“She was asking for it.”
“What was she doing there?”
“What did she think was going to happen?”
I get it, sometimes it looks bad. But you cannot know the innocence and hope in the hearts of not –very- experienced- in- the- real- world young women wanting to succeed, who believe in goodness.
When I was starting out in 1973, as I’ve said before, we didn’t have a term for “sexual harassment”, we just called it “going to work”. That’s the way it was. I worked as a hostess in what was then the New York Improv in Hell’s Kitchen. In those days, before the big comedy boom, it was just a dive, often almost empty when the weather was bad.
I started to discover comedy that related to me, something I had never before imagined. The young comedians working there, mostly male, were lifetime comedy fans. I was new to the idea, and they kindly turned me on to Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, and all the great comedy album kings. A comedian there at the time, Bob Shaw, and I would take the train to his Brooklyn apartment in Carroll Gardens, and laugh into pillows while our bodies almost broke open, having to keep it down while his wife slept, so she could go to work early in the morning and support his dream, as did many of the comics’ wives/girlfriends at the time. I remember us almost bleeding out to Firesign Theater. Such a treat, and then when the sun came up and his wife woke up for her job, we’d all get café con leche. She went off to work and I took the train back to my apartment to sleep until work that night.
Celebrities often dropped into the club, sometimes famous comics came in and went onstage. For several nights, David Frye had come in and performed. I was a twenty -year -old, raised by the Taliban in Brooklyn. I left high school at sixteen because why even pretend? I was just accidentally discovering comedy, but recognized Frye from the Ed Sullivan Show from when I was a child. He was one of the premier impressionists in the country, his take on Nixon putting him squarely on the comedy map. This was exciting for all of us aspiring comics. Sometimes we all went to the Brasserie together if someone with more money than we had invited us. It was a fun, lively, midtown late night spot, always filled with interesting night birds and good cheesy eggs and toast.
Before I became the Improv’s hostess, Danny Aiello, the actor, had the doorman job for several years. I took over, but he still hung out there a lot and we became friends. One night around two a.m., when I was about to leave, Danny said David Frye wanted to take us to the Brasserie. I was always the last comic out, being the hostess/hostage, so no one was really around to go, except Danny and I. Danny assured me we’d have fun, and I loved going there, not to mention being a little star struck. We went and we ate and we did have fun. Then Danny took me aside, and told me Frye had lots of never-before-seen comedy tapes (etchings?) that were historical, hilarious, amazing, and rare. He suggested we all go up to Frye’s place and watch. Remember, most of us worked all night and slept all day; three a.m. was the perfect time for a social engagement in our world. I just had to make sure: “Danny, you’re going to stay and hang out too, right?”
So okay. We enter one of those grand, large, pre-war apartment buildings. We go up in the dark wooded elevator. Frye opens the door on a large, dim, clearly moneyed home. I turn to Danny again, “You’re staying, right?”
“Honey of course!”
And with that he pushes me in and runs out into the elevator and disappears. Frye heads straight to the door and locks it. He’s coming at me and though he was short and older, he was also stocky and scary. I needed to get to the door he was blocking and get out, just so I could hunt down my good friend Danny and kill him. He comes at me, grabs me and pulls me down on the couch, holding me firmly on his lap. “No!!!”
“Well just sit here until I come.”
And I push off and make it to the door and get out.
Can you imagine if I had been raped and tried to convince anyone I was not “asking for it”? I’m in this guy’s apartment alone at four a.m., I don’t know him, I thought I was going to watch comedy tapes. Yeah, right. So that’s how these things go, we really think good people are going to help us.
By the way, if every woman had a dollar for every time a horrible guy said, “Just (something) until I come”, we’d own the world. In the early days of my working at the club, I was couch surfing, no actual place to live yet. I always made it very clear I needed a couch or floor to sleep on, and I was not coming over to have sex. Most everyone was decent and honorable; the bartenders, the wait staff, the comics. One guy who became a successful Hollywood writer, Marty Nadler, had other ideas. I sat down on his couch and to my surprise he sat down right next to me. “You can’t stay here for free.”
“But you understood..”
And with that he humped my knee until he came in his pants. Four a.m. on a subway to nowhere or wait until it was over, those were my choices. Then he wordlessly went into his bedroom.
And so here’s the worst of it. Of course the sex part is horrible, but just as bad, these guys then keep you from getting work. I have no doubt that to protect themselves from you possibly shaming them, and wanting to keep you out of their sphere after shaming themselves, they preemptively paint you as a nut, a liar, a whatever, and you are never given a chance to read for a part, or become a successful part of whatever business they are a highly esteemed member of; your profession. That is the glass ceiling, covered in jism. That is some of how and why women are kept down. I have a million of ‘em #metoo, but for another time.