The Stand-Up Comic Who Stared Down Harvey Weinstein Wants Justice to Be Served
Kelly Bachman tore into accused sexual predator Harvey Weinstein in front of a roomful of people. Now, she’s continuing her fight to amplify the voices of rape survivors.
It seems like the perfect setup for a joke: Harvey Weinstein, the monstrous movie mogul accused of sexually assaulting over 80 women, tottering into court with a metal walker—balanced on tennis balls, no less—in a cheap ploy for sympathy (your move, Cosby cane). But Kelly Bachman isn’t taking the bait. “I don’t want to give him any more of my…energy,” she says, looking down. “He doesn’t deserve it.”
Bachman, who is 26, made headlines for roasting the scummy producer to his face during an Oct. 23 networking event for aspiring actors on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She, like many of the women performers in attendance, wasn’t expecting Weinstein to be one of the so-called “few lucky outsiders” with the “privilege of gaining entry.” Yet there he was, holding court at a reserved table by the venue’s exit, forcing those who wished to leave to pass him on the way out. This put Bachman in an extremely awkward position: she was meant to perform a 10-minute stand-up comedy routine that night, but as a rape survivor herself, let alone host of a comedy show called “Rape Jokes by Survivors,” couldn’t let this enraging encroachment go unaddressed. So she did.
“I’m a comic, and it’s our job to name the elephant in the room,” she remarked. “It’s a Freddy Krueger in the room, if you will. I didn’t realize I needed to bring my own mace and rape whistle to Actor’s Hour.” Later, she told him to fuck off.
The 45-second snippet went viral, attracting tens of thousands of likes and shares. Bachman received praise from several of her comedy idols, including Chelsea Peretti and Nikki Glaser, as well as Jeff Garlin, who “was particularly nice” and sent her a complimentary note. She made a number of media appearances, and penned cheeky, endearing op-eds for The New York Times and Glamour. But, sitting with her at a coffee shop in Brooklyn, Bachman admits to being wracked with guilt over the set.
You see, twenty-four hours earlier she’d been in L.A. trying to pitch another of her comedy shows, Sofa Kingdom!, to producers. She’d been ironing out the pitch for weeks, dedicating “her whole life to trying to sell this show.” She was terribly behind on sleep, and most of her money had run out. “I had thought that had been the craziest, most surreal week of my life, being in pitch meetings all week, and that day, when I performed at the show and Harvey Weinstein was there, that was supposed to be my decompression day—my first day getting back into stand-up and my regular life,” she recalls. Earlier that day, she’d interviewed for an associate producer role at TV Land, and was still sporting her interview suit when she arrived at Actor’s Hour. Then she spotted Weinstein.
“He was at a table in the back of the room that had been reserved for him, and it was shocking to see. The table was also by the exit, so I sat on the opposite side of the room by the emergency exit,” she says.
“I went back and forth about whether to say how angry I was with Actor’s Hour and then do my regular set, or go in on him the whole set. But I really wanted to do my regular set, because I wanted to show anybody who was going to be silent, boo or be upset with me that I actually am a funny person,” she adds. “I didn’t want to hear the feedback of, Well, she wasn’t funny though, was she?”
During the Weinstein portion of the set, several people—all men—booed, and one even yelled at her to shut up.
“I was definitely aware of the sound of booing and of someone yelling shut up. I was also aware of the silence. It felt like a bomb,” she remembers. “There were people there who welcomed this person, and they were seeing it as me being ‘out of line’ and not being ‘funny.’ I know the host of the show, who was one of the people booing, had messaged someone after and accused me of being an ‘opportunist.’”
She pauses. “There’s always gonna be assholes and hecklers and people who feel a certain way. But the shut up, in particular, was the most upsetting part, because there was something to that that felt very familiar to me, and that stopped me from telling the jokes I was telling. At that point I just said fuck you and got back to telling my regular jokes, because I felt I couldn’t keep pushing for that much longer.”
After her set, a male comic followed and actually took it upon himself to thank Weinstein for producing Good Will Hunting. Bachman says she “really wanted to leave,” so when Zoe Stuckless called out Weinstein, she thought, “finally, a sane person,” stood by their side, and then was kicked out along with them.
“Then, I stayed up all night thinking about my set, and whether I should have been more like Zoe—called him out by name, gone in harder, and thinking I dropped the ball,” she says. “So I was pleasantly surprised when people thought otherwise.”
She also contacted the producers she’d met with in L.A. “I went home and was pretty freaked out, thinking maybe I had messed up my pitch. Since they introduced me at Actor’s Hour by saying that I was trying to sell my show, I thought that maybe this man still had the power to call people up and kill my show.” (They said it was fine, though the show wasn’t picked up.)
Bachman had only been doing stand-up for a little over a year—since Aug. 2018—when she stared down Weinstein. Five years ago, she moved to New York City from North Carolina, and began working as an assistant to indie film producers. It was, let’s say, a mixed bag. While there were some “excellent people,” there were also some tone-deaf ones. “I’ve literally had a producer ask me if they made me uncomfortable while their hands were on my back,” she says. “I’ve had producers tell me to go up to people interviewing for jobs and reassure them that they’re not a ‘Harvey Weinstein-type.’”
She made short films and comedy sketches in her spare time, and, since she didn’t have any connections, helped form two film collectives to meet other creatives—Curve and Women Independent Producers.
She learned about production that way and began creating short films and sketches in her free time. Started a film collective, Curve, in 2016, as well as Women Independent Producers. Began meeting (and dating) stand-up comics. “My goal was always to be a comedy writer, and through the collective, I got connected with comedians who I’d partner with on making sketches.”
It took her a few years to build up the confidence to do stand-up. “I always had this idea that I needed to stay in my lane,” she offers. “I’ve always had stage fright and viewed myself as a shy person, so in my mind, I have this block where because I’m shy, and because I’m introverted, I’m not a performer. But the more performers I’ve met, I’ve realized that a lot of them are introverted, are shy, and have stage fright. And once I realized that it was just stage fright, that’s when I went out and did it.”
“Still, I always get stage-fright symptoms—shaking, sweaty palms—and I just accept that that’s happening and do it anyway, and I really enjoy it,” she says of stand-up. “I love having instant feedback on jokes.”
Now, with the media momentum from the Weinstein grilling, she hopes to take her comedy show, Rape Jokes by Survivors—wherein rape survivors like her joke about rape and take back their power—across the country. “I hope we can take that show on the road and make it into a bigger event,” she says. “I’ve been working with a company from that show, trying to sell it as a bigger project, and it’s looking like we might finally have the opportunity to do that. It’s very exciting to be able to lift up other survivor-comics, and raise the platform so it’s accessible to more people.”
On Jan. 13, she’ll be headlining the Ms. Foundation for Women’s annual comedy event at Caroline’s on Broadway, where she’ll perform in front of one of her heroes: Gloria Steinem.
And she plans to keep one eye on the Weinstein trial. “I hope that these survivors and silence-breakers, who have been an inspiration to so many other survivors and have reignited this #MeToo movement, get justice and peace of mind,” she says. “That’s what I hope.”