Stand-Up Jokes That Triggered Attacks On Stage

To the uninitiated, being a standup comic must seem like ... well, like a barrel of laughs. To get paid actual money to get up in front of a bunch of appreciative fans, crack wise for a while, and soak up the applause and laughter before peacing out back to your tastefully appointed hotel room, ready to hop on a plane and repeat the whole party the next day sounds pretty sweet, right? Sure it does. Heck, even if you're not a household name making thousands for each gig, making strangers crack up for a living on their hard-earned nights out must be incredibly gratifying. 

Well, as it turns out, there is a dark side to the profession that non-comedians (who actually make up quite a bit of the population) are probably not very aware of: the fact that standup comics sort of regard getting assaulted onstage as a standard occupational hazard. After all, most of the best comedians have their share of material that somebody is going to find offensive, and on those occasions when that somebody happens to be in the audience and in a mood or has imbibed too much, heckling escalates to full-on fisticuffs just a bit more often than you might think. It happens so often, in fact, that we made a list. Here are stand-up jokes that triggered attacks on stage.

Chris Rock vs. The Fresh Prince

On the evening of March 27, 2022, those viewing the 94th Academy Awards presentation were subjected to the sight of a shocking act of violence on live national television. After comedian Chris Rock made a lame crack about the hairstyle of noted actress and TV personality Jada Pinkett-Smith, her husband Will "The Fresh Prince" Smith leapt into action. The beloved actor stormed up onto the stage, bore down on a smiling, oblivious Rock, and smacked the dude, like, super-hard. It was said that the sound of the smack reverberated throughout the Dolby theater and, indeed, the world, drowned out only by the collective gasp of those in attendance. That collective gasp was then drowned out by Smith, who had returned to his seat, profanely berating Rock as the comic attempted (rather swimmingly) to recover from the assault. 

The incident that came to be known as "Slapgate" will certainly go down as one of the most bizarre, shocking moments in the history of live broadcasting, and as such, it was dissected six ways from Sunday on social and not-social media. Does Rock have a weird and borderline-inappropriate history of needling the couple? Maybe, according to publications like Teen Vogue. Can Smith be just a tad more aggressive than his squeaky-clean image suggests? Well, Smith has presented his palm to a dude in public in response to non-violent behavior before (via YouTube). But beefs between famous people are usually settled backstage, not onstage at the Academy Awards, so it's little wonder that the incident was all anybody could talk about afterward. 

Jerry Sadowitz vs. Canada

Scottish comic Jerry Sadowitz, who made his name banging around comedy clubs in the '80s, is a guy who really does not give one single heck who he rankles. For evidence, just look at one of his more famous routines from that era, which he opened by leveling an unprintable smear at beloved (and, at the time, imprisoned) South African president Nelson Mandela. Then, the punchline: "You lend some people a fiver, and you never hear from them again." Sadowitz was of that special breed of comedian who will pretty much say anything to get a laugh, and at the 1991 Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, this got him into a wee bit of trouble.

In a 2011 interview with the Guardian, Sadowitz remembered how he opened his set with a typically pleasant salvo: "Hello, moose-f***ers. You know what I hate about this country? Half of you speak French, and the other half let them." A (presumably French-speaking) member of the audience promptly took umbrage, and — according to event promoter ATP's website — climbed up onstage and knocked the comic right the heck out. If the incident prompted Sadowitz to tone down his material, it hasn't been evident; in his conversation with the Guardian, he said, "Who's to deny anybody their comedy? You can't say that one person's strand of comedy is OK to laugh at, but this person's isn't. There's a great quote that Steve Martin said when he was doing standup, 'Comedy is not pretty.'" Maybe not, but it sure can get pretty ugly.

Steve Brown vs. some serious hardware

It's a sad fact that every comedian in existence must eventually learn to deal with hecklers, and Alabama comic Steve Brown is no different. At a 2018 show, Brown was sparring with a man in the audience; at the end of the exchange, according to Newsweek, he asked the guy a simple question along the lines of, "Why did you come to a comedy show if you aren't going to laugh?" For this unpardonable offense, Brown was then treated to an impromptu staging of a WWE match right there on his postage-stamp-sized stage.

An alarming video of the incident, taken by an audience member, shows the interloper swinging a microphone stand — which is, you know, a big, long hunk of metal — at Brown repeatedly, then grabbing a barstool once the mic stand slips out of his grasp. It takes the club's security an inexplicably long time to intervene, a period during which Brown puts on the most impressive display of slidin', slippin', and dippin' from a non-boxer this side of ... well, Will Smith that one time he fought Mike Tyson. The guy was eventually removed from the stage and hauled off to jail. In a 2022 interview with WBRC Alabama shortly after the Oscar Slap Incident (or OSI, as we're confident it will come to be known), Brown admitted to suffering from PTSD as a result of the attack, and condemned Smith's assault on Rock. "I thought it was a sad situation. It was bad overall for everybody involved," he said. "I just hope that there is a resolution to it."

Greg Fitzsimmons vs. Captain Headlock

Greg Fitzsimmons has a pretty deadpan style, so while the onstage assault that took place during the veteran standup's early years was probably terrifying to witness, it's pretty hilarious to hear him describe it, which he did for YouTuber Chris Minyen (via YouTube) in 2020. Apparently, it was singles' night at a Boston comedy club where Fitzsimmons was performing, and one particularly rude fellow was not having any luck with the ladies. He decided to ease his own pain by posting up in the front row and giving Fitzsimmons the business, to which the comic (of course) responded in kind. Fitzsimmons says that when the guy ordered him to shut his mouth, he replied with one more gentle barb — "Yeah, let me know when your friends get here" — and all hell broke loose.

Fitzsimmons describes how the guy jumped up onstage and rushed him with clenched fists, prompting the comic to bop him on the head with the microphone. The dude then proceeded to get Fitzsimmons in a headlock and sort of just start swinging him around: "My legs are kicking tables, people are diving out of the way," he remembered. The bouncers finally intervened at this point and dragged the dude outside, and a brief intermission followed during which tables were righted and spilled drinks were refreshed. Then, the club's management added insult to injury (literally, Fitzsimmons says he couldn't move his neck at this point) by telling the hapless comedian that he still had five minutes left, and sending him back up onstage to finish his set.

Jim Jefferies vs. the Manchester Bomber

Jim Jefferies is a very funny guy, and he's absolutely beloved in his home country of Australia, as his style is roughly as aggressive as the local wildlife. Apparently, though, there was a guy in Manchester who didn't get the memo about the comic's M.O. (Not bad, right? Sorry, we're workshopping some new material.) Jefferies described for CNN how, in 2006, he was performing at a Comedy Store in that city when he got into a back-and-forth with a heckler in the audience. It was all going like these things usually go when Jefferies decided to get on with his act and offered a parting shot: "I'm gonna leave you alone now, like your Dad did."

This remark set off a completely different audience member, who didn't say a word before sprinting onto the stage and immediately throwing blows. He landed several on Jefferies before being dragged off the stage by audience members; after taking a few minutes backstage to make sure nothing was broken and/or dislocated, Jefferies returned to the stage and picked up where he left off. He brushed off the assault with a truly sublime explanation: "What many of you don't know is that I employ that bloke for when gigs are going badly." As reported by Yahoo! News, he later wound up his set with, "If you enjoyed my show and you want to see more of me, I'll be getting my head kicked in in the alleyway."

Capital Pilcrow vs. The Wrong Jeff

Capital Pilcrow, is a funny man who has undoubtedly gotten a lot of mileage out of his unusual name. In video footage of one of his performances at a San Francisco comedy workshop, Pilcrow can be seen verbally tangling with an audience member just after telling a joke which, according to SFist, is a regular part of his set and goes like this: "People ask me if it's is my real name, and it's definitely my realest name. Definitely realer than anything my mom came up with. I don't know why you've got questions. Would you have questions if your boss paid you more than you asked for? This is a blessing. You should have questions if this dude comes up and is like 'My name is Jeff.' You satisfied with that? You just gonna roll with that your whole life?" It doesn't seem like the kind of bit that would lead to a physical assault, yet here we are.

A guy in the audience, who apparently was named Jeff, took offense, and asked if Pilcrow knew who he was; when Pilcrow answered in the affirmative (and asked the gentleman to kindly stop talking), the guy leapt up and shoved Pilcrow off the stage, then began raining blows on the comedian. The video (via YouTube) is genuinely scary, and even though plenty of people came to Pilcrow's defense, one gets the idea that the assault could have been even worse. The out-of-control patron continued to talk smack and struggle with Pilcrow's valiant defenders, and the guy even broke a window on the way out the door. SFist reported that Pilcrow declined to press charges against the man who has got to be the least chill dude named Jeff in the entire world.

Alex 'Shooter' Williamson vs. Beer Guy

The 2021 attack on Aussie comic Alex Williamson, who goes by the nickname "Shooter" for reasons we don't want to know, was not exactly unprovoked. Explaining the situation to Australian news outlet 7News, the comic himself made that pretty clear, using language that we cannot reprint here. Apparently, Williamson was doing a pretty decent job of ignoring a rather incessant heckler, at least for a little while; after the fifth or sixth interruption to his set, though, he politely asked the guy to leave, and requested that security help him out. When the guy responded with a lame-O "That's what your Mom said" in response to Williamson's entreaty to security, the comic proceeded to dump half of his beer on the guy's head. This was not an effective de-escalation technique.

The dude clambered up onstage with his own beer in hand, and Williamson figured he was simply in for a revenge soaking. As seen in the video recorded on YouTube, he even offered the guy the mic so he could offer up a few choice words — but he instead offered up a few choice fists. Once again, four audience members intervened, grabbing the heckler and pushing him out the door; at this point, we're starting to think that security guys at comedy clubs are required by some sort of law to literally never look at the stage.

Brett Eidman vs. Common Decency

And now, we come to an attack that straddles the line between "totally provoked" and "actually well-deserved." Don't get us wrong; we would never advocate using violence in response to mere words, at any time, ever. There are simply better ways to resolve disputes, kids. However, when the mere words in question are blatantly, brain-searingly racist, we can at least understand why one might give in to the temptation to start throwing hands.

This is to say that if you are triggered by jaw-dropping racism, you would do well not to watch that video of New York "comedian" Brett Eidman unleashing all of the most absolutely exhausted Asian stereotypes that the 1960s had to offer, after just completely bombing with his other material. If nobody was laughing when he was blathering on about his wife's standard excuses for avoiding sex (and we can't imagine why she would want to do so), they certainly didn't start when he inexplicably threw on a pair of "Jerry Lewis in Yellowface" glasses and started babbling racist-ly at an Asian couple in the audience. A very worn-out, very familiar phrase from the film "Full Metal Jacket" (yes, really, that one) was about halfway out of his mouth when the male half of said couple — identified by Australian outlet 9News only as George — decided he'd had enough bigotry, and served up a freshly-made knuckle sandwich. 

Now, again: We're not saying Eidman got what was coming to him, but we are saying that if he expected any other response to his "bit," then he must be as oblivious as he is unfunny. And racist.

Sampson McCormick vs. Trump Country

There are brave men, and then there is Sampson McCormick, who — according to a news item in the Advocate — has been regularly performing at Win-River Resort & Casino in Redding, California, for over seven years. Redding, you see, is smack in the middle of what the comedian refers to as "Trump Country," and McCormick happens to be Black, gay, and hilarious. One evening in March 2022, the comic was doing his thing when a woman began heckling him. "As a comedian, I'm going to heckle you back," McCormick told the publication. "I started teasing her about the obvious, which was that she only had about three-and-a-half teeth in her mouth."

According to witnesses, a big, burly dude then leapt to the woman's defense, and the two got into a full-on brawl in which McCormick kind of handed the dude his own ass. "I think he was shocked that this Black, gay guy had just beat him because he stood there like he wanted to throw a chair but thought the better of it," McCormick said. "Then security got involved." (Again: Gee, not a moment too soon!) The comedian declined to press charges against the guy, but he did offer a helpful bit of advice to anyone who might decide to turn comedy night into the Friday Night Fights in the future. "It sounds corny, but I like to bring love to my audience," he said. "But don't mistake my being gay as weak, because I grew up in southeast D.C. and I will kick some ass." Duly noted, sir.