Comedian Ashley Gavin is facing backlash after she told an audience member to “go kill herself” during a live stand-up show last week in Indianapolis.
“Can u set up text alerts for when u post the apology video?” a commenter wrote on the comedian’s latest TikTok post.
@og_neely Ashley Gavin tells me to go k*ll myself over and over during sold out show. “Unalived” used for tiktok regulations. #ashleygavin #ashleygavincomedy #unaliveawareness #unaliveattemptsurvivor #unalivedawareness #comedy #notfunnydidntlaugh ♬ original sound – Olivia Neely
Neely says she had bought VIP meet-and-greet tickets to Gavin’s show.
Opening the night, the comedian encouraged the audience to be loud and cheer during the show, a suggestion that Neely took when she started cheering.
Gavin and Neely’s interaction can be heard on a now-deleted audio recording of the interaction acquired by the Daily Dot and previously posted by Instagram user Justintimeforlife.
“I had an abortion,” Gavin said during the comedy set.
Members of the audience, including Neely, reacted by cheering at the comedian. Neely told the Daily Dot that she cheered “in support of a woman’s right.”
“Kill yourself,” Gavin then said to the audience.
“I’ve tried,” Neely replied.
“Shut the fuck up,” Gavin shouted at Neely. “That was the most virtue-signaling piece of dogshit I’ve ever seen in my entire life. You’re in a room full of lesbians and you just screamed for someone who had an abortion? That is the most—in a comedy club? Everyone here is pro-abortion. Kill yourself. Go kill yourself.”
In the audio recording, an audience member, presumably Neely, says something unintelligible to the comedian.
“I don’t care. You’re an annoying person. Try harder to kill yourself,” Gavin told Neely. “You just interrupted the tension that I was building into the joke. Your mother should’ve aborted you.”
Neely told the Daily Dot that after posting her TikTok about the experience, she learned from talking to other fans online that the comedian’s reaction to the cheering was a written-in part of her stand-up routine, which she didn’t know at the time of the show.
Neely felt like the joke was specifically aimed at her, despite other people in the audience also cheering and laughing. She also told the Daily Dot she had “never felt so alone in a crowded room in [her] life.”
“It was almost like when she was saying all of this to me, a spotlight went on her and then the lights dimmed around us, and it was just like her and I,” Neely said.
Neely told the Daily Dot she has struggled with mental health issues her entire life and felt triggered when she heard Gavin, “a person [she] admires,” telling her something she had “[her] brain tell her for the last 20 effing years she should go do.”
She described walking out of the venue as the ultimate walk of shame.
“I almost wanted to be like, ‘Um you want to overshare?’ Jesus fucking Christ,” Gavin said at the show after Neely left the audience. “I’m just doing my job. I can’t have people woo-ing in the middle of every fucking joke. The job is tension. That’s the job, I have to do that. I’m very sorry if my ‘kill yourself’ jokes hurt her, but she volunteered the information to me.”
Neely says both she and her friend were blocked by the comedian on Instagram immediately after the show.
“I’ve struggled with my mental health my whole life,” Neely said in her video. “This is a serious thing… Like, what if I went home and actually did that?”
In a June 12 profile of the comedian, Time Out magazine wrote that Gavin’s stage was a safe space with ample space for Gavin’s “beloved antagonistic” crowd work with audiences for whom call-out culture is a way of being.
For fans in the audience, who stayed for the rest of the show and even booed Neely’s friend as wse walked out, according to Neely’s original TikTok, the comment might’ve felt like a natural part of Gavin’s set.
“Comedians say that all the time,” a commenter wrote on TikTok about the encounter. “I don’t like those jokes but this is a common thing.”
@justintimeforlife joking about unaliving is never a joke. it's never funny, it's never okay, it isn't okay with certain friend groups it is just not okay @Ashley Gavin crossed a line she cannot come back from, and this isn't the first time. THIS is common in her shows. I hope she dusts off her resume. you know you really done messed up when #mamatot has words. thank you @Olivia Neely for sharing your story. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. #mentalhealth #mentalhealthmatters #mentalhealthawareness #kindness #exposed #comedian #greenscreen #greenscreenvideo ♬ Aesthetic – DJ Aurier
Online, some defended her from what they saw as excessive criticism.
“As much [as] I don’t agree with those types of jokes, it is so extra to call venues and cancel her shows,” another commenter wrote.
In a February 2023 interview with the Chicago Reader, Gavin said her audience was prominently new to comedy and that they weren’t familiar with the customs of live comedy, including how loudly to laugh or how to react to her jokes.
“People say you can’t tell a joke anymore. That’s not really true. You just need your audience to understand your point of view,” Gavin told the Reader. “You kind of have to let them know that they are safe.”
Despite the comedian’s known sense of humor and usual crowd roasting, some fans still feel like she took the joke too far at the Indianapolis show.
“That wasn’t comedy, that was cruelty,” one commented on Neely’s post.
“I have extreme dark humor, but that subject is a no go,” another one commented on a different TikTok about the event.
Neither Gavin’s team nor Neely replied to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.
Gavin’s comments were insensitive and unwise, clinical psychologist and Joy from Fear author Carla Manly told the Daily Dot, adding that “it was clear that the incident was both demoralizing and traumatizing” for Neely.
“There is nothing entertaining about telling someone to unalive themselves,” Manly said.
She also said that having an audience comes with the responsibility of being “acutely aware” of the sensitivities people in that audience might have, which doesn’t necessarily mean walking on eggshells.
If the comment was meant as a joke with the audience rather than the impactful statement perceived by Neely, then the loose use of the term dilutes the experiences of those facing real mental health issues, Manly said.
“We have become quite unmindful of how our words impact not only the speaker but the receiver,” Manly said. “It is a really positive step to simply pause to think before we speak.”
Update 3:11pm CT, June 29: This article has been updated with quotes from the Daily Dot’s interview with Olivia Neely.