Comedy cabaret trio the Fringe Wives Club said they felt "exposed" and "insulted" when a man hurled misogynistic abuse towards them before their act at the New Zealand Fringe Festival.
Fringe Wives Club trio Tessa Waters, Victoria Falconer and Rowena Hutson were invited by New Zealand Fringe to host the launch event on Wednesday December 4.
The event brought together a big mix of stakeholders for the festival including artists, funders and MPs.
When the Fringe Wives Club took the stage, a middle-aged white man in a pork pie hat at the back of the room yelled something out.
"As a seasoned professional comedian I chose to engage with the heckler and asked him to repeat his comment, at which point he yelled out "Show us your growler!", Waters explained.
"Which for those playing at home means vagina. Again, just in case you're reading this and thinking, 'I don't see what the big deal is', a middle-aged white man yelled 'SHOW ME YOUR VAGINA' at us, while we were at work.
"There was an audible groan of embarrassment and disgust from the crowd and we felt that very familiar punch in the gut feeling when you are sexually harassed at a gig, but have to keep smiling and carry on with the show.
"Not wanting to allow him to derail the show I responded by saying 'Wow, never have I heard so many people turn to hate someone so quickly' at which point there was a big laugh and cheer from the crowd, relieved that we'd called it.
"I then went on to say 'Oh my darling supporters of NZ Fringe, Directors, Minister, I'm so excited for you, I'm so excited you get to be here, as that man has to now sit through the next song and understand what an idiot he is.
"Mmmm, delicious to be there when someone has that 'woke' moment of 'Oh I see...I'M the f***head!'
"Then we launched into one of our multi-award winning and quite frankly banging songs about consent and respect and subsequently blew the roof off the place."
Waters said after their performance, they had run straight out to make it back to BATS in time for their sold-out show — but they were enraged by what had happened.
"As we walked down Courtney Place, we were fuming if I'm honest with you," she said.
"We felt insulted, we felt exposed, we felt the rage of the culmination of all of those moments in our lives when we've had to deal with the verbal or physical abuse of these kinds of people. And we also felt like we had to push it aside as 'the show must go on'."
On Thursday morning, Fringe New Zealand made a statement on their Facebook page apologising over the incident.
"All of us at Fringe would like to apologise unreservedly to the very magnificent femmes of Fringe Wives Club, who had generously donated their time and art to start our launch off with a glittery bang," they wrote.
"At the beginning of their set, they were subjected to a heckle of misogynistic abuse from someone we had invited to the party.
"It was our guest who was inappropriate, and so, Tessa Waters Victoria Falconer & Rowena Hutson we apologise, and we want you to know that they will also be directly addressed about this incident. We are not naming them here, because we want to give them the chance to make amends rather than 'outing' them.
"We also apologise to anyone who was in the room last night and felt, as we did, disgusted and disturbed in that moment."
Waters said after the incident they told Fringe New Zealand how unhappy they were about what happened.
"Thursday morning I wrote to Fringe to voice our feelings, call out what happened and to ask them how they were going to respond. Sameena Zehra the new Co-Director of Fringe responded within five minutes, and brilliantly. We felt heard and respected and knew that something would be done about it.
"We then saw the public statement they put out on their Facebook page and to be honest we were really impressed. We have been working in the comedy industry around the world for over a decade and I don't think I have ever seen a festival or venue respond with such class and respect and so directly acknowledge their part in inviting the person and their responsibility in calling it out and working to make sure it never happens again."
Waters said this is not the first time the Fringe Wives Club had to deal with abuse.
"We are women in the world talking about our bodies, sexuality and empowerment, we get this all the time," she said.
"I can't tell you the amount of times people have grabbed our breasts, slapped our arses, or in one case grabbed one of us by the crotch while on stage.
"It makes us feel angry, hurt, abused, sad and furious. Just because a performer is on stage, just because they are wearing a stunning sparkly costume, just because they are making you laugh or flirting with you does not give you the right to assault them.
"These types of behaviour are the foundation of the culture of violence against women. The same culture that leads to one in three NZ women experiencing physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.
"We choose to channel our rage into our art and is a big part of why we made this show, why we will keep touring it, keep getting the message out there and keep calling it out."
In a message to others, Waters said: "To artists and comedians who have to deal with this stuff in their jobs, power to you. To event organisers and venue bookers, get a code of conduct around sexual harassment at your workplace and insist that all performers, staff and sponsors sign it.
"To the audience members, thanks for coming to see our art, keep supporting, keep cheering and championing our voices. And to the dickhead up the back of the room the other night, do better mate, or you're going to be left behind."