Last Friday night, comedian Ari Shaffir was seen by TV viewers engaging in a pointless and extremely mean attack on fellow stand-up Damienne Merlina during his Comedy Central special Passive Aggressive, calling her “annoying” and saying she “had that fat smell.” There was no punchline to the joke, he just wanted to call her out by name — first and last — and insult her for no apparent reason. On top of those comments, he further identified her by bringing up that she’s an amputee with one arm, the result of a car accident. One would think that a comedian on the rise would want comments like that taken out of an hour-long spotlight on a major cable TV channel and reserve some comedic capital, but it was left in, and everyone saw it. Including Damienne Merlina.
Well, Merlina has issued a response in the video above, pointing out that she has handled much worse in her life and continues to live, despite what Shaffir thinks is unacceptable about her. It’s clear that these comments rattled her, but she’s been rattled before. That’s allowed when you’re a human being, but she doesn’t end her response without a great little dig at Shaffir, who deserves worse, but doesn’t deserve to benefit from anyone’s time over this.
The comedy community has been rallying behind Merlina, not because it was wrong for Shaffir to hurl insults at someone in a stand-up act, but because it came out of nowhere. For the Huffington Post, comic Iliza Shlesinger wrote that while she’s friends with Shaffir and an acquaintance of Merlina’s, this “mean” and “unprovoked” attacked scared her, not just because people are offended and mad at Shaffir, or someone’s feelings were hurt, but because no one seemed to care.
What’s scarier is no one seemed to personally speak out. Sure, some websites posted the video, but I saw no female comics of influence stand up for her. If you’re a female comic or just a comic, and you took a stand and I didn’t see it, then I’m sorry. I tweeted my thoughts about how this was wrong and scary. I didn’t even direct them to Ari — I just referenced what had happened and said that Comedy Central should be ashamed. One genius wrote me back and said “It’s not Comedy Central’s job to censor the comics.” Clearly he had never done a set on TV before. If he had said something anti-Ford or Dorito, or whatever their sponsor is, would have been bleeped? If not, then are we just gonna live in a society where — if you’re ratings are good — you can pick on smaller people for fun? If you want to bring the idea of Freedom of Speech into it, then let’s go balls deep with law terms: Defamation of Character, anyone?
The amount of men that were basically saying “she’s a comic; she should just take it” is absurd. Women are just supposed to keep quiet and “take it,” and when they fight back then they are “bitches” or “cunts” or something else horrific that I know I’ve been called just because I dare to speak my mind. Ashley Judd said something negative about a college basketball team and she got rape threats. Do any of these men have mothers?
He and Merlina don’t have a whole lot of history, aside from running into each other at shows, it seems. There’s no evidence of a previous feud or beef between the two, so why would he be compelled to rip her apart by name and in such a cheap, petty way? It’s just so… middle school of him. Shaffir hasn’t apologized or even acknowledged Merlina’s anger on Twitter; however, when we interviewed Shaffir recently, he had this to say about online activism against comedians:
It’s a problem what they’re up to, but you can’t worry about it. They create this online fervor and all it takes is one person to say, “We should all be against this” and they go for it. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, so you can’t worry about it. It’s all dumb. They’re saying, “We don’t like this thing that you’re doing, so we’re trying to get you fired.” So that means every other comic will think twice about crossing a line. But if you don’t have a line, they’re saying you should still worry about it. Just don’t watch it!
I get it from a company’s standpoint, though. If a thousand people are Tweeting at Reebok, “Why did you hire a murderer or a rapist?” they’re going to be like, “What? No, we don’t want to hire a rapist. Let’s not use this guy anymore.” But some guy who wrote something as a joke and said it in front of his friends, it’s just dumb. What should happen is every comic should find out which joke offended someone and try their best to offend that group and go overboard. It’s like, you got a problem with this guy? Well, you know what’s going to happen? The opposite’s going to happen and we’re all going to make fun of breast cancer now.
What Shaffir did amounts to an inch-long skin tag of a “bit,” existing with no function at all, but to be gross and useless. His comments didn’t lead up to anything, they didn’t support a joke in any way, they didn’t add anything to what he was trying to say, and the whole two minutes could have been taken out without altering the story. It was as humorless and pointless as they come. When your job is to be a comedian, you’d better make sure that your words are funny and have a point.