An inaccurate report on the conspiratorial website InfoWars led more than 100,000 individuals this week to sign an online petition calling for Comedy Central to fire a comedian who tweeted a tasteless joke about Barron Trump, President Donald Trump’s 10-year-old son.
The problem? The New York City-based comedian doesn’t and has never worked for Comedy Central.
Jenni Runyan, a spokesperson for the comedy channel, confirmed to Business Insider that the comedian, Stephen Spinola, “has never been employed by Comedy Central.”
The controversy started on Monday when InfoWars writer Paul Joseph Watson, a prominent conspiracy theorist, wrongly identified Spinola as a Comedy Central writer in a story about the comedian’s tweet. A spokesperson for InfoWars did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the now-deleted tweet, Spinola joked that Trump’s 10-year-old son “looks like a very handsome date-rapist-to-be.” In a follow-up post, he doubled down.
Spinola told Business Insider he suspected that after “Saturday Night Live” writer Katie Rich was suspended for a tweet on Trump’s youngest child that conservatives went searching for jokes other comedians had made. At the time, his bio said he was a “Comedy Central content contributor” because the channel had featured some of his work on a show.
But Spinola has never worked for the channel in any official capacity. He has since deleted the tweets, acknowledging it was insensitive to joke about Trump’s child.
“I knew the tweets were wrong,” he told Business Insider. “They are just dumb. They weren’t something I would say onstage or something I stand by.”
The apology, however, has not quelled the anger on the internet directed at him. In addition to having thousands call for him to be fired from a network at which he is not employed, others have flooded him with messages online.
“On Monday, I woke up to over 800 Twitter notifications. People were saying stuff on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube,” he said.
Spinola said he was initially amused but grew concerned when he started receiving cryptic death threats through social media and directly on his phone.
“It was funny at first,” he said of the attacks, “but then someone sent me an old address of mine and my grandmother’s name asking how she was, insinuating they would hurt her.”
Though he said his grandmother had died years ago, Spinola said the constant flow of threats had him worried someone would take action against another loved one.
“I had to delete every reference to my girlfriend online,” he said. “Any trace that I have to my girlfriend.”
“I’m just hoping nobody is crazy enough to go through with any of the threats,” Spinola added. “Any time I hear a door close outside my home now, I look out through my blinds.”
The comedian said he found the whole incident surreal, and repeatedly underscored that he didn’t aim to “hurt Barron Trump’s feelings.”
“I’m not political at all,” Spinola told Business Insider. “I tweet about what’s trending to get more followers, and I was making observations on Inauguration Day about what people looked like.”
“As a comedian, I make a lot of jokes that are not great,” he later added. “A lot of comedians make a lot of jokes that are not great. I made a mistake by attacking a 10-year-old boy.”
But Spinola did say he found it odd that people were defending Barron Trump by “doing things 1,000 times worse.”
“Shows how dangerous fake news can actually be,” he said.
The White House on Tuesday issued a statement requesting privacy for Barron.
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