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A Concord comedian cracks a joke in NYC, then comes to regret it

  • Kath Barbadoro Courtesy



Monitor staff
Monday, November 20, 2017

In Kath Barbadoro’s world, a world of laughter, things haven’t seemed very funny lately.

That’s because Louis C.K., the famous comedian who was exposed for exposing himself to women, held up a mirror to male society, forcing it to acknowledge the long-ignored or hidden disrespect shown toward women in the workplace and other corners of American culture.

But C.K.’s behavior made Barbadoro think about things, too. She’s a 2006 graduate of Concord High School who’s trying to make it as a stand-up comedian in New York City.

She recently wrote a column for the Washington Post that you can read in today’s Forum section, and in it she revealed the inner conflict she feels, because, as a member of comedy’s inner circle, Barbadoro was privy to the possibility that C.K. was a bad man, doing bad things.

She worried in the column about the masturbation-related joke she had cracked last January, shortly after C.K. left the little-known New York City venue.

Comedians there that night laughed at Barbadoro’s C.K. reference – “You have to try new jokes for an audience no matter what. If you don’t do it in front of people, it doesn’t count. Unfortunately, Louis also feels that way about masturbation.”

The audience, though, didn’t get it. Barbadoro’s recent column concluded with, “C.K’s habits were a big inside joke, and we were all in on it. But it wasn’t funny, and joking about someone when they leave the room isn’t the same as holding them to account. You told everyone but the one person you needed to tell.”

So I called Barbadoro, looking to flush out her meaning. I asked if she could have – or should have – done something about C.K., knowing full well that she couldn’t, but sensing that something was gnawing at her, that she had something more to say.

“No, I don’t think there’s anything someone in my position could have done,” Barbadoro told me. “But I feel like it’s easy to be complacent about this kind of stuff and it’s alarming how quickly we can become complacent about it.”

She continued: “So if I feel complacent, imagine how people who have the power to deal with this also felt complacent, and I think that is why it was allowed to go on for so long.”

Barbadoro is 29. She was on the crew and swim teams at Concord High and played the flute. She said she hung out with funny people in college in Iowa, adding that she knew she wanted to be a professional comedian by her sophomore year.

She actually earned enough money telling jokes to quit her day job while working the comedy circuit in Austin, Texas, where she lived for seven years.

Now, though, after moving to New York City, she’s been forced to work remotely for the admissions department at the University of Texas to put food on the table.

“You reach a certain point in comedy when you have to go where the jobs are, and they are in Los Angeles and New York,” Barbadoro said. “I did everything I could (in Austin).”

She’s never met C.K., who’s hosted Saturday Night Live, produced Hollywood movies and is regarded as one of the top comics in the country.

And that’s why he got away with masturbating in front of several women without their consent, ambushing them before they knew what was happening.

He’d been doing this for years. Gawker actually printed a story in 2012, referring to an anonymous comedian who, some in the business said, had masturbated in front of a pair of female comedians during a break at the Aspen Comedy Festival.

Barbadoro had heard the whispers shortly after that story appeared.

“People have been pretty open about talking about this,” she said, “at least in the comedy field since 2012.”

Dues-paying comedians like Barbadoro, who knew nothing first hand, were of course in no position to make waves. But once the story was reported earlier this month by the New York Times with a name attached to it, followed by a C.K. confession, it was obvious that Barbadoro felt guilty after having joked about it, fueled by the rumors.

“It’s an uncomfortable thing to talk about and we want to communicate that information about this guy who might be someone we want to stay away from without being definitive about what’s going on,” Barbadoro explained. “The problem that is going on isn’t just about this guy who we think is funny. The problem comes from our own complicity in relation to that guy.”

Barbadoro took some heat after her column appeared in the Post from letter writers who accused her of trying to further her career by becoming part of the story.

This was nonsense, of course. A Post editor had seen an earlier tweet by Barbadoro concerning C.K. and asked her to submit something, plus her thoughts were crisp and necessary, initiating a dialogue that has spread across the country, especially with all the other men who have been outed for sexual misbehavior recently.

Had Barbadoro been sexually harassed herself in some way? Yes, she said, adding that she was lucky because Austin’s comedy scene was dominated by women. It has happened, though, and she declined to cite specifics.

“I’ve had some sleazy experiences,” Barbadoro said. “Nothing where I felt really victimized or violated, but definitely gross and it definitely happened to me. It’s a problem and it’s a systemic problem.”

She said the offenders have been mostly “older comedians, and they’re used to the culture being a certain way.”

I suggested that maybe, just maybe, this was a pivotal point in human history, a time when women, emboldened by momentum, fed up by years of abuse, had finally found their voice.

“Cautiously optimistic about what this might mean for professionalism and working in these industries,” Barbadoro told me. “Given how this stuff has gone, I’m not holding my breath. It’s a lot easier to pay lip service to it and acknowledge these things in a news kind of way than examine this in our own lives.”

The off-color jokes will continue on HBO specials and in live performances, but it will be interesting to see where the current climate, aided by the fall of a superstar in the industry, pushes this form of entertainment.

I wondered if Barbadoro would consider incorporating the issue into her on-stage performance.

“I’m not ruling it out,” she told me. “I’ve seen a lot of people in New York trying material about it and working on material about it. I don’t think I necessarily have much comedically to add to that conversation right now, but who knows in the future.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)