Comedians look for “safe spaces”

Comedians look for “safe spaces”

Online harassment, sexist jokes, female underrepresentation, culture of silence: comedians no longer listen to laugh. They are “fucking tan”, “exhausted”, “angry”. And some are creating their own “safe spaces,” if such places exist.

Posted at 7:00 am

Charles-Eric Blais-Poulin

Charles-Eric Blais-Poulin

The fall of Philippe Bond, accused by eight women of sexual misconduct and violence in an investigation of Pressdealt a new blow to the world of Quebec humor.

“Everything is frustrating, but it is above all the laxity and passivity of our male colleagues that offends me,” Alice Lefèvre, who acts under the alias RadicAlice, fumes at the end of the line. “The culture of impunity puts everyone at risk. »

To avoid a “toxic environment”, the young comedian and his colleague Mathieu Chiasson officiate at the Snowflake Comédie Club. Ridiculed here, the term “snowflake” refers to the neologism used to mock a generation considered fragile and hypersensitive, like a “snowflake.”

these afternoons standDescribed as a “safer space”, they aim to be inclusive, egalitarian and progressive. In short, fundamentally and proudly woke up, no offense to the premier of Quebec. Coco Belliveau, Mégan Brouillard, Alexandre Forest, Tranna Wintour or even Colin Boudrias have been there.


Alice Lefèvre aka RadicAlice

“Having equal evenings, not being the only person who is not a boy in the locker room, that is the basis,” believes RadicAlice, who presents her first individual exhibition. Fragile. “It already creates a safer environment that takes us away from locker room conversation. »

In a similar vein, Zoofest was introduced earlier this summer the queer show, built solely with talent from the “LGBTQ2S+ community”. “Women, as well as queer and marginalized people, realized that they had to take care of each other,” says Alice Lefèvre.

More “safer” than “safe”

Despite all precautions, RadicAlice, a pseudonym once chosen to prevent online attacks, laments failing to ensure 100% “safe” events. Like this time, he says, when a well-known figure in the world of emerging humor showed up at a garden party at the Snowflake Comedy Club. The organizer, who did not know the man or Eva or Adam, was informed that he was the alleged assailant of a spectator on the way to the event.

“I had to deal with all this, when all the guys on the site knew about it,” he laments with these questions in mind: “Why didn’t you do anything? Why didn’t you go see it? Why didn’t you come talk to me? »

The comedian, who says she herself was the victim of online bullying by a next-generation colleague, makes a connection to the “culture of silence” that long preceded media revelations about the likes of Gilbert Rozon, Eric Salvail and Julien Lacroix…

Guys aren’t so used to looking at each other. Why didn’t all the men who knew about Philippe Bond say anything? It’s because they expect that when they’re going to do shit, the guys don’t say anything. I’m fucking fed up.

Alicia Lefevre

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

“We are tired,” confirms by phone Emna Achour, a former sports journalist who has migrated to humor. “These are names that have been known for years and there is a culture of silence. At the top, they know this and continue to hire these people, as we also saw with Hockey Canada. We are fed up because we talk, we say things, but nobody listens to us. »

Lists for lack of better

In 2019, an anonymous email sent to media and industry insiders listed 21 Quebec comedians and authors who allegedly engaged in “problematic behavior with women.”

“We use lists to have a common tool and group leads,” explains RadicAlice, without referring to this specific initiative. “It is a protection mechanism between us to keep us safe. It goes back to those old client lists that sex workers would hide in the bathroom. But it is not a fixed solution. That will not change the environment. »

What about this environment? In 2018, Christelle Paré and François Brouard, from the Humor Industry Research Group, offered some clues in this regard in a survey on the perception of gender equality.

Four out of five women (78%) say they have been the victim or witness at least “sometimes” of “sexually derogatory words” from a colleague. More than half (52%) of those surveyed also report experiencing or observing “offensive sexual acts” in the course of their work. Not to mention that almost two in three women (64%) believe they risk “being a crybaby and tarnishing their reputation if they report a sexist situation to a member of the industry”.

female talent

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


Emna Achour, co-founder of Les Allumettières

Resuming in the fall, the Allumettières shows feature all-female or non-binary comedians. Let’s put the question bluntly to Emna Achour: does she consider the medium of humor toxic? “Yes”, the young woman answers immediately. Initiatives like Les Allumettières are ways around it, she says.

I can navigate in that environment, but when you want to climb the ladder, there are not a thousand options. There’s Just for Laughs, ComediHa!, Brothel… If these places keep hiring troublesome people, what’s my option?

emna achur

For their part, Noémie Leduc Roy and Anne-Sarah Charbonneau, graduates of the National School of Humor (ENH) in 2020 and 2021 respectively, launched the Woman explaining showwhose title echoes “mansplaining” or “mecsplication”, that is, the propensity of certain men to assume knowledge with condescension and paternalism.

The catchphrase of the series? “Let’s destroy the 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 dilated hundreds of feminist and “allied” rats.

“The thing I’m most proud of is all the friendships we made backstage,” explains Anne-Sarah Charbonneau, who was one of only two women among her 14-student cohort at ENH. .

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


Anne-Sarah Charbonneau, co-host of the Woman explaining show

You learn so many things: consent, respect. There is an awareness, there is something that changes and it feels good.

Anne-Sarah Charbonneau

“It’s better now, yes,” agrees comedian Emna Achour. But before it was so muddy that although it is better, there is still dirt. The lists that circulate and the complaints, there they are. I have chosen in life to be a person who believes in victims. There are still a lot of names out there, and these people go on with their lives as if nothing happened. »

On Instagram, RadicAlice recently posted a short video making pictures. She explains that the world of humor is like a smelly old fridge. “But we only release one jar of pickles a year! At this rate, it’s going to be long. […] We should remove all the shelves and do a systemic cleaning, “he pleads.

But there is no doubt, in 2022, that only women are wearing rubber gloves and immersing their hands in dirty water. “The responsibility always falls on the victims,” says RadicAlice. The witnesses, the organizers of the evenings, the producers, the animators, the bookers, what is your responsibility towards them? Nobody has that answer. »

Some possible solutions

  • Single window to receive complaints
  • Clear code of conduct and proactive anti-harassment policies for broadcasters
  • Awareness and education with male comedians
  • Presence of at least two women in each event
  • Economic support for psychological assistance to victims
  • Abuser Rehabilitation Protocol

It should be noted that in 2018, after the release of Les Courageuses against Gilbert Rozon, Juripop launched the L’Aparté resource center, which offers legal support to people who are the object of or have witnessed sexual and psychological harassment in the media. cultural. .

jokes that no longer happen

The three organizers of comedy evenings interviewed by Press they want to offer a “safe space” both behind the scenes and onstage, in the content of the jokes. Grosphobic, transphobic, homophobic, sexist or racist comments are prohibited at the Snowflake Comédie Club, under penalty of icy silence or even expulsion after a first warning. “Here we are not talking about censorship, but about dignity,” says RadicAlice, who laments a resurgence of gags of the type “my girlfriend is stupid.” In the garbage, humorous afternoons trash ? “No, specifies the self-taught young man. But you have to make sure the audience agrees. According to Anne-Sarah Charbonneau, of Woman explaining show, all topics are laughable, as long as the posture is empathic. “It feels, a look that does not exist to belittle, but is curious, interested. It’s the angle that changes everything, and I think there are angles you shouldn’t take on stage anymore, because they hurt. »

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