Canada Charges Comedian with Not Being Funny
When an eight-year-old Guy Earle was bouncing on his bed, reciting along to Steve Martin albums and dreaming of being a famous stand-up comic, he never imagined how that fame would finally arrive: in the form of a Canadian Human Rights Commission (HRC) complaint, brought by a lesbian heckler, accusing Earle of not being funny.
After getting a degree in physics and working for the likes of Corning and the British Navy, the British-born Earle toured the U.S. and Canada, honing his comedy routines in more than a thousand performances over twenty years.
Earle takes his comedy seriously. He explains to Pajamas Media:
Stand-up is an art form. I like the guys that live this rule. Traditional "Lenny Bruce" school of comedy is my bread and butter. It must contain social commentary and have "a message" -- not Carrot Top or prop acts.
He claims it was his dedication to his art that led to the events at Vancouver's Zesty's Restaurant on May 22, 2007; he wanted some hecklers to give the evening's final open mic comic a break. He told Pajamas Media it's something he's done countless times before as an MC:
I've said some awfully derogatory remarks to people who show no respect to a live stage show. My remarks are meant to shock and silence an unruly, disruptive group or person. I have generally offended a few people over the years but I never regret it because it is a function of being in a live and dynamic show and my jabs never come unsolicited. I can be accused of acting in poor taste but I cannot be accused of hating.
The Vancouver Sun tried to sort out the "he saids" and "she saids" of the booze-fueled event, but only Earle agreed to speak on the record:
Earle said he was the show's MC when [Lorna] Pardy and two of her friends walked in, sat in the booth closest to the stage, and began heckling him and other comics.
"Two of them started making out, flipping me the bird, and saying I hated lesbians," he said.
Earle said Pardy misconstrued some of his remarks and took others out of context.
"They were drunk, they were being jerks, and I was very rude and visceral to them because, like I said, if you have a heckler, what you want to do is put them in their place by offending them, so I tried to hit them where it hurts and the only thing I had to key on was the fact that they were lesbians."
Earle says the women threw drinks in his face, and he admits he broke Pardy's sunglasses. It wasn't pretty and it sure wasn't comedy. The sorry situation sounds like a matter for the management, or maybe the police. But the British Columbia Human Rights Commission?
One would think that Canada's HRCs would be too busy to deal with a drunken, juvenile encounter at a late night comedy club. After all, when they aren't taking author Mark Steyn to court for "blatant Islamophobia" or prosecuting publisher Ezra Levant for reprinting the Danish Mohammed cartoons, they're banning a Christian pastor for life from ever quoting portions of the Bible -- and that's just this year alone.
But charging a comedian with "hate speech" and "homophobia" for heckling some hecklers is a made-to-order case for the Human Rights Commissions.
Over the past decade, the HRCs have made a mockery of 800 years of British common law: in HRC tribunals, truth is no defense; guilt, rather than innocence, is assumed; and defendants are often bankrupted while plaintiffs have all their legal fees picked up by taxpayers. It isn't unusual for HRC employees to troll "white supremacist" websites under assumed names, post racist remarks, and then charge the site owners with publishing "hate speech." Bloggers who've questioned these tactics have been sued.
The HRCs have made Canada a laughingstock with their tone-deaf cases against Steyn and Levant. Guy Earle is just one of the many not-so-famous victims of the Human Rights Commissions. But ironically, his profile is on the rise, thanks to his current travails.
Both Steyn and Levant -- both of whom have dedicated followings and influence (Levant just testified before a Congressional caucus about "soft jihad" and "lawfare") -- have adopted Earle's case as a new cause. Levant started blogging about the story last month:
I lament this further loss of freedom and loss of common sense. I lament the fact that one thin-skinned radical lesbian activist is perpetuating the new stereotype of gays as intolerant of any criticism or dissent. I'm sure that EGALE would oppose this lawsuit, because they know it just looks bad, bad, bad on their community, who themselves use transgressive art, including comedy, to deal with difficult issues. What do you think Rosie O'Donnell would have done -- whine to the government, or heckle back?
But, as I've said before, in this battle, the worse the better. Just days after George Carlin died -- the comedian who broke boundaries about what could or couldn't be said in comedy -- we have this stunning example of censorship. Not just censorship, but a clear swipe at the entire theory of comedy, the anything-goes realm where society's foibles are mercilessly poked and prodded -- and where connoisseurs of humor freely attend, knowing they'll likely have an ox or two of their own that's gored. If comedians are no longer allowed to offend -- let alone respond to rude hecklers -- then comedy will cease to exist.
Meanwhile, Steyn mentioned Earle on the Hugh Hewitt Show and elsewhere:
You know, if you're Don Rickles, you don't want to be booking any stand-up appearances in the Dominion of Canada anytime soon, because the joke police are in full flight up there.
Steyn should know: one of the complaints against him during his own BC Human Rights Tribunal was that he'd panned the unfunny CBC sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie.
On July 19, Earle and dozens of his fellow stand-up comics will headline the "Comics for Freedom Rally" at Toronto's Comedy Bar, billed as "an evening that embodies our right to free speech (while we still have it)." The fundraiser will help cover Earle's legal fees, which could be crippling. (Ezra Levant has spent $100,000 on lawyers in the two years since the complaint was brought against him.)
But it's also a chance for Guy Earle to fight political correctness and censorship the best way he knows how: through in-your-face comedy.
He has no plans to take things lying down.
"Clear the bed," he told Pajamas Media via email, "‘cause I wanna bounce on it."
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