Many of the customers who complained on Ernie Biggs’ Facebook page Thursday were not just upset that the staff had allowed a rape joke on a prominent mirror above where the musicians play: The customers didn’t think the bar’s apology was adequate.
“For 15 years, (Ernie Biggs) has been a Dueling Piano Bar where people know adult humor is often used,” wrote Daniel Bryant, the owner, on the bar’s Facebook page. “We never allow language that is mean or hurtful, but sometimes lines do get crossed and people get offended.”
On Wednesday evening Abbey Parrish took a photo of the phrase, “No means yes and yes means (a graphic sex act).” Parrish said the phrase was disturbing to her, so she talked it over with her boyfriend, took the photo and then shared it on Facebook.
According to manager Alysia Ledgerwood, the post was up for only a few minutes. “(The employee) didn’t read it before he started writing it, he was a player on stage at the moment and was just getting the first phrase of the night up,” Ledgerwood told The Eagle on Facebook. “Unfortunately it happened to be one that wasn’t appropriate, he realized it and erased it.”
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But Parrish’s photo was already being shared on Facebook.
“The fact that you believe making humor out of rape and sexual assault is acceptable, is actually disgusting and contributes to the toxic ideology that rape is ‘normal,’ ” posted Joseph Shepard, the student body president at Wichita State University. “Rape isn’t normal. Sexual assault isn’t normal. Those who are victims of it, live with the trauma everyday of their life.”
Customers started complaining on Ernie Biggs’ Facebook page under the most recent post about drink specials. That post was later deleted.
Then Bryant, the owner of the bar, posted an official apology, which led to hundreds more comments. “We simply want to offer our apologies and reiterate that the comments posted by a customer were not to be taken seriously,” Bryant wrote. “We will continue to monitor our parameters of what language is allowable so that the envelope can be pushed without causing serious offense.”
Some customers didn’t think the bar’s apology showed awareness of the problem.
“There is a way of fake apologizing where you don’t apologize for what you did,” Parrish said. “I’m not happy that you’re upset but I’m not actually sorry for what I did, and that’s how (Ernie Biggs’) apologies keep coming off: I’m sorry you’re offended, not I’m sorry we allowed this to happen.”
The bar charges customers to take down whatever phrase is posted and replace it with phrases of their own. On Wednesday, it would have cost $1 for someone to have replaced the offending phrase.
This wasn’t the first time the phrase had appeared at the bar. The same phrase could be seen on an Instagram post at the bar 11 weeks ago.
Some of Ernie Biggs’ employees defended the bar. “This political climate has everyone on edge, and I’d even concede that we may need to temporarily tune down the adult humor we have always used until things get back to normal,” wrote Sheldon Wheaton, the bar’s entertainment director.
“I’m even thinking about refusing to play any of the filthy rap songs we get hundreds of requests for,” Wheaton wrote, “because they are far more offensive than that phrase someone put on the mirror. ... I don’t make apologies for our show. It’s an adult show and most of our customers want that.”
For Parrish and other customers, minimizing the seriousness of sexual assault was as much of a problem as the joke itself. Several customers wrote about being victims of sexual assault. A member of the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center posted under the bar’s apology that victims can reach out to them for support.
“It is unfortunate when rape ‘jokes’ are made and defended as funny,” wrote Kathy Williams, executive director of the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center, in a statement to The Eagle. “These comments retraumatize survivors. Comments such as rape ‘jokes’ also perpetuate the idea that victims are responsible for a crime that has been committed against them.”
Parrish said she thinks the bar should have a policy that forbids jokes about sexual assault and rape.
Ledgerwood, the manager, said that Ernie Biggs would no longer allow allusions to sexual assault or rape. “We talked with the players as a whole and just said that the phrases need to be read and filtered before being written,” Ledgerwood told The Eagle.
“The only things that they were trained to look for were mean/hurtful words, phone numbers, etc. … this was one of those instances where it slipped through and it shouldn’t have. We have slowed the phrase process down now and will be thoroughly reading posts before writing.”