Peter Kim, a performer at Second City, the famed improvisational comedy troupe in Chicago—a “dream job,” he says—has called it quits due to nightly hate heckling from audience members.
His departure comes on the heels of multiple exits from the company this month, including Second City senior staffers as well as performers in the stage revue A Red Line Runs Through It, according to a report earlier this month in the Chicago Tribune.
However, Kim took action by penning an article for Chicago Magazine on the reasons why he left, stating that audience members were not only heckling those onstage but fellow theatregoers in the audience as well.
During a performance, he writes, “We had asked a lady in the front row: ‘Hello, ma’am! What’s something small that happens in your life that pisses you off, like getting stuck in traffic?’ Before she could answer, the audience member shouted, ‘Sitting too close to a Mexican!’ He was seated next to a Hispanic couple.
“His vicious words clung to the room, which fell silent—the immediate hush of 200 people left speechless. He turned to his buddy, who begrudgingly gave him a high-five. Even his friend knew that he had gone too far. The ‘casual racism’ he had practiced in the safety of his apartment had grown, unchecked, into unbridled hate speech.
“This was no solitary incident. Week after week, audience members just like him spilled into the iconic Second City theater at North and Wells to sniff out the next Bill Murray, Chris Farley, or someone else from a time when comedians looked just like him—back when America was not so great for a gay Korean with a sassy mouth.”
The hate speech continued, both during the show and afterwards online, with Kim being cyberbullied on Twitter—even after he resigned.
— ★≣ (@xNICKTAYLORx) October 14, 2016
“I decided to leave a dream job at the mecca of American socio-political satire,” Kim writes in Chicago Magazine. “It was a tough decision, but after a year of continued audience abuse, I started to feel anxious going into work. For six shows a week, I got on stage and made 200 people laugh—but I forgot what it felt like to have fun.”
He cites presidential candidate Donald Trump as reason for the increase in hate speech, saying that “a presidential nominee of the United States of America gave his tribe a platform and a thinly veiled slogan, then fed them lies to turn them against the ‘others.’”
However, he insists, “I didn’t quit Second City because of Donald Trump. I quit because I am excellent, and I demand excellence from those around me. I don’t tolerate anything less, and neither should you.”
Second City and actor Kim have both declined to comment.