June 10, 2011

On April 20th of this year, a group called the BCHRT (British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, a sort of maple-syrup-flavored version of a Stalinist show-trial committee) fined stand-up comedian Guy Earle $15,000 for offending a lesbian woman, Lorna Pardy, from the stage at an open-mike comedy night back in 2007. The owners of the club which hosted the offending performance were also fined $7,500.

Earle is alleged to have responded to some drunken heckling from Pardy and her Pard-ner with a series of aggressive and apparently homophobic insults. Depending on your taste, the counter-heckling was either: A) abusive and not very funny; or B) abusive and rather amusing, albeit in a none-too-sophisticated, frat-boy sort of way. In any event, it’s apparently now a legal matter in Canada to determine if jokes are amusing or not. And if that sounds to students of Eastern European history like something out of Kafka, Solzhenitsyn, or Kundera, it pretty much is.

“It’s apparently now a legal matter in Canada to determine if jokes are amusing or not.”

If you have a month or two to spare, you can read the 107-page verdict online. In summary:

Earle has been ordered to pay Pardy $15,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

Zesty and Ismail [club and owner, respectively] have been ordered to pay Pardy $7,500 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self respect.

Under this system the complainant needn’t pay the legal fees for their case, while the respondent pays out of their own pocket. Earle couldn’t afford to fly cross-country to attend his phony-baloney Vancouver show trial (he was living in Toronto) and rather sportingly offered to testify by videoconference. The court rejected his offer.

Being a Canadian citizen myself, I feel obliged to quickly explain to non-Canuck readers that the BCHRT is not actually a real court, lest you get the idea that Canada is some kind of Third World, police-state, Belarus-style shithole where people get arrested and sent to work the salt mines for making fun of the Great Leader’s mustache. Earle and his lawyer initially refused to even acknowledge the Tribunal’s legitimacy, and the British Columbia Supreme Court itself argued that the case should not proceed until it was determined that the BCHRT had jurisdiction over the matter. But proceed they did, and now, after four years of hearing evidence that Earle’s vulgar taunts about strap-on cocks amounted to “sexist and homophobic” insults which caused Pardy “emotional distress,” the Tribunal awarded her this generous handout.

Earle is hardly anybody’s idea of a redneck, homophobic bigot. If anything, he’s a self-described liberal who seems genuinely bewildered at the way those on his “side” have been so eager to throw him under the bus as punishment for what appears to be nothing more than drunken insult-slinging between a comic and an unruly audience. Granted, Earle’s putdowns were not at Don Rickles’s level of heckler-flattening sharpness. Many observers and even fellow comics were eager to dismiss Earle as not being worth the effort to defend because they didn’t find him funny. They argued that better comics would know how to handle obnoxious audience members without resorting to crude dick jokes. Perhaps they were thinking of subtler, gentler putdowns along the lines of George “Would somebody just put a dick in that guy’s mouth, please?” Carlin or Richard “I’ll slap you in the mouth with my dick” Pryor.


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