I have no idea where I picked up that quote, but it has always made me uncomfortable. I've always believed in letting others make their own decisions and minding my own business--but I've often worried I hide behind those beliefs as an excuse not to make a stand for what I believe is right.
Which Brings us to..
REASONS I LOVE COMEDY #1 (Being Able To Say What I want) and #3 (Surprising Myself)
The other night we had an unpleasant fellow at the comedy show. I was there on a date, which meant instead of sitting in my usual "gorilla position" where I can see both the crowd and the stage, I was in the back. I didn't think this guy was anything out of the ordinary.
But when I moved to my usual pre-show spot, I saw he was different.
The guy was grabbing at some girl in the crowd. I don't know if they were on a date, or if he had just met her there, but she didn't look very comfortable with his attentions. And he didn't look like he cared much what she thought.
He kept grabbing at her and she kept trying to push him away. If a cartoonist was to paint a thought bubble above her head, it might read something like: "This is the last time I go out with anyone I meet on Plentyoffish."
I wandered by the bench they were sitting, caught her eye and mouthed "are you all right?"
"I'm OK," she mouthed back, which judging from her body language and expression should be translated as: "I'm not okay, but I don't want to make a scene."
I'm familiar with that one. I am, after all, the man who years ago took a gay guy's phone number because I didn't want to embarrass him telling him I was straight.
I was quite irate that no one was doing anything. The whole point of having a date in a public place is to avoid these very situations. There are many things I love about human nature, but the bystander effect isn't one of them. And since I was one of the bystanders--and one of the few who could clearly see what was going on--the person I was most pissed off at for not stepping up was myself.
I pulled the MC, Mike Harrison, aside: "Man, that guy is not cool."
"I know, I know," Mike said. "I'm getting him out of here."
It was reassuring that Mike saw what was going on and was on top of things. But as I went up on stage, he was still getting people together..
The molester continued his molestations.
And that's when I took hold of the microphone, looked straight at the guy in front of the whole club and said: "I'm sorry. Is our show interrupting your DATE RAPE?"
A few minutes later, he was escorted out of the club sans woman.
I don't know if what I did was the right thing, or even if it made a difference. In crsis work, we're taught to be cautious about publicly calling people out for fear of the perpetrator taking it out on the other person later for "embarassing" him. They didn't LOOK like they were part of an ongoing relationship, so I felt pretty safe, but you never know. I didn't see what happened to the woman after, so there are a lot of unanswered questions in my mind.
And part of me felt it had to be said. Maybe to let the woman know it wasn't her fault and that she had support. Maybe to humiliate the guy so he didn't do it again. Maybe in hopes that taking a public stand might make a difference to someone watching in the audience.
Or maybe, it was someting I needed to do for myself.
It was a surprise to me that I was able to speak out. I'm not a public crusader and never have been. I don't see that changing in the future. At the same time, it was nice to know that I can speak up if I feel it needs to be done...even in front of a roomful of strangers and my comedian peers that I still feel nervous about impressing.
In the end, I'll never know what happened. I don't know if what I said was the right thing or even if it made a difference for anybody. I don't know that guy's story or if the woman was okay.
But that's how it goes. You make the best decisions you can and learn to live with the unknown.
That's not just a comedy lesson, but a life lesson. But comedy taught it to me, and that's one more reason I owe this business more than I can ever give back.