Comedians and comedy club owners are now fearful following Dave Chappelle’s shocking onstage attack during his set at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on May 3.
While speaking to Fox News Digital, Jamie Masada, the owner, and CEO of the world-renowned Laugh Factory comedy club said he believed Will Smith’s infamous slap against Chris Rock at the Oscars may have opened up the floodgates for unprovoked assaults against comedians on stage.
“It’s a sad, sad thing happening right now,” Masada, who is also a comedian, told the news outlet. “People are going on the stage just trying to make a name for themselves and I think what Will Smith did actually encouraged the violence and that’s a horrible thing.”
Comedy club beef up security following attack against Chappelle
The busy club owner said that he and other comedy establishments across the U.S. are now thinking about boosting security following Chapelle’s unexpected incident.
“We’ve got to stop the violence, Masada added. “We’ve got to bring people together. Laughter is supposed to bring people together. Laughter is supposed to make peace.”
Curtis Shaw Flagg, the president of The Laugh Factory Chicago, claimed that he has seen hostility among crowd goers surge since Trump took office in 2016, noting how the pandemic may have exacerbated the issue.
“It was really bad in between 2016 and 2020. Where if you said something about Trump and there was a supporter in the crowd, they just had to make their selves known,” Flagg told The Hollywood Reporter (THR) in March. “It all just became like this intellectual battle — as opposed to people just sitting down, enjoying the jokes.”
Following Will Smith’s kerfuffle with Chris Rock, Flagg has beefed up security at the Chicago comedy club drastically, adding a guard near the stage to keep comedians safe. The Laugh Factory has also implemented a strict policy, where hecklers are issued two warnings before they are escorted out of the venue if they disrupt the show for a third time. Since the onslaught of the pandemic, Flagg said he’s had to deal with a number of unruly customers, even some instances where angry crowd-goers charged at the stage. Flagg was shocked after hearing about the attacker at the Hollywood bowl.
“First reaction was: ‘Here we go again.’ My second reaction was, ‘Nobody’s safe,’” he added in a recent interview with THR. “We are leaving comedians completely exposed. We’re allowing them to exercise their creative speech onstage, but we aren’t taking the requisite steps to make sure that they’re protected. The security team are to blame for not taking adequate measures to make sure [attackers] didn’t even get to [the comics]. That’s their one job, and it seems like there’s been a complete failure to do that.”
One comedian said he warned security about the assailant moments before the attack
Tuesday night’s assault against Dave Chappelle came with little to no warning when 23-year-old Trump supporter Isaiah Lee climbed on the stage and charged at the 48-year-old comedian, tackling him to the ground. LAPD officials said that Lee allegedly pulled out a fake semi-automatic replica that had an ejectable knife blade attached, but it’s unclear if he attempted to use the weapon on the former Comedy Central star.
Comedian Tehran Von Ghasri, who attended Tuesday’s night show, told Fox News Digital that he witnessed Lee climb over the barrier that separated the stage from the audience.
“I see that there is a young person, a young man walks up with intent, slides over the barrier that separates the pool area, which is the closest area to the back area, and slides over that barrier within three feet of me. I turn to the person to my left and I expressed, ‘That’s very suspicious.’ He agrees and says, ‘That is very sketch,’” he explained, noting how he even alerted a security guard about the assailant trespassing, but he alleged that security “dismissed” his concern.
“Within 30 seconds of all this, the assailant leaps over the barrier to get on the stage runs aggressively towards Dave Chappelle, and knocks right into him,” he continued. “This person, clearly — it was premeditated. It was pre-orchestrated and it was organized. This was an attack on Dave Chappelle, which is an attack on comedy, which is an attack on all comedians, and to be honest, is an attack on freedom of speech.”
Lee was taken out of the venue on a stretcher after security caught the young man on stage and fought him off the comedian. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and is currently behind held on $30,000 bail.
Comedians address concerns about safety
Comedians have been sounding off about event safety measures since the Oscars and now, new worries are growing as a result of Tuesday night’s attack. Comedian Heather McDonald told NBC News Bay Area that she has seen stage crashers disrupt a number of shows “since the Will Smith incident.”
“And 99.9% of comedians, you’re the only one at the club traveling by yourself.” The Juicy Scoop podcast host joked in all seriousness about the issue on Twitter, asking her fans on May 4:
“Any police officers who think I’m funny or your wife is a #juicyscoop (podcast) fan, please contact me for tickets to my live stand-up shows. I’d really love to have you in the front row.”
“This way, they can come see a show and I can feel secure, and they can see a show for free, and I think it’s something that would be a really good idea for other comedians and other comedy clubs and theaters to consider,” she added to NBC.
Similarly, back in March, Kathy Griffin expressed her concerns about comedy club safety following Will Smith’s outburst against Rock.
“Let me tell you something, it’s a very bad practice to walk up on stage and physically assault a Comedian. Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters,” she wrote.
A rep for Chappelle released a statement about the incident
“As unfortunate and unsettling as the incident was, Chappelle went on with the show. Jamie Foxx and Chris Rock helped calm the crowd with humor before Chappelle introduced the last and featured musical guests for the evening.”