Comedy show cancelled after outrage over Robert Pickton T-shirts

Comedy show cancelled after outrage over Robert Pickton T-shirts

WARNING: This article contains details about violence against Indigenous women. It also contains a photo of a caricature of a convicted serial killer.

A comedy club in New Westminster, B.C., says a show featuring comedy troupe Danger Cats has been cancelled after public outrage over the group’s sale of T-shirts depicting serial killer Robert Pickton. 

In a now-deleted Facebook post, Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy B.C. wrote it had decided to cancel the event, saying it missed the mark and aims to do better. 

“While we value and support the freedom of expression in comedy, we recognize that the chosen material for this show has caused discomfort in our community,” the post read.

When asked by CBC News for more details on why the show was cancelled, David Facey, vice-president of operations for House of Comedy, said it had “no comment on the cancellation, but the show is no longer occurring.”

Lorelei Williams, whose cousin Tanya Holyk was named as one of Pickton’s victims, says seeing the T-shirt Danger Cats were selling made her nauseous and caused another family member to throw up. 

“This caused physical harm and pain,” said Williams. “It’s totally dehumanizing. It’s so disgusting.” 

A woman is pictured with her chin resting in her hand looking off in the distance.
Lorelei Williams, pictured here at a 2023 news conference regarding the preservation of evidence from the Pickton trial, says the comedy troupe has caused hurt and offence. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of full parole for 25 years.

The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C., around 25 kilometres east of downtown Vancouver. He once boasted to an undercover police officer that he killed 49 women. 

Pickton was known for targeting sex workers and vulnerable women in the Downtown Eastside. Many of his victims were Indigenous women. 

The serial killer became eligible to apply for day parole — meaning he would have to return to prison or a halfway home at night — last Thursday, according to the Parole Board of Canada. 

The T-shirt being described as offensive by many shows a caricature of Pickton holding a bacon strip underneath the words “Pickton Farms.” Under the caricature is the text “Over 50 flavors of hookery smoked bacon.” 

Two t-shirts are pictured side by side. The one on the right pictures two men holding up bacon strips and says "Pickton Farms: Over 50 flavors of hookery smoked bacon."
Two T-shirts sold by Danger Cats are pictured. The T-shirt that many have deemed offensive is shown on the right. (Danger Cats/Facebook)

Williams said she is not satisfied with the comedy club’s statement, which has since been deleted on its social media accounts, noting the club did not explicitly apologize in its statement and the T-shirt caused more than just “discomfort.” 

“It’s been horrifying. It’s very disturbing,” she said. 

T-shirt taken down, multiple shows cancelled 

The comedy trio, which hails from Alberta, is comprised of Sam Walker, Brett Forte and Uncle Hack. 

The group wrote in a statement posted to social media late Tuesday afternoon that it is removing shows in multiple cities, including the New Westminster show, due to venue staff receiving death threats. 

The statement also said the group removed the T-shirt from its online store and “all proceeds will go to Ukraine.” 

The New Westminster Police Department said in a statement to CBC News it could not speak to whether any threats had been reported. 

CBC News has contacted Danger Cats for comment, but has yet to hear back.

The troupe appears to still have several shows booked across Canada and the U.S. over the next few months. 

A Winnipeg comedy club cancelled four shows by the troupe earlier this month after concerns were raised about their act, which includes material that uses residential schools as a punchline. 

Community outcry

A petition circulated online called on the House of Comedy to cancel the Danger Cats show in New Westminster.

“This group is known for profiting off the tragedy of the Willie Pickton serial killer by making and selling shirts that exploit the murdered and missing Indigenous women and other women who were his victims,” the petition reads.

“Their act also includes content such as residential schools and mass Indigenous graves, which is completely unacceptable.”

As of 7 a.m. PT Wednesday, more than 2,100 people had signed the petition. 

‘Art is getting away with it … they’re not’: Indigenous comedians weigh in on Pickton T-shirts

A comedy show scheduled for New Westminster, B.C., has been cancelled after outrage over a comedy troupe selling T-shirts depicting one of its members smiling with serial killer Robert Pickton.

Sasha Mark, a Cree-Métis stand-up comedian based in Vancouver, said the cancellation is a step in the right direction, and that community members voicing their concerns is a good way to keep comedy clubs accountable.

“Residential schools isn’t a punchline. If that is the only way we exist in your comedy, I do ask you to rethink what Indigenous people mean to you,” he said on CBC’s On The Coast Tuesday afternoon. 

Debbie Courchene, an Anishinaabe comedian, said groups like Danger Cats try to gain notoriety by being controversial, despite the harm it can cause. 

“Addressing and attacking communities that have been subjugated to violence is not progressive or smart in any way,” said Courchene, who is the founder of IndigE-girl Comedy, a nationwide network of female Indigenous comedians. 

She said emotional intelligence and integrity are key to addressing sensitive topics in comedy.

“They’re not pushing the limits, they’re perpetuating the same stereotypes,” said Courchene. “Get better. Be funnier.” 

The First Nations Leadership Council issued a statement on Tuesday expressing its “disgust” with the comedy group “profiteering” off of the Pickton case, and called on venues to cancel the shows of any performers who joke about gender-based violence.

“Such callous disregard is yet another example of why we continue to struggle with missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“Already faced with the memories of the devastating deaths of their loved ones, the families of the victims should not have to suffer such an appalling attempt at humour,” B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee said.

“The members of this so-called comedy group may try to defend this display of poor taste as social commentary and comedy, but the despicable crimes of Robert Pickton and his victims are not something to be made fun of.”

B.C. Premier David Eby spoke out against the comedy troupe at a Monday news conference. 

“All I can say is how deeply disappointed I am by the idea that the lives of vulnerable women could be trivialized like this,” said Eby. 

“I just really encourage this group to think carefully about this sad attempt at humour.”

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