But here was what helped her set go viral: For making those minor nods to reality, Bachman was booed. Video of the scene, posted to Instagram, captured a male voice in the audience responding to Bachman’s references to Weinstein: “Shut up!” he shouted. The audience’s impulse to silence her—backlash, in real time—was ratified when Andrew B. Silas, another stand-up performing at the event, presented a decidedly different take on Weinstein’s presence: “I’d like to address the elephant in the room,” Silas said. “Who in this room produced Good Will Hunting? ’Cause that shit was great.”
Silas told BuzzFeed News that he’d intended the joke to be supportive of Bachman—a callback to her own reference to the “elephant in the room.” (“I swear I’m not a piece of shit,” Silas insisted.) But the effect, of course, was the opposite: Silas’s set seemed to mock Bachman’s—and to insist that Weinstein’s presence at the show was its own kind of light joke. BuzzFeed reported that the Downtime owners had given performers at the Actor’s Hour explicit instructions not to mention Weinstein in their sets. But Bachman, who wrote in her op-ed that she is a three-time survivor of rape, had no interest in staying silent while Weinstein sat before her. And that was how comedy turned into something else: When Bachman mentioned him during her set, she was punished for saying what was plain.
The Downtime show functioned, in the end, as a kind of morality play in reverse. It was a lesson in how easy it is, still, for someone like Harvey Weinstein to move through the world at once thoroughly disgraced and vigorously defended. The scene served as a reminder that, despite the #MeToo movement’s revelations and reckonings, regression is its own kind of force. This was heckling used not in the typical manner—a less-powerful person, demanding a say—but instead in the opposite. This was heckling done in defense of the powerful.
Here is one of the definitions the Oxford English Dictionary offers for heckle, the verb: “To question (a politician, witness, etc.) thoroughly and persistently, esp. in order to test the strength of his or her position or statements.” That idea carries a certain nobility: Heckling, functioning as an arbiter. The notion posits a fundamental equality between the heckler and the hecklee. It suggests the Socratic. The heckling carried out against Kelly Bachman, though, conveys precisely the inverse idea: It was angry. It was incurious. It was partisan—not in a political sense, but in a moral one. And it was interested, as backlash always will be, in protecting the status quo.
When the revelations about Weinstein broke, around this time in 2017, many people met the news not only with shock, but also with a kind of knowingness. They talked about open secrets—about the way Weinstein’s alleged behavior had been treated, for years, with a slippery irony: as a known unknown, as another strain of alternative fact. Two years later, Weinstein’s appearance in a space meant for young performers—and the boos that greeted the woman who dared to object to it—suggests a new iteration of open secret that is, in its way, even more pernicious than the last. There is at this point, even as Weinstein awaits trial for a small percentage of the allegations against him, an obviousness to his monstrosity. It’s not like he’s a Weinstein is a defense that #MeToo detractors often invoke on behalf of those who are accused of—merely, the detractor will often add—groping, or harassing, or abusing their power. But even Weinstein, the Actor’s Hour episode proved, enjoys ongoing impunity: protected in public spaces, his comfort prioritized over that of everyone else.