“I put too much cream cheese on Buddy’s bagel and he threw it at me. But I learned a very valuable lesson… never put too much cream cheese on Buddy’s bagel…”
– Guy, Swimming with Sharks

Lyle v.  Warner Brothers 117 Cal.App.4th 1164

You may have heard of this case; it has surfaced from time to time the last couple of years mainly because of the star wattage of some of the players involved.  It’s the lawsuit filed by a woman who worked as an assistant on “Friends.”  She alleged that she was the victim of sex and racial harassment during her four-month stint there, because of the constant foul language, gestures, infantile humor and atmosphere she had to endure while there.

Now it’s pretty much settled law in Los Angeles that showbiz folk aren’t guilty of anything.  Ever.  If George W.  Bush had just done a couple of episodes of Knight Rider back in his Jack Daniels-and-Bolivian Marching Powder days, he wouldn’t have to worry about accountability for fucking up in Iraq.  He could just shrug, do some schtick on the stand in the Hague, smile for the cameras and sign autographs for the star-struck Belgian judges. 

But I digress.

The Lyle suit had a number of things in it that didn’t pass even the most rudimentary sniff test.  There were wild and unsubstantiated charges that were quickly booted out on summary judgment (i.e. the first amended complaint alleging that she was retaliated against for “opposing race discrimination against African-Americans in the casting of Friends episodes.”  Uh-huh.  Yeah. Good one. The appellant apparently a latter-day Rosa Parks, fighting Da Man for not putting Urkel on as Rachel’s new love interest.  NOT.

Next, came the demands for giant wads of cash from everyone in the near vicinity.  Most of these motions got kicked, mainly because the people she was suing were not her employers.  Hard to make a case for employment harassment against people who aren’t employing you.

Finally, we get to the real meat of the case – and what’s surprising is the extent to which the California Supreme Court quotes from the motions.

Now mind you: none of this language was directed at Lyle.  The writers and producers didn’t cuss her out, proposition her, grab her, rape her, remove their clothes in her presence and apply chocolate sauce or fondle livestock.  They just told dirty jokes and said stupid sexual stuff. 



“Malins remarked to Chase that Chase could have ‘fucked’ one of the actresses on the showa couple of years before, and the two constantly bantered on the topic … they also referred to her infertility once and joked she had ‘dried twigs’ or ‘dried branches in her vagina.’ ”
    “Episodes of the show often featured sexual and anatomical language, innuendo, wordplay, and physical gestures to convey humor concerning sex, including oral sex, anal sex, heterosexual sex, gay sex, ‘talking dirty’ during sex, premature ejaculation, pornography, pedophiles and so-called ‘threesomes.’ ”
    “Plaintiff’s declarations stated: Malins, Chase and Reich ‘would say that what they liked was a ‘woman with big tits who could give a blow job,’ the writers would ‘for hours on end make lewd and offensive drawing of women,’ they ‘would also commonly sit around and bang their hands on the bottom of the desk to make it sounds as though they were masturbating,’ ”

Damn.  This makes me wish I had watched the show more the last couple of years it was on the air.  I had no idea it was so hot.  This makes it sound like Skinemax After Dark… the only thing that’s missing is Marcel the Monkey from Season One in fishnets and a leather cowl.

One might speculate that the lurid and embarassing nature of the allegations contained in the declarations and pleadings were designed to make the network and production company want to pay large sums of folding cash to keep all this out of … well, out of this place, for one.  By now, we all know the drill.  The meme of people suing big institutions with deep pockets who pay money “just to make you go away” has sunk deep into our culture.  It keeps the law schools churning out graduates, all looking for their billable hours and fat targets with big E&O insurance policies.

So three cheers for unfettered freedom of speech.  You can cuss and tell all the dirty jokes you want in the workplace, as long as you aren’t directing them at anyone, and all the employees there came in the door knowing things would be a little rough.  To try to censor yourself in your head when you’re trying to come up with something that’s “edgy” and “creative” is to totally short-circuit the creative process. 

But I can’t help but fear that there are many magnums of Dom getting cracked in the Hills and in the Colony tonight, by petty tyrants who want to be able to continue grabbing the ass of the D-girl as she walks by.  I ran across a piece on the web the other day that made me unutterable sad.  It made the comparison between the Democratic party running away from its roots and the poor dogs in a Stanford psych experiment called "learned helplessness" where they caged up dogs, shocked them, and then put them in larger cages where they could escape the shock.  But the dogs just cringed in the corner, peeing on themselves in awful terror and resignation, waiting for the awful, cruel electric shock.

So while the right to blow off steam and be stupid in pursuit of a funny, creative story has been preserved, I wonder how many Personal Assistants there are in town who are now like the dogs in the Stanford experiment.

Somewhere, Don Simpson is smiling.