Last year, comic Louise Reay previewed her then-upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Hard Mode at critic Kate Copstick’s increasingly prestigious London charity emporium Mama Biashara.
It was the first time I knew Louise had separated from her husband.
Beyond that fact and a lot of rather arty Chinese references, I discovered no details of why they had separated. That is relevant to what follows.
The blurb for Hard Mode read:
Imagine how you’d act if you were always being watched? Imagine if you couldn’t speak freely? Imagine if the Chinese government bought the BBC?
An immersive comedy show where the audience experiences life in an authoritarian regime. Yay!
Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship and surveillance.
Hard Mode is the latest show from multi award-winning comedian and journalist, Louise Reay.
‘Reay can legitimately claim to be unique’ (Independent)
‘Truly fantastic, utterly out there’ (Al Murray)
Last night, I got an email from Louise. She is currently in Australia, performing at the Adelaide Fringe. Her email read:
Dear John – I am being sued. It’s really happening.
She is being sued by her estranged husband because he objected to what he claims was in her Hard Mode show.
I can only assume her estranged husband has not heard of The Streisand Effect.
Louise has started a GoFundMe crowdfunding page. It reads:
Hi! I am Louise Beamont, my stage name is Louise Reay.
I hope you’ll forgive me – but I need to ask you something.
You see, I am being sued over one of my stand-up shows.
Not just by anyone. By my husband (now separated of course).
He has a lot more money than me and he says that I accused him of abusing me in my show. And so he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me.
As standup comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues.
So this has become a free speech issue – and free speech means everything to me. As a Chinese speaker, I’ve spent many years in China and experienced the social impact when people do not have this freedom. I’ve also spent many years making documentaries for the BBC with vulnerable people whose voices are rarely heard.
And, I cannot begin to tell you how difficult an experience it has been to have my Edinburgh show censored.
I think therefore it’s really important for me to defend myself in this case.
And I’m afraid I need your help please because. I need to pay lawyers you see.
Here’s a bit more detail ….
I am a stand up comedian and documentary-maker, with a particular interest in speaking out for oppressed people. On Tuesday 30 January 2018, I was served with defamation, privacy and data protection proceedings by my husband from whom I am separated. I cannot tell you how oppressive that feels.
The claim is in relation to a comedy show that I performed last year. a few times last year. It was a 50 minute show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese government.
During that show, I referred to my husband a couple of times – perhaps 2 minutes’ worth of reference in a 50 minute show. The main gist of those references was to tell the audience how sad I was that my marriage had broken down recently. He has complained about 2 performances of my show in London, and my shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.
He is seeking £30,000 damages, his legal costs (which I can only assume will be massive) and an injunction stopping me from publishing statements about him. This is despite the fact that I gave him an undertaking (a sort of legal promise – without admitting liability of course) not to mention him in any further performances of the show, as soon as his lawyers complained. Indeed, all further performances of the show at the Edinburgh Fringe were without reference to him.
Defamation and privacy cases like this can be very expensive to defend. At present, I do not have the funds to defend this case. Therefore, I’d be very grateful for any assistance with costs. I have struggled greatly to pay all of my costs to date but and cannot afford to pay a barrister to prepare my defence.
I am confident I can defend the claim. However, these sorts of cases are fraught with uncertainty. It will depend on what the judge finds the words mean and possibly on whose testimony the judge prefers.
I am therefore seeking to raise an initial fund of at least £10,000. I might need to raise more as the case goes on.
If I am successful in defending this case, I hope to secure the recovery of some of my legal expenses from him (around 70% is typical I’m told). If I am able to recover some of my legal expenses, I will reimburse all those who have contributed to my defence fund in proportion to what each party has contributed.
Funds raised in this crowdfunder shall be used solely for my legal expenses. If I lose the case and damages and costs are awarded to my husband, I shall be personally liable for those. I’m told that, if this happens, it could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I will be bankrupt.
In any responses to this message can I please ask that you don’t post any negative comments about my husband. I’m not trying to embarrass him with this plea. I’m desperate. I need help. It’s about free speech … just like my show was.
Thank you very much for reading.
The link to the GoFundMe crowdfunding page is HERE
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