[Edit 10th May: I’ve since learned that the claims made in the Guardian piece I’ve linked to below are possibly unfounded. The piece itself has been removed from the Guardian website. I’ve not had time, however, to investigate this myself.]
[Edit 11th May: According to Chortle, Vegas began legal proceedings against the Guardian, and that is why the original article was removed. I shall update this post if I hear more.]
Along with hundreds of others I watched a set during which Johnny Vegas, without any discernible artistic or comedic merit, gratuitously groped a young woman on stage. Judging from some of the furious postings on the internet that followed the gig, I was not the only person asking if he had crossed a line.
Vegas stepped on stage to cheers and immediately announced that he had no material, and that he was there mostly to get laid. There followed a short meandering ramble (mainly about lap dancers) before he turned his attention to the audience – and to one young woman in particular in the front row who, he announced, he wanted to be “inside”. Anyone who has seen Vegas live knows to expect the unexpected, and you take a front row seat at your peril. He can appear deliriously and uncontrollably drunk and casually offensive, and he isn’t afraid of injecting a dose of tension by involving members of the audience in his erratic act. But something backfired this time.
The woman he focused on was about 18 or 19 and was very obviously unnerved by his attention. I saw her expression clearly – I was in the front row too, just three seats along. Vegas insisted that she allow herself to be carried on to the stage by six members of the audience – he called them “pall bearers”. She must pretend to be dead, he said, and he would bring her back to life with an onstage kiss. He warned her that there probably would be tongues. As James Williams, writing on the NOTBBC forum after the gig, put it, “Honestly, you couldn’t have found a nervier or more passive girl if you’d scoured all of London – she was like a rabbit in the headlights, but she was giggling and clearly somewhat enjoying the attention, so it just sort of went ahead without so much as a yes or no from her.” As she was carried on stage, Vegas repeatedly goaded one of the pallbearers to “finger” the girl.
Once she was on stage, Vegas told her to lie very still. She couldn’t stop her nervous giggling; he threatened to kick her in the ribs. It didn’t come across to me as a joke – and near to where I was sitting, no one was laughing. Eventually Vegas crouched down beside the nervous girl and started stroking her breasts while repeatedly saying, “don’t fucking move”. Then he ran his hand up her leg and began pulling her skirt up. Every time he looked up to address the audience, she would reach down and pull her skirt back down, but he kept pulling it back up. According to Williams, who had a different view of the stage from me, Vegas ended up “fingering her through her clothes for a second or two”. What I heard was an audible sharp intake of breath from the audience as they realised that the woman was getting much more than the kiss Vegas had told her to expect.
There was an air of menace from the outset, made worse by the fact that Vegas clearly had no idea where he was going with his act. The more the young woman was groped, the more anxious one of the “pallbearers” looked. Then Vegas straddled the young woman, pinning her to the floor, and kissing her for quite a while. Most disturbing, perhaps was that around half the audience seemed to find this really funny. Vegas asked if the curtain could be brought down; when it wasn’t, Simon Munnery, the comedian who had been on stage before him, came on stage and used his coat to screen the pair from the audience.
I’m shocked. And more a little upset. One of my questions is whether or not the woman would be able to prosecute. It seems to me that Vegas committed a chargeable offence, and that there would be no shortage of witnesses. I also wonder if any of the audience reported what happened.
Some of the comments to the Guardian piece are, thankfully, denouncing of Vegas’ actions; while some (see EricConway’s for example) are typically defensive of him. Throw some victim-blaming and ‘youse are all hysterical wimmines’ responses into the mixer, and we have our usual gamut of opinions. I imagine it’s the same on many sites which wrote about this incident.
Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find anything online about the woman’s take on what happened to her, and it feels very obvious that her perspective is missing. If anyone else manages to find anything on this, I would appreciate seeing it.