guest). The situation now isn’t about how 1 Colonel isn’t a fan. Ciero has probably been to other comedy shows on bases throughout the world. I figure he knows right from wrong. Just like Mitch does.

    I also believe that Mitch is not stupid. He knows what has been going on in the Air Force. The signs are all over the bases. He has been in the business long enough, and has enough material, to not go anywhere close to a joke that a tight ass Colonel would misjudge as a sexual assault joke.We don’t know if Col Ciero is like Bruno Kirby in “Good Morning Vietnam”, but the Stars & Stripes story did say there were earlier complaints. He should’ve known better.

    Nowhere in his rebuttal did he even come close to apologizing for Ciero being offended, or to all the comics that might not be able to do shows for the troops anymore. Better yet, how about an apology to the hard working men and women in uniform that may never get to see a comedy show on their base.

    • dylan

      hey, Keith…thanks for your input. i appreciate it.

    • Marcus B. Sanders

      Agreed

  • steve

    This was not censorship. The guy doesn’t have to like Fatel. He let him finish. Good work Colonel.

    • dylan

      no this wasn’t censorship. but they are not reviewing their booking policies, which is a nice way of saying they’re either going to stop booking anyone who may be even slightly “offensive” (best cast scenario) or they’ll book certain acts with the caveat that they’ll need to “edit” some of their material.

      • steve

        Right.. again not censorship. They’re going to book comedians they want from now on.

        • SAMWIU99

          Call me crazy, but I don’t trust people like Col. Ciero to determine what is funny. If people like him had their way, the acts brought on base would be telling Christian knock-knock jokes. Also, he said he wished he had stopped Mitch’s show, which is another way of saying he supports censorship but doesn’t have to balls to be booed by everyone else enjoying the show.

    • Steven Kilpatrick

      This wasn’t censorship, but if you bothered to read the Colonel’s post, you’ll see that his big regret is that he didn’t censor Fatel.

      He conflates himself “Call me Darius” and goes from there to suggest that while he ran from this opportunity to silence stuff he doesn’t like, he’ll never make that mistake again.

      In addition, he misrepresented the act to make his point, which is a whole different type of terrible leadership.

      • dylan

        exactly. well said.