January 16, 2019

Built to Flail

“IN LONDON LAST WEEK, Mr. Thomas Reay dropped his defamation suit against Ms. Louise Beamont, which Reay had begun last February. He was demanding £30,000 for “breach of privacy and data protection.” Usually in this sort of set-to, one’s sympathy tends to drift toward the doxxee, not the doxxer. But in this case, the plaintiff was the husband of the defendant. No, it’s not a case of revenge porn. Louise Beamont is a stand-up comic, and her ex was suing her for using their married life as material in her act.

Until Reay’s suit, one would have thought comedians bitching about their spouses onstage was settled law. If there were a magna carta of comedy, it’s in there. Certainly U.S. precedent dates back to that 1960s landmark, Fang v. Phyllis Diller, or the Jurassic Period’s “Take my wife . . . please,” Henny Youngman v. Humanity. Marrying a comedian once meant giving up all right to dignity. For readers too young for the oeuvres of Diller and Youngman, see Amazon’s hit series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, loosely based on the early career of Joan Rivers. The everything-is-material clause also extends to children, parents, in-laws, pets, and any amusing dates the comic might have once endured. As the saying goes, “nobody’s safe.”

This past year was a big one for comedy divorces. The Beamont case coincided with another high-profile split: that of comedians in general and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and its once-coveted gig of hosting the Oscars. After news leaked a few weeks ago that the Academy was struggling to find a host for what’s now widely considered a lousy gig, comedian Kevin Hart took the job. Within days, he was forced out when the Twitter hivemind dug up a string of homophobic tweets and a 2010 routine from his Seriously Funny special riffing on the horror Hart assumes all straight men feel when they suspect their son might be gay. Hart offered an arrogant dismissal, basically saying that to bring up the issue at all meant you were the problem, not him. After he was swiftly cashiered, he did offer a somewhat sincerer apology.”

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