Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, the Daily Wire, and the Post Millennial put a small Seattle comedy club called Capitol Hill Comedy/Bar on blast this week after the venue canceled shows with the four comedians Kurt Metzger, Dave Smith, Luis J. Gomez, and Jim Florentine. 

As Jesse Watters put it with a banner across the screen on his Fox News show Tuesday night, “SEATTLE LOVES DRUGS, HATES COMEDY.”

Since the story blew up, Comedy/Bar’s co-owner Jes Anderson, who initially booked the shows, has locked down her social media. She says people harassing her online have come after her and her children and suggested that she should be raped or murdered.

“Given [the response], I think we maybe made the right choice,” Anderson said. “I think that this might not be the people that we want inside of our club.”

“I think if you're a comedian, and your fans react with threats of physical or sexual violence based on a canceled comedy show, maybe you have some self-reflection to do, I don't know,” said Dane Hesseldahl, who owns the club with Anderson.

The Stranger can’t speak to how much Seattle may or may not love drugs, but what actually happened is more mundane than what the right-wing media outlets have drummed up in conjuring images of angry activists pressuring the club into making a supposedly free-speech smothering decision.

Anderson and Hesseldahl said no mob came after them about the booked performances. No community group forced their hand. The bookings and subsequent cancellations were their decisions alone. 

Anderson said it began with Metzger’s agent Tommy Nicchi reaching out. 

Nicchi wanted to book Metzger at the relatively new club. With a Google search, Anderson learned Metzger had won a Peabody Award and an Emmy for his work on the television show Inside Amy Schumer

Over the phone, Nicchi offered her three other comedians for headlining shows at her venue between April and October of this year: Smith, Gomez, and Florentine. 

Metzger, Smith, and Gomez could not be reached through Nicchi, and Nicchi told The Stranger Gomez has since dropped him as his agent. Another press person said Florentine could not respond to our questions before the deadline.

As a booker, Anderson was overjoyed (at the time).

“I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I just booked four headlining comedians, like holy crap, I'm killing it,’” she said Monday. “I thought I had done a really awesome thing.” 

Then an investor told her that Metzger, Smith, Gomez, and Florentine were right-leaning or transgressive comics who may not be a good fit for the club, which has promoted itself not just as a place for comedy, but as an openly progressive “safe space” in Seattle’s gay neighborhood. 

After discussing the matter with friends, other comics, and people in the neighborhood, Anderson and Hesseldahl ultimately decided to cancel the shows privately over email, the only time they’d done so in their short history.

The next day, Metzger posted Anderson’s email to X.

“It's like a stupid, dumb mistake that's turned into this whole thing,” Anderson said.

As reported in a 2021 New Republic article “The Comedy Industry Has an Alt-Right Problem,” Smith and Gomez were repeat guests on The Gavin McInnes Show, hosted by the far-right Canadian podcaster who founded the Proud Boys. In one episode, guest hosted by Smith, Smith interviewed the American white nationalist Richard Spencer, who helped organize the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, and white supremacist Christopher Cantwell, who Vice filmed chanting “Jews will not replace us” in a documentary following the rally. The article also mentions that Smith and Gomez left McInnes’s Compound Media for a network Gomez co-founded, GaS Digital, where they carried on a tradition of “racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and flirtation with the far right.”

More recently, a significant portion of Metzger’s latest special 30 Minutes With Kurt Metzger is dedicated to jokes about trans people and politics.

For Hesseldahl, the choice was pure business. Comedy/Bar is a club with a weekly open mic called Queers to the Front, and if the comedians mock the same queer, progressive audience they’re trying to appeal to, having them on your stage is bad sense. Not everyone may like the sound of a “safe space” comedy club, but there’s a market for it, said Hesseldahl. 

“I know that can be used as a dirty word, but for me, I take it exactly as it's meant for,” he said. “I want the people in this neighborhood to feel like they can come into our club and not be made to feel bad for who they are. I would rather go through this than have to look my friends and my neighbors in the eye knowing that I brought someone into the neighborhood that doesn’t value them, that doesn’t treat them with dignity or respect. That's more important to me than what Kurt Metzger thinks about me or what his fans think about me.”

“It doesn’t mean censorship,” said Anderson. “You can say it, you just can’t say it here.”

Jason Rantz, the local conservative columnist and radio host on 770 KTTH who first reported the story, wrote that the club acted after “offended activists” complained, highlighting that the club was located in the former Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. (To clarify, the club didn’t exist until more than two years after CHAZ.)

In a radio interview with Rantz, Metzger said that the email made him “laugh out loud,” and while he doesn’t have anything against Anderson, she deserved to be mocked.

“Anybody who caves to this nonsense, they don’t deserve anything but mockery, some hilarious mockery and it’s important that we do it,” he said. “If you saw Inglorious Basterds at the end [commando Brad Pitt carves a swastika into Christoph Waltz’s forehead, marking him as a Nazi for life] that stupid woke nonsense is dying, it’s dying now, and what’s going to happen is all the cancel pigs that are engaging with that are going to blend back into society.”

Gomez, another one of the comedians whose show Comedy/Bar canceled, said on a recent episode of his podcast that the business did have a right to cancel his show. He said he thought the club was stupid for booking him, and then unbooking him, and so was his agent “for booking him at a super woke progressive venue that the entire lineup is blue-haired fucking freaks.” He wasn’t planning to address the email before Metzger posted on Twitter.

“There’s plenty of places that won’t book me because I’m a fucking dickhead who says shitty things on the internet. That’s the right of any business. The same way I don’t have to put anybody on my podcast that I don’t want to, or anybody on [the comedy festival] Skankfest that I don’t want to if they don’t represent the band, or the fucking core val–anything you want to call it, it’s just their right … They didn’t make a big stink, they didn’t fucking publicly say these guys are pieces of shit. The email is pretty fucking respectful overall.”

Florentine has since booked shows at Tacoma Comedy Club to replace the canceled Comedy/bar dates. So did Metzger. Hesseldahl said he was happy for them, and thinks those audiences will love those shows. 

“I don’t think they shouldn’t be allowed to do their comedy,” he said. “It’s about what’s best for business and what’s best for my customers.

“These guys may come and sell out the club for a weekend, but then we have to be here forever,” Hesseldahl added. “As a private business, everyone that performs on our stage is there at our pleasure. To characterize this as censorship is inflammatory and incorrect. There’s a big difference between saying a book should be banned, and saying, 'I prefer not to have that book in my home.'”