When Laughter Leads To Legal Woes: Comedians Who Crossed The Line

By Arvyn B October 9, 2023

The comedy world has seen its fair share of legal troubles over the years, as humorists occasionally cross the line between comedy and the law. Here are a few instances where comedians found themselves in hot water:

Mae West’s ‘Sex’ Arrest

Before cementing herself as an icon, Mae West was the writer and star of the Broadway show Sex. The content of the show, where West played a sex worker, led to a police raid that resulted in the actress’ arrest along with 20 cast members. West refused to close the show, stood trial, and was sentenced to 10 days in a “workhouse” for creating an “obscene” drama. However, the raid backfired, making West an even bigger star.

Source: @news.instyle.com

Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Trouble in Kazakhstan

Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Borat, a clueless reporter from Kazakhstan, caused legal issues both on and off-screen. He faced lawsuits from people who appeared in the film without their consent and angered the entire nation of Kazakhstan with his satirical portrayal. Using a Kazakh domain, the film’s website was suspended by a government-appointed organization for violating rules. In 2017, Czech tourists were arrested for wearing Borat’s green mankini in Kazakhstan.

John Waters’ Nude Scene Arrest

Filmmaker John Waters, who is not a stranger to controversy, found himself in a difficult situation during the making of Mondo Trasho, his first feature film. Waters filmed a scene on a university campus without permission, featuring Divine picking up a nude hitchhiker in a convertible. The authorities raided the set, arrested the entire crew, and charged them with “conspiracy to commit indecent exposure.” Waters’ trial, featuring screenings of his early short films, became great publicity for the young filmmaker.

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W.C. Fields and the Bird Murder

Comedy legend W.C. Fields was arrested for killing a bird during a stage routine in 1928. Fields played an abusive dentist, and a live bird flew out of a patient’s beard as part of the act. Humane Society officers who attended the performance claimed to see the bird hit its head and fall. However, witnesses said it was the arresting officer who dropped the cage. Furthermore, Fields’ lawyer suggested photographers’ flashes may have led to the bird’s asphyxiation. The judge ultimately released Fields.

These instances demonstrate the fine line comedians sometimes walk between pushing boundaries for humor and encountering legal troubles.