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Comedy’s Sexual Harassment Mess Is Not Amy Schumer’s to Clean Up

A writer for Schumer’s TV show went on a rant in defense of a fellow comedian who’s accused of rape. The fallout has been telling.

Rachel Shukert
August 19, 2016
Andrew Toth/Getty Images for AWXII
A view of atmosphere at the UCB Live! event during Advertising Week 2015 AWXII at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, September 30, 2015.Andrew Toth/Getty Images for AWXII
Andrew Toth/Getty Images for AWXII
A view of atmosphere at the UCB Live! event during Advertising Week 2015 AWXII at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, September 30, 2015.Andrew Toth/Getty Images for AWXII

Concerns about rape, sexual inappropriateness, and the safety of women in comedy—traditionally the most impenetrable of boys’ clubs, as we have been told ad nauseam—has been a hot-button issue for some time now. Debate rages over the relative appropriateness of “rape jokes” in standup acts; female comedians have come forward, usually at least semi-anonymously, with accounts of well-known male peers corralling them in hotel rooms to watch as they abuse themselves; Bill Cosby’s terrifying litany of victims seems to grow ever more infinite (perhaps unsurprisingly; the man’s career is practically six decades long). But the latest maelstrom on the comedy scene has been gaining force over the past few days, implicating in its wake the venerable Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York, a comedy institution and starting point for many big careers, including that of Amy Schumer.

Let’s review. It was revealed this week that multiple accusations of rape and sexual assault were leveled against a male comedian Aaron Glaser by female colleagues at UCB, prompting the club to ban him. He is appealing and an internal investigation is ongoing. Glaser, naturally, has denied any wrongdoing (his Facebook statement has since been deleted), although in a Kafka-esque turn, he seems also not to have been informed of the exact nature of the allegation, nor who was making them, which makes him either more or less innocent, depending on your particular worldview. (I’ll just say that if someone accused me of stealing something, I would vociferously and correctly deny it, saying I’ve never stolen anything in my life; however, if they elaborated by saying that I stood accused of stealing a California roll from the NYU campus eatery in the fall of 1999, I might be forced to sing a different tune.)

The subsequent dust-up drew the attention of comedian and writer Kurt Metzger, who took to social media to denounce the lynch mob‘s “social justice warrior” mentality that springs around such situations. He also wondered why Glaser’s alleged victims didn’t got to the police instead of, say, the captain of their Harold team (“Harold” being a competitive improv game honed and performed at UCB and its affiliates), and that if it was someone who was attacked by say, Bill Cosby, he could understand their reluctance to come forward out of fear for their reputation and career. But an “open mic stand-up with a jew fro”? Not so much. This didn’t go over very well, as you might imagine, and as the outrage has escalated, so has the fury of Metzger’s replies. And given the fact that someone checked IMDB and figured out he is listed as a writer for Inside Amy Schumer, Amy herself was called out by forces demanding she denounce Metzger and his remarks.

She replied: “He is my friend and a great writer and I couldn’t be more against his recent actions.” Fair enough? Not according to Twitter users, who continued to harangue the comedian until she responded: “”Kurt does not work for me. He is not a writer on my show. Please stop asking me about it. His words are not mine.” She continued: “I didn’t fire Kurt. He isn’t a writer for my show because we aren’t making the show anymore. There are no writers for it.”

I haven’t heard news of her show’s cancellation so I can only assume she means they are on hiatus—a time when, yes, no one is writing the show, people are working on other projects, and upper-level management is making decisions about which writers they will invite back for the next season. (I wouldn’t say Metzger has made things easier for himself in that department.) At least, as a fan of the show, I very much hope that is true.

As to the substance of Metzger’s remarks, I would say yes, it is unfair to be anonymously accused of something and then have internet mobs basically call for your subsequent execution. However, I would also posit that it is more unfair to go to your place of business, as many women do every day in the comedy world, and be continually harassed, pestered, and sometimes assaulted by men who see you not so much as a colleague, but as a conquest, and who figure it’s only a matter of time before they will persuade or intimidate or coerce or trick you into having sex with them (provided, of course, they feel the need to maintain the veneer of your consent). It’s unfair for female comedians to feel that to go to the police is to open oneself up to multitudes of stress and pain over charges that will probably not stick, and then continue to see them hang around and thrive, while it seems like your only option is to quietly remove yourself from the place you have worked and fought for and need to be.

That is the essence of being a woman in a hostile professional environment, especially in comedy, and it will continue to be that way until men decide that to surrender what many feel is their God-given right to be creepy. (As for those who say, “Don’t I have a right to try to date or sleep with a girl I like?” well, let me give you a tip. If you feel you really have to try, and if you sense you will need to convince or intimidate or coerce or trick or otherwise persuade her to go to bed with you, it’s because she doesn’t actually want to. You aren’t charming or persistent. You’re gross.)

But what is truly unfair, and truly un-feminist, is to expect a powerful woman like Amy Schumer, a woman who is trying to promote her new book right now and doesn’t need this crap, to answer for the problematic comments and actions of a male sometimes-employee. Metzger isn’t her problem. She’s his boss (occasionally), not his mommy. Want to be a feminist or a feminist ally? Stop expecting women to clean up your mess.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.