Contributing Reporter

Do people want to hear the N-word or not?

Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory, says no.

After Michael Richards uttered the epithet heard round the world on Nov. 17, crowds at Masada's West Hollywood comedy club thinned.

"Groups of men walked by giving the Nazi salute and screaming the N-word," Masada said. "My customers outside kept walking away."

So Masada took action.

"I thought that instead of putting gas on the fire, I'll put water on it," Masada said. "We told the comedians that if they used the word they would be fined and the money would go to a charity in South Central Los Angeles."

And people are coming back.

Masada likens the fine to those levied on professional sports players and thinks the stance will eventually help, not hurt, ticket sales. He said the policy is also an apology to the Laugh Factory customers offended by Richards' tirade.

"When you're really sorry, you put your money where your mouth is," Masada said. "Like with Mel Gibson, if he was really sorry, he'd give some money to the Museum of Tolerance instead of hiring the biggest publicist in town and feeding the media a lot of rubbish."

Masada maintains that Laugh Factory patrons will still see quality comedy. "That one word doesn't make you funny. If you're funny, you're funny without it," he said.

Dean Gelber, general manager at the competing Comedy Club, thinks the Laugh Factory went too far.

"Comedy is one of the last free forms of artistic expression," Gelber said. "We don't censor our comics. Chris Rock said (the N-word) last night and everyone was laughing."

Gelber says the Comedy Store has been unusually busy since the Laugh Factory's boycott began. "If anything, I think our sales are getting better because we're getting their business down here," Gelber said.

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