2022 was a confusing year for comedians. On the one hand, they could finally pretend COVID-19 was a glitch in the matrix and get on with healing and taking care of the cats they’d adopted in the pandemic panic of dying alone. On the other hand… well that was being used to sock people in the face. Which would be an amusing sentence, comedy gold even, if not for how horrifically things escalated.
Of course you’re immediately thinking of Chris Rock, that shit was wild, and the one we’ll never forget. But as Kathy Griffin tweeted the morning after, “now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters.” And unfortunately we did have to worry, as audiences around the world seemed to feel more emboldened to attack anything they didn’t like.
It’s not that people haven’t taken offence to what’s being said on stage and tried to disrupt a show in progress before, including attempts to get physical with the artist. In India, between police complaints, FIRs, vandalism and showing up to venues with sticks (!), we have several instances of comedy gigs that had to be cancelled altogether. But 2022 may be remembered as the year that audiences lost any sense of empathetic confrontation and tried to regain control by going after comedy stars like never before.
Feeding the Mona Lisa cake or flinging soup on a Van Gogh is one thing, but brass knuckles, replica guns, knives, broken legs, smashed noses and sexual assault are several leagues beyond anything that feels safe.
March: Will Smith Smacked Chris Rock At The Oscars
We’ve got to get this one out of the way, so let’s take a beat to collect our thoughts. Will Smith, poster boy of ‘happiness’, one love and world peace finally cracked. And while we knew something had to give, nobody saw that slap coming—Rock, least of all. We all know what happened, so the details don’t merit repeating, but here’s what we’re left with: Will Smith assaulted Chris Rock at the Oscars, with the world watching. Smith was banned from the Academy Awards for 10 years, Rock didn’t press charges. There was a belated apology. When the statesmen of the internet declared it wasn’t enough because it focussed too much on Smith himself, he flew down to India and reportedly checked into an ashram (though we don’t claim to be sure that’s connected). He then kept a low profile till it was time to get out again to promote his new movie Emancipation last week. Trevor Noah got him on his show and quizzed him about how he’s been spending the year since.
“That was a horrific night, as you can imagine,” Smith admitted. There’s many nuances and complexities to it, you know… but at the end of the day I just—I lost it, you know. I guess what I would say is you just never know what somebody is going through […] I was going through something that night, you know, not that that justifies my behaviour at all… I guess the thing that was most painful for me is that I took my hard and made it hard for other people. I understood the idea that they say ‘hurt people hurt people’ […] I understand how shocking that was for people. I was gone. That was a rage that had been bottled for a really long time. It was a lot of things. It was the little boy that watched his father beat up his mother, you know? All of that just bubbled up in that moment. [But] that is not who I want to be.”
May: Chappelle Attacked By Triggered Audience Member At Comedy Fest
Towards the end of his Dave Chappelle and Friends performance at the Netflix Is A Joke Fest 2022 at the Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl arena, Chappelle was attacked by a man (later identified as 23-year-old Isaiah Lee) who jumped on stage and then onto the comedian. Security guards as well as people in attendance intervened to get the attacker off Chappelle and detain him. Chappelle was not injured, but the LAPD said the man was armed with a replica gun that ejects a knife blade when discharged. Chris Rock (!) showed up, and took the microphone from Chappelle to ask, “Was that Will Smith?”
Lee later said that he was triggered by some of the show’s content, which included jokes about transgender people, homelessness and pedophilia. “I identify as bisexual… and I wanted him to know what he said was triggering,” Isaiah Lee, who has also been a victim of molestation as a child, told the New York Post. “I wanted him to know that next time, he should consider first running his material by people it could affect. [Homelessness] is a struggle, and I wanted Dave Chappelle to know it’s not a joke,” he is reported to have said. It was later reported that Lee had also suffered a broken arm while being taken off stage.
July: Paul Chowdhry Attacked In London
English comedian of Indian origin Paul Chowdhry revealed that he had been attacked in his car in London, following messages of concern from someone who had seen it happen.
“I was attacked in my car yesterday in London, I’m fine and will update you as I can,” he said on Instagram:
The details remain unclear as a formal report was not filed. However, speculations were rife that the attack was racially motivated, as Paul, who is of Punjabi Sikh descent, had previously told Gaby Roslin on her podcast that he has been faced racist attacks in the past.
August: Simon Cain Brutally Attacked By Heckler At Pub Gig, Breaks Leg
A heckler violently attacked Simon Cain (49) during his set on stage at a pub in Lancashire, United Kingdom. “I gave him something back so he side-swiped me, kicked my leg and broke my tibia,” Cain told Teesside Live after the incident. “I’ve never been hit so hard in my life, the pain was excruciating. He was massive, he made Dolph Lundgren look like one of the Seven Dwarves.”
According to reports, Cain was terrified and drove himself back home to Billingham right after, with his broken leg. “I drove more than two hours and crawled out of the car crying.” The comedian was out of work for two months following the attack.
October: Ariel Elias Had A Beer Can Thrown At Her Head At A Comedy Club
Ariel Elias, a Jewish comedian from Kentucky who’s been in the business for over a decade now, was performing at a comedy club in New Jersey when she decided to open up for a spot of crowd work. During the Q&A, a regular part of her performance, a drunk member of the audience and MAGA member took her turn to ask Elias if she’d voted for Trump. Elias eventually shut her down, but as she went back to performing, a beer came flying at her on stage, narrowly missing her head and hitting the brick wall behind her. Still in shock, Elias had a legendary moment of clarity as she picked up the beer can from the floor and proceeded to chug it down.
“I guess now what goes through my mind is ‘thanks for the career bump’!” Elias said in an interview to fellow comedian Sherri on her show. She said she didn’t press charges because “I would have to keep going back. I was busy before this, I’m very busy now <laughs> Look, I hope the club presses charges but I think the greatest punishment is that that man has too wake up every morning being him.”
Here’s our report from October, with all the dirty deets.
October: Chris Redd Punched In The Face, Hospitalised
Saturday Night Live alum Chris Redd was assaulted outside The Comedy Cellar in New York City where he had arrived to perform. A masked man was reported to have run up to him and hit him in the face, landing Redd in hospital with fractures in his nose and cheek. “This man hit me in the face with something metal,” Redd later revealed in interview with The Daily Beast. “I thought it was brass knuckles because of the way it cut my nose to the bone.” Redd had to undergo surgery last week. “I fell down so fast. I didn’t even know I fell until I looked at the [surveillance] footage.” The identity of the assailant and/or motive remain unknown.
Redd dropped his first one-hour comedy special Why Am I Like This on 3 Nov on HBO, for those who know how to access that kind of thing in India.
October: Kim Congdon Sexually Assaulted After A Show
Comedian Kim Congdon was sexually assaulted by a fan after her set at the Sony Hall in New York last Saturday. The Impractical Jokers star, who was opening for Joey Diaz, told Deadline she was groped by the audience member, who later “pretended to be blind.”
“If u saw me kick a guys ass after the show last night, I am sorry,” Congdon tweeted on 9 October. “He sexually assaulted me after my set (and bragged about it on his way out), ruining an otherwise perfect night for me.” The incident took place when Congdon went to get her phone from near the sound booth. This was when the man “poked me in my vagina,” she told Deadline. “When it happened, I was already walking the other way. When I turned around he literally pretended like he was blind,” she continued.
Diaz was about to start his set and the lights were down when the incident took place. The man managed to slip away in the darkness, but was later located by the venue officials. He was kicked out after Congdon later identified him. The comedian’s statement was met with broad support, but as is the case with most social media platforms, there were some people who questioned the incident and resorted to trolling the comedian.
“I can’t believe I have to say this but I would not tweet or make a fuss about someone grazing me by accident,” she wrote on Twitter. “I’m not out to get or accuse anyone. This man poked me in my vagina twice essentially trying to “finger me” through leggings when I walked by him.”