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Sexual Etiquette for Entertainers: An Interview with Susan Messing

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What is proper etiquette between entertainers who create the illusion of lovemaking? I appreciate this opportunity to interview the stunningly talented and lovely Susan Messing. We'll discuss the etiquette between entertainers during rehearsals and performances that contain sexual content.

Current affairs in the entertainment industry run deep with accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. This interview focuses on the part of the harassment or assault that sometimes occurs during rehearsals or performances.

For example, recent reports exposed incidents from 2006 between then-comedian Al Franken and Leeann Tweeden. They performed comedy together for oversees troops and one of their skits involved a kiss. Tweeden reported that Franken repetitively asked her to rehearse the kiss until she reluctantly agreed. Then, Franken did not gently kiss her lips, but he aggressively stuck his tongue into her mouth. Tweeden also revealed a humiliating photo of Franken groping her over a protective vest and trying to look funny while she slept on the plane ride back to the US.

I asked Susan Messing for this interview because she possesses eminent credentials in comedic performance and instruction while she also talks about harassment between comedians. She performs raunchy, uncensored comedy. She nonetheless demands that entertainers treat each other with respect.

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Susan's academic credentials include faculty positions at Loyola University, DePaul University, and the University of Chicago. Her creative credentials include three decades of Chicago comedy performances at the legendary Second City, the famous iO Theatre, and the infamous Annoyance Theatre. She also created roles for dozens of original productions such as "Co-Ed Prison Sluts," "The Miss Vagina Pageant,"' and "Your Butt." She currently stars in the long-running weekly hit improv "Messing with a Friend."

My first question:

Susan, thank you for joining us. We hear that Las Vegas prostitutes and lap dancers in other states can decline to swap saliva with their clients. How about entertainers and students of acting? When an entertainer consents to kiss another entertainer during a rehearsal or performance, what does that consent imply if there's no script or if the script includes no other details of the kiss? Did that consent open the door for French kissing, grabbing buttocks, feeling breasts, or grinding hugs?

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Susan Messing:

Unless a script calls for a specific embrace or other stage directions, everything is open to a frank conversation about how comfortable someone is in terms of sharing their intimate space. In these times, it is imperative to be clear as to what someone's boundaries are. As far as the consent to kiss makes a door open for tacit permission to go further intimately, I completely disagree. Just because there is permission to kiss doesn't give anyone the license to continue the actions--maybe perhaps in a world where someone wants to squeeze through the doggie door, but that is unrealistic and uncomfortable. The initial consent is for that kiss alone. Why should anyone assume they could go further? Everything else is negotiated.

James Goetz:

What type of disrespect have you seen between comedians during an improvisation?

Susan Messing:

Improv Comedy is about collaboration. When someone turns a scene that had nothing to do with sex into a scene about sex, this can be off-putting to their onstage partner. When someone names their fellow player a "whore" or "c-word" or something else derogatory, merely to try to get a laugh, the audience recognizes this immediately. Improvisers work together to build a scene. When someone tears someone down and degrades them, whether it be verbally or physically, comedy does not occur, and as I would assume this is their original intent, they might want to examine what they want out of this art and if they can be a positive contributing member.

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James Goetz:

What is the appropriate place in unscripted comedy or scripted comedy for grabbing buttocks, feeling breasts, or simulated sex?

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James Goetz is a philosopher and theologian. His theories include the universal wormhole, semiclassical theism, semiclassical Christianity, Relative-Social Trinitarianism, natural law theory of identity, and conditional futurism. His (more...)

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