The Trouble


Illustration: Paula Friedrich

James Edwards, Shannon Cason

Trouble — we've all been in it. Some more than others. Some worse than others. Award-winning storyteller Shannon Cason has faced a few problems of his own. Now he talks with others about getting into — and out of — trouble of all stripes.

In episode 4 of The Trouble, Shannon talks with comedian Rebecca O’Neal.

Rebecca was working her way to the top of Chicago’s comedy scene. She opened for comedians such as Maria Bamford and Hannibal Buress, and even landed a job hosting a local TV show. But offstage, for nearly two years, Rebecca was faced with trouble that wasn’t funny: stalking and harassment from an ex-boyfriend.

Listen to the entire episode on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Here are highlights.

On the breakup

Rebecca O’Neal: The weeks leading up to this day, there were a lot of arguments — some so bad that his neighbors were knocking on his door, asking if I was OK. So I knew things were getting bad and I was planning to leave him. I think he knew all of this, and his birthday is just the day when it all came to a head.

I was living with my mom at the time — half with my mom, half with him, which is a part of the reason this got so tangled up. A lot of these people who end up acting the way my stalker acted do try to keep the people they’re victimizing dependent on them. He was calling nonstop at my show, leaving very threatening voicemails: “Come back, or else I’m gonna kill myself. If you break up with me, I’m gonna kill myself.”

He threatened suicide so many times I lost count.

February [2016, after the breakup], I couldn’t even face him because I never had somebody threaten me, and keep me from leaving their house, and tell me they were gonna kill themselves if I broke up with them. So I wasn’t ready to see him. We would communicate via text, maybe a week or two later. He’d tell me that he was in treatment, but I didn’t feel comfortable being around him until a little later.

Rebecca O’Neal performs at Laugh Factory Chicago. (YouTube screenshot)

Shannon Cason: How was the relationship as friends compared to the dating relationship?

O’Neal: It was not good. I was doing this out of concern. I was doing this because I thought he was just experiencing some mental health issues and I didn’t want to abandon him for that. I’ve dealt with depression and I thought it was something similar to that. After all of this, I found out he has physically abused past girlfriends. He has been committed before for doing the exact same thing. At the time, I did not know that and I thought him showing me that he was in therapy doing things that seemed like steps were real.

On the stalking and harassment  

O’Neal: That summer — summer of 2016 when all of the stalking pretty much happened — I was getting threatening phone calls, saying the person knew what I was wearing at my shows. They knew where I was performing. Threats of rape, threats of murder on the phone. This is goofy, but it did mess a lot of things up: he put that I had free TVs on Craigslist. I probably got like 200 calls before I had to change my number because the calls were coming in so fast that I couldn’t use my phone functionally. He put on Backpage that I was a prostitute, with my name, pictures, my neighborhood, my phone number. I was getting terrible messages from disgusting people. I had to change my number again.

On the police

O’Neal: The police, if I’m being real, were no help to me through this entire process. They witnessed him throwing rocks at my house. They told him he was just drunk and emotional and they sent him on his way. They gave me a police report for criminal trespass but declined to arrest him. ... They didn’t seem to care at all. He left. They left. I was scared. I’ve been pretty much scared ever since that day, and about a week and a half later — maybe two weeks — I came home and the front window of my apartment was broken out. And there was no legal precedent for him having done that because he didn’t get arrested that night.

A copy of a police report filed by Rebecca O’Neal against her ex-boyfriend. According to O’Neal, she brought copies of at least five police reports to court to help obtain her order of protection. (Courtesy of Rebecca O’Neal)

The entire time I sought help from the police, they were dismissive. They didn’t take me seriously. I’ve had cops try to hit on me while I’m filing police reports. I don’t know if the system is set up to protect women, honestly.

On court

Cason: Why did it take 10 months to get an order of protection?

O’Neal: My stalker, who was familiar with the legal system because his father is a judge, successfully evaded [being served] for five months. … If they’re not served after an exorbitant amount of time, you can do this last-ditch effort, which is service via publication, where they publish the summons in a law bulletin. … Of course, when he was served via publication, he showed up and decided to contest, which was another five months.

Cason: Describe the day you won.

O’Neal: This was the day they wanted to avoid. All the tactics leading up to this point were to avoid getting to Sept. 13 [2017] plenary hearing. Because they knew once in that room, they didn’t have a case and that he would have to face this, once and for all. It was about 90 minutes of questions from the judge, questions from his extremely combative lawyer who was disrespectful to the judge.

Thankfully, my stalker — when it came down to the window incident, which is what the judge cited in her ruling — he did say that he was there against my will and he threw rocks. According to the Illinois anti-stalking and harassment statute, just that alone was enough for me to get my order. It was just 10 months for a decision that took 10 seconds to deliver.

Rebecca O’Neal outside court after winning a two-year order of protection. (Courtesy of Rebecca O’Neal)

On sharing her story

O’Neal: Women who I’ve worked with for years, women I know personally have shared stories with me that, if I haven’t spoke out about this, I would have never known they were experiencing this. People, from open-micers to women who are literally famous on TV right now, have shared with me stories of their stalkers. ... There are so many women facing this, and this is so common.

You’re not always in a situation where you do feel safe speaking out because maybe this person has interpersonal power over you or professional power. But I’m really excited to be in a wave right now where predatory behavior is being exposed and people are being exposed for the horrible things they do to other people. So, have hope. Things are changing. You’re not alone. It definitely feels like it, but talk to somebody.

These interview highlights have been edited for brevity and clarity by James Edwards.

Some of the music used in this episode comes from the album "Jules Lives" by Ari De Niro as found on, has been adapted, and used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.

Join the conversation on Twitter at @thetroublepod. Email if you have a trouble story of your own. And subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.