Columbia students shut down SNL writer’s standup

Columbia students shut down a Saturday Night Live (SNL) writer’s standup routine after the comedian made “racist and homophobic” jokes.

SNL comedian and writer Nimesh Patel was performing a stand-up routine at Columbia University when students pulled him from the stage for what some called racist and homophobic jokes, according to the Columbia Spectator.

Columbia’s Asian American Alliance (AAA) had invited Patel to perform as part of the student group’s “cultureSHOCK: Reclaim” event, which sought to emphasize “a diversity of Asian American artistic expression” and eliminate stereotypes concerning the demographic, according to the AAA Facebook event. The event typically involves a dinner, fashion show, and artistic performances by students and outside guests, such as Patel. 

“No one looks in the mirror and thinks, ‘This black thing is too easy, let me just add another thing to it,’” Patel, SNL’s first Indian-American writer, said. AAA event organizers cut his performance short, after deeming the joke to be inappropriate, according to the Spectator.

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The organizers quickly denounced his comments relating specifically to sexuality and race and proceeded to allow Patel to give closing remarks, during which the comedian explained that while he stands in solidarity with minority groups, he believes that none of his remarks were offensive. As he continued to explain that his set is meant to expose real-world phenomena, event organizers cut his mic and signaled his exit. 

Audience reactions to the incident were mixed. One student said he was in favor of the AAA’s decision to interrupt the performance, which he claimed conflicted with the sensitive nature of the event, the Columbia Spectator reported. 

Elle Ferguson, another Columbia student, stated that she didn’t think the comments were offensive at all, especially when compared with what is typical of stand-up comedians. 

“While what some of the things that he said might have been a bit provoking to some of the audience, as someone who watches comedy a lot, none of them were jokes that I hadn’t heard before and none of them were jokes that elicited such a response in my experience,” she told the Columbia Spectator. “[AAA] should have talked to him beforehand especially because comedy is known for being ground-breaking and for pushing boundaries.”

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The AAA directed Campus Reform to its official statement on the incident. 

“Patel’s remarks ran counter to the inclusive spirit and integrity of cultureSHOCK and as such, the choice was made to invite him to leave,” the group said. “We acknowledge that discomfort and safety can coexist, however, the discomfort Patel caused was unproductive in this space.”

"We ourselves are still processing the events of cultureSHOCK and maintain different perspectives on it even within our organization. We invite and welcome dialogue concerning his remarks and our actions,” AAA continued. “That being said, we deeply apologize for inviting him in the first place and bringing these comments into a space for inclusion and acceptance. We apologize for the hurt his words caused members of the community.”

Nico Perrino, director of communications at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), reacted to the incident in a statement to Campus Reform on Wednesday.

"Comedians are increasingly skeptical that they can freely feature their art on college campuses. Unfortunately, the incident at Columbia University will only reinforce that skepticism," Perrino said. "Comedy often uses laughter as a device to challenge audiences, to push boundaries, and to make people think. But clearly, that's not what the student organizers at Columbia wanted that day." 

Perrino further noted that famous comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Larry the Cable Guy have previously said that they don't like performing on college campuses because of their inclinations to censor speech. 

"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Nimesh Patel's name added to that growing list moving forward," Perrino concluded.

Patel did not respond to requests for comments in time for publication.

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