This article, written by Comedian Christina Walkinshaw, focuses on sexual harassment she was put through while on stage and its lasting effects, especially when its upheld by big business.
Originally published on resistingmarriage.tumblr on October 21, 2014. Written by Christina Walkinshow.
I recently discovered my “other” message box on Facebook. Did you know you have an “other” box? I always assumed I only had one box. I was wrong. And what I found in there is now consuming me.
As some of you remember, a year ago I got fired from Casino Niagara, after some very sexual heckling. After enduring a night of men chanting,
“Show Us Your Tits!”
“Show Us Your Bush!”
I complained to the manager, asking why she didn’t do anything. (We get memos from Casino Niagara telling us NOT to speak back to the crowd, among a dozen other memos.) The audience is mostly people who have been comped free tickets after losing mass amounts of money, then allowed to heavily drink, so that more gambling will occur after the show. As a girl with her Smart Serve, I’m well aware of what over served patrons look like. When I complained, the female employee said,
“Sorry. I thought you liked it.”
Obviously I didn’t like it. Who would? I’m terrible at standing up for myself, but I managed to choke up something, which inevitably got me banned from the club. (blog.walkinsauce.com if you want to read the whole story.) The blog ended up going viral. It was a huge lesson in how the Internet works. It was actually kind of scary. Usually I get excited to see that little @Connect button light up on Twitter. But after my xojane.com article posted, I was overwhelmed. It was terrifying how many eyes were on me- and for such a negativeexperience. I turned off my phone and went to sleep at 1:00pm. I never expected my big break to be a scandal.
I never mentioned it publically before, but I have emails saved from the night after that show. (Well, I use the word “saved” loosely. I’m the kind of girl that leaves thousands of emails in my inbox. I’m super disorganized like that. Also, deleting emails seems easier on your phone than on your computer, eh?) The manager was taken aback about my concerns. Apparently I didn’t seem “rattled” enough while I was on stage. But she also admitted that she’s still trying to figure out “what comedians like, and don’t like.” Well, comedians aren’t big fans of hecklers in general, but we can deal with them if you let us. One of my favourite thoughts on the subject was what Dean Blundell said when I did his show.
“Christina, that was NOT heckling. Heckling is “You suck!” or “Get off the stage!” What you endured was sexual harassment.”
He’s right. And that’s a fight I should have fought harder for.
Through that whole episode, I was never completely honest. I always said that Yuk Yuk’s was not to blame in all this. I was scared to lose my gigs in their clubs. Nothing means more to comics than stage time. And even though I only make somewhere between $250- $600 a month via the company, I still need that money. (I blame my expensive taste in cheese.) But now that I’ve stumbled upon all these old messages, and discover how many people actually cared about me, and tried to reached me through my own agency, I’m upset again. I protected the company so that I would still have a job. But now I discover they blocked me from all this support. I’m a real life idiot, you guys. The truth is…
They were never on my side.
Before I ever blogged about the incident, I made it a Facebook status update. It got 100’s of comments. I had never had anything that serious on my wall before. Usually my statuses pertain to seeing how long I can go without a shower, or asking if any tall people wanna come over and change my lightbulbs. When my boss at Yuk Yuk’s caught wind of my update, I got a phone call from him. I was scared. I knew I was in trouble.
“I’m going to incorporate a new clause in my contracts where comics aren’t allowed to post about the company on their social media.”
For those of you who don’t know, we all have to sign exclusivity contracts when we sign with the company. This sites that we’re not allowed to take any work outside the company. They can’t possibly give us all enough work to live, but we all sign it, because we want the stage time. And then we all keep second jobs, or live below the poverty line. (If I was smarter, I’d know if this is actually legal.)
When my blog hit the interweb, the response was powerful. It’s weird when you think the way you’re treated is normal, post about it publicly, then learn it’s NOT! People were mad. It wasn’t long til I got a call from my boss. He was furious. Not at the casino, but at me, for speaking out. He yelled at me. The casino had been getting phone calls about my blog, and was now mad at Yuk Yuk’s. I get it. Everyone in Casino Niagara commercials are having the BEST TIME! In reality, most people leave wondering if they saved enough money for parking. (Also in my “other” box: TONS of messages from ex-employees of the casino, confirming they were treated as shitty as me.) Well, I guess Yuk Yuk’s and Casinos have something in common: Profit trumps human rights.
My boss is raging. He yells into the phone:
“I can’t afford to lose that club! They pay their bills on time! I’m not on your side! I’m on the casino’s side! I don’t care about comics! I care about money!”
I was so scared. I burst out crying. I never meant to “bite the hand that feeds you” or whatever that cliche is. He went on to tell me a story I know many comics have heard over the years.
“Lemme tell you a story. Once upon a time, back in the 80’s a comic asked me for a raise. He said, “But they’re all coming to see ME!” So I taught him a lesson. I went to a graveyard, and found a dead guy’s name. I took it, put it on the marquee that night, and the club was STILL packed. People don’t come to see a specific comedian. People come for the Yuk Yuk’s brand.”
At the time I couldn’t disagree. Who am I? Nobody. Nobody really knew who I was. In fact, one of the saddest facts of being a comedian is that a lot of people leave the comedy club, having loved the show, but never remember your name.
Then he put his 3-year old son on the phone for me to talk to. When my conversation with the toddler was over, he reminded me that he has to make money to put food on the table for his family.
“You better hope this doesn’t go to the press.”
My heart was pounding in fear.
It did hit the press. Obvi. I tiptoed through the local radio and TV stations that managed to reach me. (NOBODY reached me through my agents. Nice to pay people commission to be hidden from the world, eh?) I praised Yuk Yuk’s for not being the bad guy in this. Were they ever by my side in any of these interviews? Never. They didn’t want to ruin their relations with the casino. But I never wanted to say anything bad about them, because I didn’t want to lose my gigs in Mississauga next month. (The manager there, Dom is awesome. He actually cares about comedy.)
I did everything I could to appease my boss. We both prayed the attention over this issue would go away. I have this weak habit in life of not fixing problems. I just learn how to use broken things.
I finally left Yuk Yuk’s a year later. I sent an amicable letter quitting. I wasn’t mean. I am greatful for all the growing I did on their stages. But a year after my “Show Us Your Tits, Show Us Your Bush” night, with no support from the man’s name above that logo, I felt gross. I couldn’t tell jokes under that brand for one more minute. I’m actually embarrassed I stayed that long. I had been selling my soul, for the bargain price of $125 a show.
I actually can’t believe I’m writing this. I’ve been called out for having a “fear of being hated.” It’s true. I get along with everybody, possibly even people I shouldn’t. I never read the comments on anything I do. Everything on my YouTube page was posted by others. (I’m terrified of YouTube, cuz in my opinion, that’s where Internet hate goes to soar.) I ditched this wordpress site after the incident. I was too scared to see what people were saying, so I started a new blog on Tumblr, where people can only hit little heart buttons. (Phew!) And because so many of my friends still work for Yuk Yuk’s, I feel bad speaking out against the club. I know these comics really want work. Stage time to a comic is a drug. I get it. Plus, some clubs are actually ran well. Howard Wagman in Ottawa has brewed some of the best comics in the biz- Jon Dore, Jeremy Hotz, Harland Williams- (Is this a tacky time to mention this was MY first comedy club ever? How can I NOT be nostalgic of moments I had on that stage? One of my friends recently said, “I wish I could quit Yuk Yuk’s, but NOT Ottawa.”) The only reason I’m speaking out now is because I found multiple messages in my “other” box, asking me to be on Joy Behar’s show. Joy Behar!! She’s my facking hero! I love her. When I finally wrote the dude back, he wrote,
“We tried sooo hard to get you.”
Due to the exclusivity contract I had with Yuk Yuk’s, everyone should contact them to connect with me. It’s the way business is done as an entertainer. In fact, I would get in trouble if I booked a gig without going through them. But they didn’t want the press. And I never knew Joy Behar cared until now. (Though in my heart, I knew she cared! I willed her to find my story, and apparently she did.) These days the most attention I get from a celebrity is when Patti Stanger responds to my tweets.) There’s something I learned about myself this week. You can underpay me, you can send me shitty places, you can even control me… but if I find out you blocked me from meeting Joy Behar? Well…
Now I’m pissed.
When I find myself having regrets in life, I like to picture myself as Gwyneth Paltrow inSliding Doors. Sure, maybe if I had been less of a coward last year, I’d be cooler right now… Maybe more successful… Maybe not still the owner of a three-legged couch. (I didn’t even get compensated for the $500 I lost that weekend.) But I have to convince myself that making any other moves back then would have lead me to being short haired Gwyneth. (And you DON’T want to end up short-haired Gwyneth. Trust me. I won’t mention any spoiler alert thingys, but come on people. The movie’s from 1998. You should have seen it by now.)
I often think back to that evening on the phone with my boss.
“I have to put food on the table to feed my family!”
I may be single, no kids, no fancy house… but guess what?
I have a table too.
Good riddance, Yuk Yuk’s,
(I know it’s 2014, but I just got a website. I love comedy. I suck as a businesswoman. But at least now, there’s no confusion how to reach me.)