Heckling, Society, and Manliness

I would not heckle this dude. (AP)

Those of you who aren't RINO squishes living in the DC con-blogger bubble missed an interesting dustup at the DC Improv a couple nights back. The short version of the story is this: While attending the "DC's Funniest Celebrity" competition at the DC Improv, journo Josh Rogin was punched two or three times by Dan Nainan, a stand up comedian who had been hired to provide some actual comedy at the event, after Rogin tweeted about how terrible his jokes were. Rogin then tweeted about getting punched in the face and calling the cops. Nainan was arrested.

JVL thinks that Rogin a.) kind of had it coming, and b.) responded in a way that reflects a lack of masculinity in American culture. Writes Mr. Last:

On the one hand, if you sit around insulting a guy standing 30 or so feet from you, do you not expect a reaction? Rogin’s taunts probably don’t rise to"fighting words" but it says something really weird when people are so wedded to virtual space and divorced from meat space that they think spouting off insults about people near them is polite, acceptable behavior that will be universally accepted with bon homie. …

Rogin, did not retaliate, but immediately tweeted about the incident. He then pressed charges when the po-po arrived. The next morning, Rogin told the Washington Post, "My face hurts."

Really? This is how men conduct themselves in 21st century America?

I half-agree, half-disagree with JVL. The half-agree first: Yes, American masculinity is in a woeful place when one feels compelled not to respond to aggression with aggression in kind. I'm going to go ahead and blame society here. If Rogin had thrown down he would've opened himself up to lawsuits and, in all likelihood, action by the police. He probably would've been arrested along with Nainan. He also would've been treated with scorn by his colleagues in attendance, most of whom would rather get punched in the face than throw one of their own. I can't say I blame Rogin for bemusedly tweeting about the incident rather than putting his fist through Nainan's face, no matter how much Nainan deserved it.

And Nainan definitely deserved it, because he broke the rules of the comedy club.

Last year when Daniel Tosh was under heavy fire for making a heckler feel uncomfortable I wrote, but never published*, a long and slightly vulgar essay on the rituals of the comedy club. The point of that essay was simple: In the comedy club you have no right to interrupt the comedian and that hecklers deserve whatever abuse is heaped upon them. But hecklers only deserve their ritual destruction if they're interrupting the show. Rogin was not. Indeed, Rogin was doing something that is not only perfectly acceptable but almost expected: He was making fun of a comedian on Twitter. If Nainan was a jokesmith worth his salt he would have responded in kind and then turned the matter over to his hundreds of thousands of followers. Rogin would've had a pretty terrible night on social media and Nainan wouldn't have been arrested.

And this, I guess, is where I simply disagree with JVL. There are different rules for meatspace and cyberspace. Different norms govern both. It's okay to (verbally**) destroy a heckler from the stage. And it would be okay to (electronically) destroy a heckler on Twitter. But violence is an inappropriate response to someone who's making fun of you on social media. If you can't handle the horde poking fun at you, don't open a Twitter account.

*It will, in all likelihood, never see the light of day. Which is too bad, because I thought it was really quite good. 

**Even if Rogin was interrupting the set Nainan still wouldn't have had the right to physically assault him. This is why the ritual verbal destruction of hecklers is so important: It keeps violence to a minimum by emotionally ruining the aggressor in the audience.