Nonpartisan Harassment

Chris Warren is a politically conservative standup comic. Recently, he was threatened with arrest by the Secret Service if he repeated a joke he told at the Brickwall Comedy Club in Spokane, Washington. I e-mailed him to find out what the joke was. He replied, "It is not a wise idea for me to write out the joke online at this point," though he gladly told me the punch line. We’ll get to that later, but first the setup, revealed in this letter from a female M.D. to the editor of a weekly Spokane paper, The Inlander, which was seen by a member of the Air National Guard who reported it to the Secret Service. The letter:

"When I go to an adults-only comedy club, I expect to hear adult humor (including off-color jokes, which are half the fun) but did not expect to come out completely irate. The night started with the owner, Chris Warren, getting up and telling a few jokes. His jokes consisted of not one but multiple jokes about rape. One of them started out by him asking if anyone had heard about the woman who married her rapist. His ‘punch line’? ‘At what point during the rape did she think, "Hey, this isn’t so bad?"’ When the room was silent, he made a comment that maybe his joke was too dark for the crowd.

"It was not that his humor was too dark but that violent crimes against women are just not funny. Later he made a comment that Hillary Clinton should be raped and assassinated. When again the room was silent, he said, ‘Okay, maybe we should assassinate her first, then rape her.’ This is supposed to be funny? I don’t care what your political persuasion is, wishing any person to be raped and put to death is just wrong. Maybe Warren should look at his material and figure out that there are certain subject matters that are never funny no matter how you tell the joke."

And now the punch line about Hillary: "You’d need to shoot her first, then let the body warm up a little bit." Warren told me, "Response was mixed, some howled, some stared. I told the joke several times after that and got lots of laughs. So I was surprised with the visit by the Secret Service. I was asked to tell them the joke, and they both laughed! However, I was then told that if I was to tell the joke again, I would be subject to arrest, charged with a federal crime, that of threatening a ‘protectee’ of the Secret Service, then put on a terrorist watch list."

In 2003, Warren was among the first group of comedians to entertain American troops in Iraq. In 2004, he appeared with the Right Stuff, a right-wing comedy troupe that performed for delegates at the Republican convention in New York, at the Improv during the presidential debate in Phoenix, and before several dignitaries in Washington, including Ken Mehlman, Bush’s campaign manager, now head of the Republican National Committee.

"I was told I would no longer have clearance to do any of these type shows again. No clearance, as they put it, to work for ‘Kenny’ again. There was no humor in their tone at this point. I was told that they were continuing the investigation, and I was asked for personal information — height, weight, Social Security number, home address, phone numbers — information they obviously already had. It seemed like a subtle threat to me."

The intimidation worked. He hasn’t told that joke onstage since then, and won’t until his lawyer and the ACLU confirm that he’s not going to jail over a joke.

Paul Krassner is the author of Murder at the Conspiracy Convention and Other American Absurdities.

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