Just under a year ago, comedian Vinay Menon was apparently late for the Grand Opening of his comedy club in Springfield, Missouri. After tweeting that there were no restrooms and that no liquor was allowed, Menon made national headlines, which only increased the ire of patrons and local law enforcement. Menon also didn’t say boo to the fire department that had to respond to the chaotic scene. Shortly thereafter, he was taken into custody and charged with felony theft and negligent discharge of a firearm. On paper, the arrest didn’t sound too bad – but at this point in his career, Menon had gotten used to making a name for himself through controversy.
But now, Menon is a very different comedian. His comedian peers and colleagues are looking to him for what it takes to continue making a name for himself.
On Wednesday, Menon was named one of the 70 comedians performing at the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards. One tweet from a fellow comedian turned into numerous following the release of the performers’ list.
Menon has cultivated a reputation for pushing limits and shouting out problematic issues. Between 2018 shows, his tour showcases one of the rapper Sam Smith crying on stage as he tries to talk about his sexuality and another night in his Chicago show, when the Muslim comedian addressed political rhetoric and hate crimes.
Menon has also gotten in trouble for violating decorum in the past: Last week, he was released from jail after he and his crew were arrested at a comedy show in Cleveland. He was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor stemming from the incident at Cain’s Ballroom last week.
Now, many believe Menon is better off making a name for himself elsewhere.
“Just so everyone, this is Dave Chappelle,” a fan tweeted out during Wednesday’s telecast.
A comedian named Ryan McElroy tweeted that Menon’s participation sends a message to young comedians to think twice about performing at venues with censorship, police presence and in a venue where people’s livelihoods depend on their ability to say taboo or controversial things.
There’s a difference between laughing uproariously and being arrested for making fun of a country you don’t agree with, these comedians wrote.
“The problem is we can all laugh at a dregs of pathetic, reactionary rock stars, the n-word fight scene in 2018, the dentist who didn’t fit into his luggage, but if you go to a real bar, and see someone who has made the category code 1 onstage, then you start thinking a lot differently about your future.”
Now, Menon is serving as an example of how comedians shouldn’t take humiliation and misfortune personally, says Lydia Harlow, whose book “Finally No More” about comedians who have experienced racism in the entertainment industry will be released Jan. 21. Harlow first met Menon when he was arrested on a comedy show in Minnesota last spring.
Menon was told to start laughing when he went on stage before being arrested. Now, he’s going through the same process with his Grammy performance, Harlow says.
“Now this is nothing compared to what he went through that night last year,” Harlow says. “But Dave Chappelle is a master at handling whatever comes his way. If Dave has something to say and he’s going to say it, no one can take that away from him, no matter what some irresponsible person calls it.”
He’s a fully functioning joke machine and is not deserving of the negative attention he got a year ago, she says.
“Dave Chappelle isn’t a hypocrite,” Harlow says. “Dave Chappelle is actually a superhero.”