Racist remarks by US comedian spark walkout at Winnipeg comedy show

An Ojibway woman says she was among at least 30 people who walked out of Rumor’s Comedy Club in Winnipeg on Friday due to a number of racist and homophobic comments heard on stage.

Kelsey Lenaghan says she was almost immediately put off by comedian Rich Vos’ set, which included what she called targeted harassment of a table of Indigenous women.

“One of the things he said was, ‘Look, lady, I’m not your godfather. You must go to your next AA meeting. … He was making a joke on a talent show and saying, you know, these ladies would probably come in and do dreamcatchers,” she said.

The American comedian also made a joke hoping the women would get tickets for driving under the influence on the way home, she recalled, which she said perpetuated offensive stereotypes.

Lenaghan, who is from Pinaymootang First Nation, says the women’s table stayed in the middle of her tirade, and she left the club to follow them to make sure they were okay. When she joined them, she said they were upset.

“Why can’t we go out for a fun night without our indigeneity being brought up — without it being the focus of his jokes and attacks?” said Lenaghan. “To see my sisters and loved ones being treated in this way, you get this feeling of protection.”

Why can’t we go out for a fun night without our indigeneity being brought up — without it being the focus of his jokes and attacks?-Kelsey Lenaghan

Although she was outside the auditorium for part of her set, Lenaghan says she could hear Vos continuing her comments about women.

“It completely ruined the evening and… hangs over our heads for the weekend. It’s disgusting,” she said.

Shelly Lavallee, one of the women who was directly insulted by Vos, said in a statement to CBC News that she left the show feeling spiritually hurt.

“It shouldn’t be up to us to be prepared to harden our hearts and be equipped to laugh at traumatic events,” the Mestizo said in the statement. “Rumor’s Nightclub has an ethical responsibility to ensure everyone is safe from insensitive racial ambushes.”

Rich Vos performed four shows at Rumor’s Comedy Club in Winnipeg, including one where at least 30 people came out. (Rumor’s Comedy Club/Facebook)

Mark Turner, who sat at a table with Lenaghan, says he felt uncomfortable throughout Vos’s set, including when the comedian used the word “gay” in a derogatory sense, but that he didn’t want to make a scene because he was at a birthday party. to party.

However, he said everyone in his party had finally reached a breaking point.

“The one he said that made our table say, ‘Okay, that’s it. — wigwam,” Turner said, adding that this particular comment was made toward the Native women’s group after they left.

“It was very clearly racist and no one was really laughing. It felt like racial attacks, especially against the indigenous community.”

Tyler Schultz, the club’s general manager and booker, says he was there for Vos’ set that night and confirmed hearing some of the racist comments towards Aboriginal women.

Schultz said he saw Vos grow frustrated with them, as Schultz says the women were making noise and disrupting the show.

It was very clearly racist and no one was really laughing. It was just like full of racial attacks, especially against the native community.-Mark Turner

Prior to his performance, Schultz says, Vos had made it clear to the security guard that he wanted to speak directly to hecklers or people who spoke during his set, and did not want the guard to interfere.

Afterwards, Schultz says, he tried to educate Vos about how his jokes were perceived by the public, and said the comedian seemed to have no idea how offensive they were.

“In a culture that tries so quickly to cancel people and jump on their megaphones on social media to try to cancel people, we believe in educating people,” Schultz said.

“We don’t want to censor our comics, but if that kind of thing happens, we certainly won’t tolerate racist remarks like that.”

Schultz says the rest of Vos’ shows over the weekend went well and no one came out. Even so, he said he wouldn’t book Vos again.

Code of conduct

Lenaghan and Turner both want to see Rumor establish a code of conduct similar to one that the Winnipeg Comedy Festival established which ensures that all attendees attend performances free from harassment, hostility and abuse.

“If we have comedians coming here, those are certain things that you can’t base yourself on. Those are areas that shouldn’t be talked about. I think the code of conduct would be a good place to start,” said said Lenaghan.

“If you’re going to come to Canada, find out about the people who come from this country, be prepared to treat people with respect so we can go to a comedy show and we can laugh a lot together.”

Lenaghan also holds Rumor staff responsible, including Schultz, for blaming Indigenous women instead of canceling the rest of Vos’ shows this weekend.

Schultz says he advises comedians against making jokes that could be highly offensive, including sexually explicit or targeted content, before their performances because it doesn’t normally “do well” with the gossip audience, but he doesn’t. not explicitly prohibited.

Turner says what he witnessed on Friday’s show was untrue.

“I think when minority groups or groups that are particularly targeted in comedy, if they don’t find it funny and if they find it hurtful or damaging, then I think that’s a very clear indicator that this is not comedy,” he said.

CBC News was unable to reach Vos for comment.