Designer Stefan Sagmeister's manatee sex joke at Wellington Webstock conference sparks uproar

  • 19/02/2017
Stefan Sagmeister telling the joke at another talk at Columbia University in 2009.
Stefan Sagmeister telling the joke at another talk at Columbia University in 2009.

Organisers of a Wellington web industry conference have apologised after a speaker made a sex joke about a manatee, upsetting a sign language interpreter and many in the audience.

New York-based graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister opened his talk on Friday by having one of the conference's sign language interpreters help him tell a joke about a manatee giving itself a blow job.

The joke, which he has used to open talks since at least 2008, involves him repeatedly yelling "blow job," forcing the sign language interpreter to repeatedly do the sign for blow job.

It sparked an angry response from many in the audience, who took to Twitter to voice their disgust.

In a statement posted on the Webstock website on Sunday, organisers apologised to sign language interpreter "Jenn."

"Jenn, we are so sorry. We are so sorry that this happened. It should not happen at Webstock and it should not happen anywhere, in any situation.

"It is an honour to have you at Webstock and we respect and value you, your team and your work immensely," the statement said.

"We would also like to unequivocally state that the behaviour of Stefan in this incident was wholly unacceptable. We are committed to ensuring nothing like this ever happens again in any environment over which we have any level of input or control."

Mr Sagmeister apologised for the incident on social media.

Webstock organisers said they would be reviewing their vetting procedures for future events.