Trouble in comedy-land


8:00 am - May 2nd 2008

by Kate Smurthwaite    


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[Note: This article has been updated and revised to reflect ongoing legal action by comedian Johnny Vegas against the Guardian about this incident]

What a day – Mayday protests, an election and now I discover my own profession is being brought in to disrepute with those who care about women’s rights (lets hope that’s pretty much everyone).

I’m talking about Johnny Vegas’s behaviour towards an audience member during the show hosted by Stewart Lee at the Bloomsbury Theatre last Friday. I wasn’t at the show myself so I can only comment on reports from those who were. One audience member James Williams, posting on the NOTBBC forums said the following – and I apologise for the long quote but it is quite hard to locate the original post on the forums so easier to read it here, also I don’t want to quote pieces out of context without the disclaimers James himself includes:

It was pretty contentious, so I’m slightly concerned about misrepresenting what happened if you didn’t see it with your own eyes. I can’t give you the complete context without recounting the whole set, and that would take forever and I’d probably get it wrong anyway. With that in mind, I’ll try to explain what happened, but please take what I say with a pinch of salt and bear in mind that it’s my intepretation.

Anyway, fairly early on in his set, he stated that he had no material, and that he was there mostly to get laid; it came across as quite possibly the truth spoken in jest. He started chatting up girls in the front row in an exaggerated, slightly cartoonish way, and quickly focused on a girl who was about 18 or 19 and was very obviously unnerved by it. To cut a long story short, he fairly insistently press-ganged her into getting carried onto stage by six members of the audience, while pretending to be dead. The premise was that they would then lay her down on the stage and he would bring her back to life with a kiss, and he warned her that there probably would be tongues. Honestly, you couldn’t have found a nervier or more passive girl if you’d scoured all of London – she was like a rabbit in the headlights, but she was giggling and clearly somewhat enjoying the attention, so it just sort of went ahead without so much as a yes or no from her.

Once she was on the stage with the 6 ‘bearers’ lined up at the back, he told her to lie very still and he turned back to the audience for a bit. She couldn’t stop her nervous giggling, so he told her to shut up and look more dead or he’d kick her in the ribs. There was a menacing tone to his whole set, so I have to admit it didn’t come across to me entirely as a joke. There wasn’t anything funny about it anyway, unless you find that funny in itself.

Eventually he got down next to her and started stroking her breasts. That hadn’t been mentioned before, and in the light of of the repeated refrain of “don’t fucking move” it seemed like an abuse of power. She could have got up and walked away, but it would have taken a lot of courage to do that in front of a large room full of people, against the explicit orders of the famous guy with the microphone. Then he started running his hand up her leg and pulling her skirt up. Every time he looked up to address the audience, she’d reach down and pull her skirt back down, but he kept pulling it back up and ended up fingering her through her clothes for a second or two. Then he straddled her, completely pinning her to the floor, and kissed her quite full-on for quite a while. Then he asked if they could bring the curtain down, which they couldn’t, so there was an awkward minute until Simon Munnery came out and brought down an improvised curtain consisting of his coat.

It was pretty hard to know what to make of the whole thing. I came away with the distinct impression that she was given very little chance to say no, if at all. The six ‘bearers’ made it even more grim, as it seemed their sole purpose was to make it look more acceptable – more endorsed, if you will. If it had just been him and her on the stage, I think it would have been rather harder for the half of the room who laughed through it to do so.

I say half, as my impression at the time was that people were going along with it and broadly enjoying the set, but on leaving, I heard nothing but “that was disgusting”, “that was practically assault”, and so on. My girlfriend was quite upset that she’d sat through it and not done anything, but I’m not sure what she could have done – walk out, I suppose. I was just fucking confused by trying to find a way in which it was acceptable. I don’t like to think that any area is out-of-bounds for comedy, even if the comedy is lazy nonsense (which on this occasion, I think it mostly was) – but that really only applies when you’re talking about words and ideas. Once you’ve got someone pinned down on the stage, it becomes a rather different matter.

There’s also outrage over at The F Word. Reviews posted by the Evening Standard and Chortle make much less mention of the incident.

Now here are my points:
1) Why has no-one been to the police? Surely with several hundred eye witnesses, someone has the decency to contact the police.

2) Why is anyone asking what the boundaries of comedy are? Yes, it’s ok for comics to say offensive things – that’s because we all have freedom of speech. We all have the right to say offensive things if we want to. Personally I think we shouldn’t reward comics who make sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or ableist jokes, and in some cases there may be a case to be made against them for inciting hatred or crime, but that’s a totally separate issue. None of us, including comedians, have the right to rape or sexually assault. That’s nothing to do with comedy, that’s everything to do with the laws of this country. Would we be having this “discussion” if a comedian had injured someone physically on stage? Of course not.

3) Most frightening of all are some of the comments on the various websites. Of course these aren’t necessarily representative of what the public at large think, but they are representative of what the people who posted them think. Comments suggesting that the woman’s nervous giggles indicate that she was “having a great time” throughout suggest to me that people don’t understand what rape is – giggling is not consent, and without consent penetration of any kind is rape.

This brings me back to a point I have been banging on about for a very long time: We need education about women’s issues and women’s rights to be compulsory on the national curriculum. Now.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Kate is a stand-up comedian and is interested in secularism, feminism and stand-up comedy. Also at: Cruella-blog, Butcher's Writer's Group and Kate's Quite Sarcastic Almost Daily News Podcast
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Crime ,Feminism ,Sex equality

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Reader comments


Holy shit… That’s horrendous. I feel ill now.

I agree that the police should be involved, and that what Vegas did was utterly deplorable, but I think you’re wrong to claim this as rape. Rape involves penetration of the vagina, and without wanting to get too graphic here, the term ‘fingering’ doesn’t necessarily indicate that that’s what happened; it could refer to stimulating/touching the clitoris for example.

If Vegas did as he’s been accused then it’s undoubtedly a sexual assault and that needs to be dealt with by the relevant authorities.

Like you I’m stunned and angered by some of the discussion around this event, and I’m also baffled as to how so many people sat and watched this odious performance and yet not one of them intervened to try and stop it.

Playing Devil’s Advocate for a second:

1) Why has no-one used the word “rape”? William’s account says she was held down forcibly and Vegas was “fingering her through her clothes”. If that’s true the word for the situation is “rape”.

Not in law it isn’t – the offence (if one was committed – and I’ll get to that in a second) is ‘Assault by Penetration’ as defined by clause 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, if penetration actually took place, and ‘Sexual Assault’, as defined by clause 3 of the same Act, if it didn’t.

The legal definition of rape (clause 1 of the Act) requires penetration of either vagina or anus with the penis.

2) Why has no-one been to the police? Surely with several hundred eye witnesses, someone has the decency to contact the police.

Do we know that no one has reported this incident to the Police?

They may well have done and the matter may already be under investigation for that any of us know at the moment.

As things stand, we cannot even be certain that an actual offence has been committed – one possibility that none of the accounts I’ve read seem to acknowledge is that of the audience member who ‘participated’ in the act having been a ‘plant’.

It is possible that the whole thing could have been staged, so its a trifle premature to talking exclusively in terms of a serious sexual offence having been committed until that possibility has been ruled out.

3) Why is anyone asking what the boundaries of comedy are?

Because its not clear whether what the audience saw was real or a staged performance?

None of us, including comedians, have the right to rape or sexually assault. That’s nothing to do with comedy, that’s everything to do with the laws of this country.

Yes, absolutely… with the caveat that this assumes that what the audience saw was real and not staged. If it was a staged performance then the parameters of the debate change immediately to questions of taste, decency and even the intent of the individuals carrying out the act.

Let’s play thought experiment here – what if this is not only a staged ‘incident’ but one deliberately contrived to challenge the perceptions of the audience? How would the context in which this incident has been perceived change if, rather than taking place in a theatre during a performance by a fat Northern comedian, it had taken place in a gallery during am exhibition of performance art?

Would the debate be the same?

To some extent, yes, it would still offend many people, but some would defend it as brave attempt to challenge audience perceptions and highlight the reality of attitudes towards women, sex and power.

I’m not saying that that is definitely what”s happened here, merely noting it as a hypothetical possibility of a kind that would shift the parameters of the debate in a different direction.

4) Most frightening of all are some of the comments on the various websites. Of course these aren’t necessarily representative of what the public at large think, but they are representative of what the people who posted them think.

And, in the ‘performance art’ scenario, would that not be entirely within the scope of the artists intent to provoke such reactions?

All of your points are valid ones, give or take the question of the correct legal nomenclature, but they all proceed from one central assumption – that what the audience saw was a real event and not a staged performance, so your first question really should be…

Did the audience really see what it thought it saw?

After which its ‘if so, then…’ and most of what you have to say is absolutely spot on.

If it isn’t, however, and the incident was a staged performance, then maybe we have some interest questions to consider about what the reaction in some quarters has to say about perceptions of culture and social class.

Like many of the commenters on the Guardian piece, I want to know why nobody has yet found the girl and asked her what she thought or if she was a plant

I do agree with Unity that we ought to know whether or not this was staged before making any sort of judgement.

Even if it were staged, I don’t think all criticism is unwarranted, but the issue would be substantially different.

Me too, as what happens next hinges on the answer to that question…

The problem I have here is that Vegas could conceivably be boorish enough if he’s been on the sauce to pull a stunt like this with an audience member, in which case the Rozzers can happily reserve him a cell next to Guido as far as I’m concerned.

Then again, when he’s on form he’s also intelligent enough to stage something like this as well, if not as a carefully thought out piece of social commentary then just as a way of shocking an audience.

If we were talking about Sadowitz here, then I’d be heavily down on the side of this being a fake, and there are other comedians (who I won’t name for obvious reasons) who’s involvement in something like this would scream out for them to be arrested on the spot, but Vegas is one where there’s enough uncertainty to make it difficult to call without more information.

Maybe we’ll have to wait to see if Mon-keh disowns hims before we can be sure.

One way or another, I do think there’s enough in this to suggest the Police should be making an effort to identify the young woman and ask the necessary questions, and to move quickly to get to her before she’s found by Max Clifford or the NoTW.

Even if it were staged, I don’t think all criticism is unwarranted, but the issue would be substantially different.

Oh Jeebus, yes – even it was staged then unless he come up a very good explanation for why he did it then he deserves a good long stint working a double-act with Michael Barrymore as warm-up for Chubby Brown as penance for coming up with one of dumbest and creepiest routines in living memory.

“One way or another, I do think there’s enough in this to suggest the Police should be making an effort to identify the young woman and ask the necessary questions”

Indeed.

And I would add that even if it WAS staged it would be incredibly triggery for anyone in the audience who has been through similar experiences.

I’m not the sort of person who would pay money to see Johnny Vegas anyway, but this makes it even more unlikely.

I’m really stunned and sickened by this. I hope she was a plant. if not, I’d urge anyone who was in the audience to contact the police.

Even if she was a plant, Vegas has really gone down in my estimation.

Having not been there, I’m wary about doing a Beverley Hughes and condemning everything. However, I don’t think that, having not been there, I can’t comment at all, but some scepticism is still in order. Unity makes good points, though I don’t think class is particularly relevant here. I think the reaction is perfectly justified – if the accounts are true – given that the whole point of a plant is surely that the audience has to assume that the person concerned isn’t a plant. In any case, everyone involved – Munnery, Lee and, yes, Vegas – is middle class and I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that the majority of the audience was too.

I really hope it was a staged performance (though, given that JV’s act usually involves mock-slavvering over women, I am not so sure) and I find it hard to believe that men like Stewart Lee and Simon Munnery would let anything like this go on. They are probably *the* most politically correct (I mean that in an entirely positive way) comedians around. On the other hand, the accounts of what happened I have read paint what happened as pretty deplorable. If she wasn’t given an opportunity to say no, I don’t think it really matters how the woman felt to make it completely wrong.

What I don’t understand at all is what the point was, if it was staged. Again, I’m assuming that what has been reported is true. What is JV hoping for? An audience member can surely only assume that it wasn’t staged and, you’d hope, the response should be to contact the police or at least to raise objections to what happened. Was he hoping for this? Was he actually hoping someone would point out that he’d gone too far? In which case, why didn’t he – or the compere – embarrass the audience by pointing out what they’d just allowed to go on? Surely this would have been a much more effective way to make such a point

I can’t believe that Munnery and Lee would allow anything so terrible to go on unchallenged (and my judgement is perhaps clouded by not wanting to believe that they would do such a thing) but, judging by the two accounts given, something so terrible *has* gone on unchallenged. I can only hope that it was staged, in which case I don’t really see the point. It’s a great shame that neither JV nor Stewart Lee were willing to issue any comment to the Guardian, though they must obviously have been concerned about being stitched up. SL, like most comedians, has been on many occasions stitched by journalists – but always for something he said, rather than something he or anyone else had done. I hope they feel able to comment later.

It sounds pretty sick to me. Whether illegal or merely distasteful depends on facts that the account is unable to establish.

Dan:

Class comes into it because the public persona of JV is that of a stereotypical drunken Northern lout and many of the automatic assumptions being made about this incident are predicated on that perception.

In short, if it Johnny Vegas, pisshead and professional Northerner, then its JV the rapist, but if it were Jonathan Vegas (silent ‘s’) the Parisian performance artist then its a brave and challenging piece of searing social commentary. That’s the class element in terms of perceptions.

As for what he might have been expecting if this is a staged scenario and what the point may be, that takes us into a long tradition of psychological inquiry heading right back to Millgram’s classic experiments.

Look, a few years ago I worked on a local anti-racism project (in local schools) with, amongst other, an photographer and photo montage artist named Vanley Burke.

Now Vanley is brilliant and we were lucky to get him – he was personal friend of another colleague who headed up the project – especially as he was just off a gig photographing Mandela.

(Vanley is black, btw)

So we did the project and then ran an open event at the end of it for the local community, at which my boss had the wizard wheeze of putting up a couple of flipcharts in entrance lobby for the locals to write their comments about the event on.

Anyway, Vanley arrived, and shortly after I saw him calmly walk over to one of the flipcharts, picj up a pen and write something on one of the flipcharts, after which he walked away a calm as you like.

I wandered over to see what he’d done, and there on the chart in foot high letters is said simply, ‘NF’ – and this was in Tipton, which has been the NF and BNP’s HQ round here for a good few years.

So, about half the people at the event are non-white and we had guests from the local council and NHS, who I worked for at the time, and Vanley has just written ‘NF’ on the feedback chart in the entrace lobby to the venue – what do I do?

I trust Vanley, think about it for five minutes, figure out what he’s up to and let it ride…

…three hours later, one of the guests finally gets around to complaining about what on the chart, so I calmly take it down, apologise and say nothing about how it got there.

Next day, we’re in a debrief about the event and the boss is spitting feathers over the chart, at which point I simply point out that its was Vanley’s doing and that he had a vaild point to make… it took three hours for someone to complain about the NF symbol on the chart, even though it was in plain sight and people had been wandering past it all morning, and that was his point. People should have complained and should have done so right away, but they didn’t, so what does that tell you about their attitudes towards race, ethnicity and the power structures that relate to it in that local community.

It’s conceivable that JV could be making a similar point – people in that audience should have complained to the police, they should have got up and walked out – hell, fuck it, on the strength of the description of what went on, someone should have got up out of the audience and made an effort to stop the fucking show.

But it seems that no one did, they just sat there and no matter how disturbed they were by what they saw, they did nothing but mumble to themselves and then piss and moan to the press afterwards.

That’s the other side to this story – you’ve got a room full of people watching what appears to be a sexual assault on a member of the audience, just a young woman seemingly on a normal night out – and no one lifted a fucking finger to try and stop what was going on in front of them.

Now what does that say about attitudes amongst members of that audience – whatever JV did or didn’t actually do, if there’s one thing that everyone should be getting fucking angry about then its that!!

I would agree with you if the reaction in the press had been hysterical. Maybe it will be. I think it’s been relatively sober so far, really, though I see the Mirror has talked of ‘fury’ then not-at-all-trivially referred to him as “the tubby star”, and quite a few people on the Guardian blogs seem to be laying into him (e.g. “The kind of audience who rightly likes the terrific Simon Munnery and Stewart Lee are never going to be suitable for Vegas’ Northern derogatory antics”). I can only speak for myself I suppose, but I don’t think JV is incapable of making sophisticated points. I generally quite like him, and I’d have thought most people who went to a gig of his would too.

I see what you’re saying about what he could have been trying to do had it been a plant – I think I suggested the same reasoning myself in my post and, fairly arrogantly given that he is a professional standup, perhaps a way he could have made his point more effective. I agree that someone in a room full of people should have stepped in to at least object, but I don’t really want to utterly condemn them for that. Sitting here objectively, I can pass judgement on these people and say that I would have stepped in myself, but I find it hard to believe that many of the hundreds of people who were sitting there impassively during what happened wouldn’t be saying the same thing in my detached position.

Again, all of this assumes that the accounts are accurate.

I agree with those commentors who have said that if it was a staged scene – i.e. the woman was a plant, then while it may be in very bad taste, it’s not a crime. From what I heard, it really didn’t sound staged at all. But if we hear otherwise then fair enough.

Now of course we need a debate on what exactly “fingering” means. I’ve always understood the term to mean penetration of the vagina (or arguably anus) with the fingers. And we could debate all day whether that constitutes “rape” or “serious sexual assault”. Either way it’s a significant crime.

As to the idea that classism comes in to it – I have to disagree. Clearly on the night, no-one did anything to stop Vegas. Afterwards people thought about it and have started to reconsider whether that was a reasonable response and to express their feelings on the subject. Now I agree that it is quite possible that if a “posh” performance artist did a similar thing there might be even less fuss made. But the solution is not to let Vegas off. The solution is to prosecute Vegas and to also prosecute the “posh” performance artist. We can’t say “posh people get away with violent crime so we should let working class people get away with it too”.

Kate:

Now of course we need a debate on what exactly “fingering” means. I’ve always understood the term to mean penetration of the vagina (or arguably anus) with the fingers. And we could debate all day whether that constitutes “rape” or “serious sexual assault”. Either way it’s a significant crime.

I’m not sure it needs to be debated per se – the definitions in law are clear and set out in a commendably matter of fact fashion.

Where things get a little more complicated is in the use of ‘rape’ as a rhetorical ‘device’.

Rightly or wrongly, sexual offences are widely perceived to be ‘hierarchical’ in terms of severity – touching is perceived to be a lesser matter than ‘fingering’ because its lacks a penetrative element and ‘fingering’ perceived to be a lesser matter than rape because the different appendages used in each offence.

Okay, so we’re dealing with some pretty fines matters of ‘degree’ but such fine distinctions are often the stuff of which straw men attacks are constructed.

If you’ll forgive the gross generalisation here, feminists will often characterise sexual offences in terms of or by reference to rape even if they don’t quite fit the legal definition of the term because what they are referring to, primarily, is the ‘moral character’ of the offence. Rape is used in a figurative generic sense that encompasses not only the specifics of the act itself, but the context in which it took place and power relationships in operation at the time of the offence.

That’s not an unreasonable perspective by any means in the context of a debate but the kind of hierarchical perception of these offences that is pretty common currency in the public discourse does, unfortunately, open the door to the charge that references to rape are being deployed to try and make a situation ‘seem more serious than it actually is’ in order to gainsay the argument.

So what starts out as perfectly reasonable and defensible statement of a moral position can very quickly come under attack as an attempt to ‘cry wolf’ even though the basis of such allegations is invariably an obvious straw man.

I’m not criticising you or your take on this story – you are obviously commenting in good faith and there is nothing at all unreasonable in your position if it transpires this wasn’t a staged incident. What I have tried to point out, maybe not very well, is that feminists are generally up against a ‘constituency’ that will oppose pretty much any position they put up, simply because they’re feminists and that hair-splitting over fine definitions is, within that constituency, an all too common tactic used to try to automatically gainsay what are otherwise legitimate arguments.

By unpicking the definition of rape in your original comments, what I hope to achieve – and it seem to have work – was close off the scope for the kind of cheap shot attacks that were thrown into the discussion at CiF, many of which have now been moderated.

What I am also saying, and playing Devil’s Advocate with, is both that how this story is being presented in the media and what that says both about how the media perceives the story and how its readers respond to the publication of those perceptions.

This is where the classism element come in to play.

If this wasn’t staged, then guilty is guilty – there is no distinction to be drawn between a comedian and a performance artist if what has been committed is a criminal offence.

If, however, this is a staged incident and this is confirmed by JV and by the woman who take part in the ‘performance’ – and I do think that confirmation has to come from that source for ‘plant’ angle to stand up – then what I am suggesting is that the perceived social class of the ‘artist’ will play a big part in how the audience perceives the performance.

The mere fact that JV act is based on a drunken working class comic shtick rather than on his being an ‘artist’ means that:

a) it more likely that the audience will have perceived or come to perceive that what they saw was an actual sexual assault, and

b) that even those who left the theatre convinced that the routine was stages would be considerable more likely to interpret it as a crude attempt to shock than they would to question whether there was some other meaning/intent behind the performance.

Conversely, if this has story related to a show billed as performance art, the audience would be more likely to think that what they saw was staged and that the artist was trying to make some sort of serious point, even if they couldn’t quite put their finger on what that point is.

If this was a genuine sexual assault, then all such considerations would be rendered irrelevant – a sex offence is a sex offence no matter how anyone would prefer to dress it up.

If it was purely a staged performance, however, then how that performance is, and will be, perceived is very much a function of how JV is perceived as a performer in terms of his apparent social class.

That’s not letting him off – he still has to explain himself and the explanation really does have to be a good one, because even if this was staged, it could still very easily put his career down the toilet even if nothing illegal occurred.

Unity, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the ‘bystander effect’.

The legal definition of rape (clause 1 of the Act) requires penetration of either vagina or anus with the penis.

– or mouth, lest any would-be mouth-rapists out there take solace from Unity’s post

More relevantly, in the spirit of Unity’s comments, forced penetration with an object (including a body part that isn’t a penis) carries the same maximum sentence and sentencing guidelines as rape and therefore clearly is seen as equally bad.

However, non-penetrative sexual assault, which Vegas would be guilty of if this is non-consensual and the girl not a plant [it’s pretty clear that ‘fingered the girl through her clothes’ means ‘touched the genital area’ not ‘penetrated the vagina’], carries a lower maximum sentence and lower sentencing guidelines.

And I would add that even if it WAS staged it would be incredibly triggery for anyone in the audience who has been through similar experiences.

What, so performers should avoid touching on anything unpleasant in case they trigger unpleasant memories among some audience members?

“Now I agree that it is quite possible that if a “posh” performance artist did a similar thing there might be even less fuss made.”

I don’t think this was anyone’s point – rather, that if a performance artist did a similar thing *that was staged*, people would be more inclined to believe that it was staged than if it’s done by a drunken working-class maniac.

UKL:

Although the story that kicked off the interest in the bystander effect – the Kitty Genovese murder/rape – has been shown not to have been quite what was reported at the time, the effect itself is very well documented and supported by evidence, not least by Millgram’s classic experiments.

So if your question is whether it could be a factor in explaining why no one tried to stop the show, then the answer would be that its certainly a candidate and, in fact, the environment in which the incident took place – a comedy performance – may well have contributed to the audiences inaction – if enough people were laughing at the routine then that may have influenced many of those who subsequently found it disturbing to feel, at the time, that what they were watch was either staged or that the woman was fine and had fully consented to the act.

At least one commenter on CiF who said they were at the show has indicated that they shouted out to the woman that she should throw JV off her, only then to say that she didn’t think she shouted loudly enough.

That’s unlikely to be the issue here. It’s not that this individual didn’t shout loudly enough but that she shouted out the wrong thing – instead of shouting out to the woman to tell her what to do, which could easily be misinterpreted as a bit of heckling, had they shouted the obvious – ‘Look he’s really touching her up!” or ‘This is real!’ – or something to that effect, focussing on what people were seeing, then it may have prompted others to respond…

Its a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes – the way to get through is often a matter of saying the obvious.

The whole “rape” thing is very interesting. I mean for me emotively any penetration without consent is rape. Of course legally there is this whole structure, which I am not totally up to speed on, certainly I have read a lot of headlines and news stories (not to mention adverts for pornography sites) about people being “raped” with fingers, bottles, dildos, etc, and no-one made a fuss about them and insisted on changing the wording to sexual assault.

What is also interesting is a lot of people looking to see if the whole thing was staged. Despite the fact that none of the eye-witnesses suggested at any point that it might have been. If it was staged it raises questions about the reaction of the public, the other comics (if they didn’t know) and in particular the six members of the audience who assisted in the debacle – were they plants too.

But the incident happened last Friday, of course it has taken a while for reports to filter into the mainstream but that’s a week – and we’ve heard nothing from either Vegas or the woman involved to suggest it was staged. I think maybe people don’t want to believe this sort of thing could happen or that they might be swept along with the crowd and not stand up to this sort of thing, so they are searching for a get-out like “it was staged”. From everything I’ve read I really do not think it was staged.

I also think those in the crowd should not judge themselves too harshly. Many scientific reports suggest it is extremely difficult not to go along with a big crowd in situations like this. Added to the fact that the comic is on a stage, with a microphone, in a big auditorium, which cost good money to go to and has uniformed staff showing you round, etc. Lets hope that people (those who were there and those reading about it later) learn from this that just because a big crowd goes along with something – you don’t have to. And lets hope the lessons can spread over into crime prevention policies too.

Unity, that was my question, thanks.

I find Milgram’s experiments – and similar fascinating. Did you read this article on Zimbardo?

Kaet, I understand what you mean by your first paragraph. The legislation has very clear definitions, and as has been pointed out, the sentences for “rape” and “assault by penetration” are the same.

That said, “rape” obviously signifies something much worse in our heads than “assault by penetration”, though of course both actions are violations. It seems to me the reason you see “rape” instead of “assault by penetration” in the media is because it reads ‘better’ and obviously has that emotive difference of meaning to which you refer – that signifier of something much worse than mere assault.

And of course it will be a rare person who will write in to complain that “in fact it was assault by penetration, not rape”.

Certainly in other parts of the world “assault by penetration” and “rape” are the same thing. A woman (and several guys) was convicted of rape, for instance, in Australia after putting a dildo in another guy’s anus. http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=329827.

When you say ““rape” obviously signifies something much worse in our heads than “assault by penetration””, I don’t really follow, or maybe my head doesn’t work like yours. I think they are the same thing, emotively for me they are anyway.

This is a despicable incident from the sounds of things. While I’m usually very sensitive to the “anti-prole bias” side of things, I really don’t think there’s any element of that in condemnation of Vegas here. I think a more “arty” artiste would have been less, not more, likely to have gotten away with this crap.

It’s always easy to stand in condemnation of people you can’t stand anyway (c/ref Gary Glitter etc), much more uncomfortable when its a guy who’s work you really like. I think “Ideal” is one of the best comedies in years. Cue one of the great “how can you enjoy the work of someone whose actions/views you find apalling?” internal dilemmas. I usually manage. I shall continue watching and enjoying I’m sure……

But in the real world, this is really one for the police. And, much as I’d like to think othwerwise, I think it very unlikely indeed this poor woman was “in on it”.

24. tom hulley

Staged or not, crime or not in some narrow legal definition, Vegas needs to watch out. When strangers interfere with his boy parts he will start rethinking rapidly -but too little too late. In a country where rape is scarcely a ‘crime’ in terms of convictions there are other ways of responding. Someone could tell Vegas there are people out there with secateurs …sleep well. As for the audience, when will they all be tried and hanged? (metaphorically!)

Sounds hideous – but then I’d find most of JVs act hideous anyway.

Certainly sounds ‘transgressive’ and ‘challenging’ enough for Stewart Lee. JV’s obviously still in character from ‘Sex Lives of the Potato Men’ – one of the most depressing films ever made.

When you say ““rape” obviously signifies something much worse in our heads than “assault by penetration””, I don’t really follow, or maybe my head doesn’t work like yours. I think they are the same thing, emotively for me they are anyway.

I didn’t put that at all well, but I can’t think of a better way to put it. I think they are equivalent as you say.

27. Mick Hannigan

No assault took place. Mary O’Hara’s Guardian article has been comprehensively discredited by numerous eyewitnesses. The victim here is Vegas who’s reputation has been shredded by the offending article and the chinese whispers of the very many blogs which quoted it.

The article is now the subject of a ‘legal complaint’ by Vegas, and it and the accompanying blog have been removed from the Guardian website.

@Mick.

Where is the official version of events then?

Kate has merely copied the account from the NotBBC website.

29. Mick Hannigan

Well as you might imagine are various versions, many of which appeared on the Guardian blog but unfortunately these have now been removed as well as the original article. Here is another version which has recently been posted on http://www.selfportraitas.com by poster called ‘Meg’

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I was at this gig on the front row. Thought i’d offer what i saw in case it’s of any interest. Not sure what you’ll make of it, but I thought I’d post it anyway. Internet being what it is, i’ll try and back the ‘I was there’ claim up with some details: JV came on stage wearing a Bukowski t-shirt (with a safari jacket on top) and drinking a can of Guinness. He started shouting at a group of us down the front and told us to ‘fucking come together, i’m fucking coming at you, if you don’t fucking come together i’ll fucking have you’.

JV then staged dived onto a big guy a few seats across from us. He did improvised anecdotes about lapdancing clubs and shitting on babies heads to teach negligent parents a lesson, which got a really good reception. Reading that back, all I can say is I guess you had to be there. I was a bit scared but found it pretty fucking exhilirating and kinda hilarious. I’ve never seen him before but some friends had texted to warn me he does this kinda stuff when we found out he was coming on. It was all clearly improvised and quite exciting to watch.

Then he started going on about not being able to ‘get girls’ because he’s a washed-up loser. The quote that the Guardian lady edited was ‘you’re like me (pointing at ‘fat’ guy in front row who he’d jumped on earlier). We’re the same. Except i’m famous. And that makes people do crazy things. I bet i could get any woman in the audience. I’ve got no material, I’m only here to get laid so why don’t we test the theory?’. I think most of us took that as a kind of dig at celebrity.

Then he started talking to a girl on the second or third row who told him she was shy and he immediately moved on. Another girl who was with the guy who’d been jumped on went up and cuddled him. He took the piss out of her but i can’t remember exactly what he said. I was getting really nervous cos i hate being involved in this sort of stuff. Then he started ‘chatting up’ the ginger librarian girl. He took the piss out of her hair a bit while lay face down on the stage attempting to ‘seduce her’. This went on a while but to be fair she seemed to be responding well to it (she offered to go and get a hair cut). I’d agree that she seemed quite shy though.

Then it went into the ‘sleeping beauty’ bit. He had 6 people carry the girl on stage so they could cement their ‘love’ for each other. The girl got up and they carried her onto the stage. He got a guy to sing Shakespeare’s sisters ‘stay’ (think that what it’s called). He did shout ‘don’t move or i’ll kick you in the ribs’ but to us it seemed like this was intended to kinda subvert the mawkishness of the song and the ‘love’ scene. He glided his hands over her body a bit. From where we sat it didn’t look like there was contact but it was hard to tell for sure. Then he went down to kiss her. He kissed her on the lips at first. From where we were sat it looked like she definitely kissed him back but with tongues. He asked for a curtain to be brought down to close the performance. Simon Munnery came on and held his coat over them but we could see he was chatting to her at this point. Before it finished, he chatted to a few of the people and the girl in a fairly amiable way. She came off stage looking kinda confused but we heard her tell a few people that she was fine.

(Apologies for the bad grammar – i’m writing this quickly at work on the sly)

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