Tag Archives: censorship

Kevin McGeary on writing satiric Chinese-language comedy songs

I talked to musical performer and writer Kevin McGeary about how and why he came to “write controversial songs in the world’s largest authoritarian state” (his own turn-of-phrase). 

He got in touch with me because he had read my blog chat last November with Kunt & The Gang.

Coronavirus conversations via Skype are becoming the norm. He was self-isolated in his flat in Manchester while I was self-isolated at my home in Borehamwood.

Kevin McGeary talked to me from Manchester via Skype


JOHN: In the last two weeks, you’ve  released an English-language album TMItastic and a  Chinese language album 失败博物馆 (Museum of Failure), both humorous. How are they different?

KEVIN: My English comedy songs are often foul-mouthed and use a lot of swear words, though not to the extent of Kunt & The Gang. My Chinese songs tend to be offensive in a different way: they satirise Chinese culture and society. The Chinese ones are PG-friendly. They are not sweary; they are more satirical. They satirise aspects of society like wealthy men who keep mistresses. There are entire villages in China where pretty-much everybody is a ‘kept’ woman.

JOHN: Presumably you could not sing these Chinese songs in China… The authorities would take exception to them.

KEVIN: Well, my initial wave of creativity in writing Chinese songs came just before Xi Jinping took over as President. Under him, censorship of the media and the blocking of websites has got a lot stricter. But I used to busk in China; I used to perform on the streets singing my songs in Mandarin and people were very friendly.

JOHN: Are there loads of buskers in China?

KEVIN: No, not at all.

JOHN: So you must have been stopped, surely. They have Party people on every block, don’t they?

KEVIN: Urban administrators, yes. But they’re not really very powerful and they’re only there to stop violence or actual crime. I wasn’t committing a crime and I got away with it because my stuff was so off the wall. 

Kevin McGeary busking in Shenzhen (Photograph by Jesse Warren for China Daily)

JOHN: You were in China for…

KEVIN: …for eleven years. The first 3½  years, I was teaching English. I studied the language very hard, so I was conversant within a year and could read a newspaper within two years. 

The second year, I lived in a small city in the middle of the country in Hunan Province – the equivalent of living in Arkansas or Oklahoma.

The only form of entertainment, really, was karaoke: I went almost every night and that’s where my Chinese songwriting grew.

JOHN: And, after you finished teaching English…

KEVIN: I worked on a  newspaper for two years – the Shenzhen Daily. Then I left China, but I missed it, so I went back 2014-2018, working for a massive Chinese company Midea who make home appliances.

Kevin McGeary on GuangdongTelevision

JOHN: Not a creative, artistic job, then…?

KEVIN: Same as Kunt & The Gang, I don’t expect to monetise my creative work, so I need a steady job that gives me the material basis to be creative. You can’t be creative if you don’t have a roof over your head and clothes on your back.

I started writing Chinese-language songs in November 2008 and, in February 2012, it just suddenly struck me to start writing comedy songs.

When I started writing songs in Chinese, I had only been learning the language for 18 months, so my pronunciation was not perfect and also the novelty of having a white person singing in Chinese meant most people were just laughing at my attempts. After a while, I realised I had to turn this weakness into a strength. If people are laughing at my attempts, I might as well try to make people laugh. That’s how it started.

JOHN: Is satire a good idea in China?

KEVIN: Well, people are more open-minded than you would imagine. There was a feature in China Daily about my songwriting; I also performed and was interviewed on Chinese television.

JOHN: So being offensive is OK?

KEVIN: A lot of my stuff is beyond bad taste. It’s too silly to even be offensive.

JOHN: You don’t have any problem getting your music heard online in China?

KEVIN: I didn’t originally but, within a year of the Beijing Olympics – which was supposed to be China’s ‘coming out’ party – they blocked YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Back when blogging was big in the early 2010s I had quite a popular blog with a decent audience – tens of thousands of hits for a video – but now, with the internet being more heavily censored and pretty much all Western websites blocked in China – the New York Times, the BBC – it’s harder now to get my stuff heard. 

JOHN: So how do you get it heard? What sites do you put it on?

KEVIN: Youku and Tencent and QQ – Chinese-owned video-sharing sites which are the equivalents of YouTube. Youku is owned by Alibaba; QQ is owned by Tencent. They are not as censorious as some people might imagine. You can get almost anything on there unless it’s sexually explicit or violent.

JOHN: The Chinese love Yes Minister, don’t they? And that satirises bureaucracy. So there must be a liking for taking the piss out of your own system – though keeping low-key about it!

KEVIN: Definitely. I think Yes Minister was a vastly superior show to The Thick of It because, for a start, the characters are a lot more likeable… and there’s a lot more subtlety. When the Chinese criticise the regime, they tend to be very subtle about it.

For example, when the #MeToo movement broke in 2017, all internet posts with the Mandarin phrase for ‘Me too’ – ‘I also am’ – were censored. So the way to get any subversive message across was to use the image of a bowl of rice and the image of a rabbit. Because (in Chinese) ‘mee’ is the word for rice and ‘to’ is the word for rabbit. So ‘mee-to’ sounds very similar to the English expression. If you do that, you are not breaking the law.

JOHN: Very subtle.

KEVIN: Yes, images of Winnie the Pooh were banned because there was this paranoia he looked like Xi Jinping.

JOHN: In a sense, you must have had to change your ‘self’ to live in China. What terrible Western habits did you have to drop?

KEVIN: There is a lot more subtlety to the way people communicate in China. In a country like America or Australia, where people came from different parts of the world and they grew as a nation state in a very short time, the only way to get by was to be very direct. But, in China, a much larger percentage of communication is unspoken. So much is about context and reading between the lines. Criticising people as individuals is generally very taboo in China.

JOHN: Are you worried one night there is going to be a knock on your door and a Chinese man will be saying: “We have been reading and listening to your work in Beijing…”?

… CONTINUED HERE

… There is a taster for Kevin’s Chinese-language album 失败博物馆 (Museum of Failure) online…

… There is a YouTube playlist for the album HERE

… AND THERE IS A TOTALLY UNEDITED AUDIO VERSION OF MY CHAT WITH KEVIN ON THE PODBEAN WEBSITE HERE.
IT RUNS 42 MINUTES.

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Filed under China, Comedy, Music

Ria Lina on Comedy Unleashed, non-PC audiences and the Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Ria Lina has been about a bit. Her German father was an oil painter; her Filipino mother trained as a physicist then moved into computer programming in the 1960s.

Ria was born in England.

Aged 1, she moved to California. Aged 9, she came back to England. Aged 14, she moved to the Netherlands, where she studied at The American School of The Hague.

At 17 (note that early age), she attended St Andrews University in Scotland, where she obtained a BSc in Experimental Pathology, then got a PhD in Viral Bioinformatics at University College, London.

Oh! And then she became an IT Forensic Investigator for the Serious Fraud Office in London.

And now she’s a comedian.

She is a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows in East London which some see as Right Wing although it bills itself as ‘The Home of Free-Thinking Comedy’ and says the real divide is no longer between Left Wing/Right Wing but between Authoritarian and Libertarian with itself in the Libertarian camp.

Now read on…


JOHN: I think you’re probably a Left Wing liberal…

RIA: I don’t know what that means any more.

JOHN: … yet you’re a regular MC at the monthly Comedy Unleashed shows.

RIA: I MC Comedy Unleashed because I fundamentally believe what it’s trying to achieve. I believe in giving everyone a platform.

It has ended up that the audience has skewed in a particular political direction. There have been some shows where they have been so skewed towards one political direction that I have actively said on stage: “Actually, I disagree with you all.” But when it isn’t an issue – when I don’t think that politics is the over-riding feel of the room – then it’s just a comedy show for people who want to see comedy.

JOHN: I have been to about four and they are very very good shows. The last one was a cracker. They are potentially difficult to MC but you make it look easy.

RIA: I suppose part of it is selfish. At this month’s show, I got to MC 250 people and that’s not easy. It’s like surfing or driving a chariot with horses. Surfing an 80 ft high wave takes practice. It takes skill. It’s hard enough to control one horse, but if you are trying to control 250… 

JOHN: The Comedy Unleashed slogan is NO SELF-CENSORSHIP… IF IT’S FUNNY, IT’S FUNNY. Comedy elsewhere at the moment can be very PC.

RIA: If you go on stage now and you say ‘rape’ there are people who will be triggered by your use of that word regardless of the context.

If you say: “Fracking is raping the Earth,” that is a very Left/liberal thing to say and you can go on to do a routine about it, but just the word itself can set an emotional trigger that means some people in the audience are not in a position to be comfortable laughing at what you are actually saying because, in their heads, they are thinking: She didn’t have to use that word!

JOHN: Are audiences different about that in different parts of the country? A North/South divide?

RIA: I find the differences are not so much geography as density of population. The biggest difference is what you find inside cities and outside cities. You can do jokes in a central London comedy club that you can do in a central Glasgow comedy club. But, even if you go outside Glasgow (or other big cities) just 10-20 minutes in the train, THAT is where you see the different sensitivities. 

I see it in smaller communities where there is less exposure to diversity of thought and diversity of humanity. If you’re not exposed to diversity, you are not as acclimatised to it and not as open to the idea of it. 

JOHN: So you have to change your set accordingly?

Ria Lina, BSc, PhD, MC and comedian

RIA: You are going to them. Your job is to make them laugh. You want them to have a good time so, if that means rolling back your jokes five years, then that’s what it is. 

I don’t mean you should undermine your own principles but I don’t personally agree with travelling somewhere and behaving like: Well, this is what I do and if you don’t like what I do…

JOHN: So are they less PC and more racist?

RIA: I am not saying they are more racist. They are more insecure about what is acceptable. They have heard that ‘things are changing’ but they are not seeing it or feeling it themselves where they live. So, if I walk in with my Asian face and my American accent… there are times when I have told jokes and their reaction is: Ooh! We don’t know how to process this!

It is not even That’s wrong! She shouldn’t have said it! – It’s just We have no idea how to process what you have just said… You are saying it’s OK. But we only have your word to go on and you are one woman who we are never going to see again in 20 minutes.

JOHN: How do audiences react to your American accent?

RIA: Most of my set, they don’t really need to know I’m British. They don’t need to know my back story to accept my point of view and my sense of humour.

JOHN: Does it not slightly distance the audience from you if they think you are American?

RIA: The best way to over-ride that is to be funny. Bottom line. Any barrier can be overcome in a comedy setting if you’re funny. What I enjoy is making people laugh and people enjoying their evening. I’m happy to adapt to them in that instance.

JOHN: Say in a village hall in the middle of nowhere…

RIA: Yes. 

JOHN: And the audience there is different to a London audience…

RIA: Humour evolves and places like London are at the forefront of the evolution of comedy. When I first started doing comedy, the place to find the most evolved joke range was The Comedy Store. You would go there and see people with no boundaries pushing their art form to the limit. But that doesn’t mean you can go somewhere else and do the same stuff if they are not AS comedy literate, 

The evolution of comedy goes hand-in-hand with audiences who are comedy literate – comedy savvy. They have seen more of it; they understand the rules; you can experiment more with them. That is not necessarily the case for the village hall that only has comedy ten times a year.

Ria Lina’s show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe

JOHN: The Edinburgh Fringe audiences are particularly comedy literate…

RIA: Mmmm… I dunno. I find the Fringe audiences are more theatre crowds. You DO get your avid stand-up comedy fan. But there is going to a comedy club with various acts on the bill once or twice a month and then there’s going to see a single performer who has developed an hour’s worth of thought… And those are two different art forms. Your brain can’t focus for more than 40 minutes at a time at best. That’s why they tell you to have that 40-minute pathos moment in Edinburgh shows.

JOHN: The ‘dead dad’ bit…

RIA: Yes. In Edinburgh, it’s a different skillset. You’re driving a different vehicle. Similar animals but different vehicles and you are traversing different courses. Audiences at the Fringe are so often theatre audiences because the shows are more like theatre shows and they are done in theatre settings not comedy club settings – except the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where you have more comedy club-like set-ups.

The bigger pay venues are giving you a theatre experience. Theatre-style seating, ushers, lighting. Theatre-style audiences listen differently, think differently, laugh differently.

JOHN: So are you doing the Fringe next year?

RIA: I haven’t been since 2016. I am thinking of doing a show and touring it in the UK; just skipping the Edinburgh Fringe… and I’m booked in Dubai next August.

JOHN: Dubai? How horrible! The weather! All that sun and heat!

RIA: (LAUGHING) Well, you know, the last time I went to Dubai, it rained. It hadn’t rained for two years. I show up – Suddenly it rains! The cars weren’t working. Their engines got wet. It was too cold for me to go to the beach. So Dubai owes me!

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics

Gay comic Sam See from Singapore is Coming Out Loud at Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Sam See will be in Edinburgh this August but here he plays the Merry Lion in Singapore.

Scots comic Scott Agnew suggested Sam See from Singapore talk to me.

So we chatted via Skype…


Sam See at home in Singapore yesterday.

JOHN: Your show is called Coming Out Loud. Good title, because the audience knows what it’s going to get.

SAM: (LAUGHS) Dick jokes for an hour!

JOHN: Is there an elevator pitch for the show?

SAM: An openly gay comedian coming from a country where free speech and homosexuality is illegal… Expect dick jokes.

JOHN: Can you say free speech is illegal in Singapore?

SAM: No. In Singapore, I can’t say that free speech is illegal in Singapore. If you criticise the lack of free speech while you are here, you will be… erm… It’s a lovely irony.

JOHN: Is being gay totally illegal in Singapore?

SAM: Yes. It’s 100% illegal. The law itself is as vague as possible. It is basically the old-school English sodomy laws. It is illegal but…

JOHN: So how can you talk on stage about being gay if it’s illegal?

SAM: Because I am not yet popular or famous enough. On stage I always say I am gay. But, if they try to arrest me, I can say it is a character and then they would have to prove I’m gay which… well, good luck to them.

JOHN: So doing this chat with me could get you imprisoned…

SAM: It depends… They would need to prove I have done something untowards with another gentleman…

JOHN: You can say you are gay provided you’ve done nothing about it…?

SAM: Kinda. But, if you are on-stage saying it, they can still fine you or arrest you for homosexual propaganda or propagating that homosexuality is positive.

JOHN: Anyway, Coming Out Loud at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Why?

SAM: A lot of Edinburgh regulars recommended I should give it a bash – Martin Mor told me: “Come over, Sam, do the full run, go crazy and lose money.”

I guess I have to. It’s the Hajj. It’s the Mecca for comics: we all have to do it once in our life. But I don’t understand how people can do it for 10 or 20 years: a whole month!

JOHN: It’s addictive.

Sam is gearing up for Edinburgh with a tour of South East Asia

SAM: I am doing a whole run shows around Asia before it. I am gearing up to play outside my comfort zone.

JOHN: You started performing comedy in 2012…

SAM: Yes. The comedy scene is Asia is less than ten years old.

JOHN: I presume, if you are gay, you can’t play China?

SAM: I can, actually. I have played Brunei, if you can believe that!

JOHN: Did they reverse the law about stoning people to death if they are gay?

SAM: It’s on hold. The law is technically not in effect but it has not been repealed. In very heavy Moslem areas like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, I have to be really careful. If I play there, I try to play in embassies like the British or American so I have that clemency of being on international soil.

JOHN: Remembering this is going online, is it just a problem with Islam?

SAM: No. Myanmar is heavily Buddhist and they set people on fire. In China, they put people in re-education camps. There are heavy beliefs in this part of the world: whether religious or atheistic.

There was a chief from the UN who came down to Myanmar to investigate the Rohingya crisis and the chief Buddhist monk of Myanmer called her a slut and threatened to have her raped… Remember this is a man of peace.

JOHN: How do your audiences react to a gay comic?

SAM: They have changed over time. They don’t mind hearing about it; but not too much. When I first started, it was a combination of me not knowing how to tailor the material for the audiences and the audiences not being ready to receive such information. But I have become a more competent performer with time and they have grown with time.

Sam See or Woody Harrelson? You decide.

JOHN: People get pigeonholed. Who do people compare you with?

SAM: I see myself as a much longer-form Joan Rivers, more into storytelling and less insults. 

JOHN: Joan Rivers? So acid-tongued. 

SAM: Yes, acid-tongued, hopefully fast on my feet. But I’ve had comparisons to John Oliver; I’ve had Trevor Noah. For some reason, Woody Harrelson once.

JOHN: What???

SAM: I have no idea why. He is not known for his stand-up comedy!

JOHN: Are there many gay comics in Singapore and surrounds?

SAM: No. I am the one openly gay comedian. There are two who are closeted and one bisexual, but she is more into poetry than stand-up.

JOHN: I presume no-one is admitting to being lesbian?

SAM: None of the locals. There are some expats who come to Asia, do stand-up and say: “I’m proud to be a lesbian.” But then they move on.

JOHN: Things must be getting better. You have been on TV in a weekly Singapore panel show OK Chope!

SAM: No-one had really done the panel show format in the region before. There are variety show formats but not the traditional UK-style panel show. Host, regular panellists and rotating guest panellists.

JOHN: Did it work?

SAM: It was a mess, because it was a topical news show where we were not allowed to talk about news because… well… it’s Singapore.

It was a one-hour show transmitted live, with a zero second delay.

JOHN: Jesus! A zero second delay?

SAM: Yes. I am not kidding.

JOHN: This was actually transmitted? It wasn’t just a pilot?

SAM: Yes, a full season… 7.30pm prime time, before the watershed.

JOHN: Double Jesus!

SAM: We all managed to drink in the afternoon before we shot it.

JOHN: Did the TV company get nervous after Episode One?

SAM: Oh yes. Every week, we would have one of the government censors watching us from a booth. He would give us a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.

JOHN: But, if it’s live, it’s too late…

SAM: Well, too late for the show but not too late to put us in jail.

JOHN: And it ended because…

SAM: We made fun of the then Prime Minister of Malaysia who had been accused of being a thief and we made jokes about it and somehow he watched that episode.

JOHN: And the result was…?

SAM: He called our Prime Minister who took us off the air.

JOHN: So the series ended before it was due to end.

SAM: It happened on the last episode at the end of the season.

JOHN: So was someone being intentionally provocative?

Sam See addresses his audience

SAM: No, that whole segment had actually cleared the censors. It was just that, at the time, Malaysia was having an election, so they needed a scapegoat and a way to look strong. If they can get the neighbouring country to formally apologise to them, it makes them look powerful and in control.

JOHN: Do you have a 5-year career plan that starts in Edinburgh and ends in Las Vegas?

SAM: Well, it starts in Edinburgh and then I am in talks with some folks over in the United States for representation. 

JOHN: Presumably, like performers everywhere, you want to move to the US.

SAM: I don’t know. I think I would like to move to one of the other countries, but I would still make Singapore my home base because (a) it is my home and (b) the tax rates are better. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: I suspect Donald Trump thinks Singapore is somewhere in South America.

SAM: No. He knows where we are, because he started the North Korean treaties here.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) You should play North Korea!

SAM: You joke, but some of us have been thinking about it for a while. You just have to find an embassy that’s crazy enough to go along with the idea and just play it on embassy soil and don’t make jokes about the North Korean government or mention South Korea.

JOHN: Getting in might be a problem. And let’s not even fantasise about getting out. Singapore doesn’t have an embassy there, does it?

SAM: We can enter North Korea visa-free.

JOHN: Really???

SAM: Yes, we can just walk in on a holiday.

JOHN: Bloody hell!

 

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Gay, Singapore

Are the Facebook PC police about to ban me because of my sexually risqué name?

I have a Facebook account in my own name – John Thomas Fleming.

On it I post links to articles which I think are interesting and/or funny.

The Daily Mash is a satirical British website.

Today I tried to post a link on my Facebook page to one of the Daily Mash articles.

The Daily Mash’s satiric article was headlined:

MUSEUM OF 1970s SEX EUPHEMISM TO OPEN IN LEEDS

My comment accompanying the link was… “Surely it should open in Bristol?”

A reference to a jolly British euphemism for a lady’s breast.

My post was blanked-out by Facebook because:

“This post goes against our Community Standards on nudity or sexual activity”

and I was banned from posting on Facebook for 24 hours.

Robin Askwith in Confessions From A Holiday Camp (1977) (Photo by Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5871814a)

I am not sure if Facebook objected to my use of the word ‘Bristol’ or the Daily Mash‘s somewhat risqué picture which was a still from one of the 1970s series of Confessions of… films… These were ‘naughty yet acceptable’ films in the genre of the Carry On… movies.

Britain has a long tradition of family filth Stretching back to Shakespeare and Chaucer and certainly including – perhaps most surprising to Americans – the traditional (ideally utterly filthy) British Christmas pantomimes for children.

The Confessions of… films were more permissive than the more innocent Carry On… films. But were still considered middle-of-the-road even then.

Obviously Facebook’s image-searching computers and more puritan-minded American tendencies need a re-tweak.

The worrying thing is that I was given the name John Thomas Fleming by my innocent parents. I was named after my two grandfathers. I believe the origin of the phrase ‘John Thomas’ is Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel which I nor I am certain my parents never read.

I now fear for the good citizens of Bristol city, who face a potential blanket ban from Facebook for living where they do: a conurbation which shares its name with an example of Cockney rhyming slang.

This is all a bit reminiscent of the early days of censorship on the internet when farmers found that innocent references to their common farmyard creatures were getting them banned as pornographers… in particular, any reference to their cocks.

Oh, alright… the bloody Facebook image-searching computers actually took exception to the photo… But, really, do me a favour.

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Filed under Censorship, Language, Movies, Sex

Comedian Louise Reay is being sued over a Fringe show about free speech

Louise Reay, has come up against a brick wall, not in China

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:


“Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship”

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)

**** (Skinny)


“I am being sued. It’s really happening”

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

MORE ON THIS STORY HERE

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Legal system

How to think up a title for your very first Edinburgh Fringe comedy show

First of all, think of it not from your viewpoint but from the viewpoint of the punters and the reviewers.

In my opinion, you should have a title which starts in the first half of the alphabet.

ZEBRA JOKES FOR FOLKS may seem like a good title, but punters looking through the Fringe Programme start at the front and work through looking for attractive shows. So they go A-B-C-D-E etc etc.

By the time they get to M or N, after literally hundreds of shows, they are starting to skim the listings, their eyes are glazing over and the time slots they want to fill-up already have multiple shows vying for their attention. By the time they get to Z, they probably wish they had never had the idea of going to the Edinburgh Fringe in the first place..

For this reason, the late Malcolm Hardee used to start his titles with Aaaaargh!… increasing the length of the Aaaaaaaarghs year-by-year to out-manoeuvre copycats.

He was almost always first in the Fringe Programme’s comedy section listings.

In Edinburgh in August, you are not the only show in town…

Don’t go for Aaaaaaargghh! The market for it is already full. But I suggest you have a first word which starts with a letter between A and M.

Using the title A ZEBRA SHOW probably will not work because A and THE tend to be ignored by the Programme’s alphabetical listers.

Also, in my opinion, you should have your name in the title because, ultimately, the reason you are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is to sell yourself and awareness of yourself to punters and to the media – NOT primarily the show.

Jonathan Ross first became famous on the Channel 4 show THE LAST RESORT WITH JONATHAN ROSS.

No-one knew who the fuck Jonathan Ross was when it started (not the punters; not TV industry people) but, because the show was good, they inevitably got to know his name. Every time the show was mentioned or printed, his name was publicised because it was in the title.

Another important thing is DO NOT BE TOO CLEVER with a title. Achieving impact is more important than being seen to be clever-clever. The more clever a title is, very often the more confusing, obscure and – when glimpsed for 1½ seconds on a flyer or in the very cluttered listings page in the Programme – possibly the more incomprehensible it is – especially to people from the US, Oz, Europe etc. The dividing line between being intriguing and confusing & annoying is narrow.

Your self-explanatory title has to stand out without an image

You only have 1 to 1½ seconds at very most for the title to register in people’s brains as they skim through listings, see your flyer among many or see your poster among many 15 feet away across a street.

KISS – Keep It Simple, Sucker.

The other thing to remember is that, in lists of “Today’s Shows” – either in The Scotsman newspaper or on a board at the venue or elsewhere – the punters only see the title in isolation – they may well NOT have read your 40 carefully-crafted words in the Fringe Programme. So your sole sales pitch to the punters who have never heard of you and who have no idea what your show is about is the title.

My inclination would be to figure out what TYPE of comedy show it is going to be.

Then figure out three words which make that obvious.

Then make them jolly and attractive (no easy feat).

And mix your name in there somehow.

I know that, when the Fringe Programme deadline comes, you will almost certainly have very little idea what is actually going to be in your show. But is it satire? Quick fire gags? Stories? Autobiographical? Physical comedy? Gay? Variety? Sketch? Surreal? Rude? Clean? Cutting-edge? Clowny? Family?

As a punter, if I see a general show title from a performer I have not seen, I have no idea what the show is like. It could be any of the above categories. If it is in a simple Daily Listing in a paper, in a magazine or on a board, there is not even a flyer or poster image. Just the title.

So the title on its own has to tell the punters – or at least hint – what TYPE of comedy show it will be.

Someone like Jimmy Carr does not need to do this. Because people know what to expect. They know who Jimmy Carr is and they know he is not a comedy magician or a juggler or a drag act.

Janey Godley is unusual in that her name will bring in punters

Someone like Janey Godley can get away with titles using puns on her name because she has a big existing audience in Edinburgh. So For Godley’s Sake! will work for her. The word GODLEY will get in her dependable audience.

But, the punters probably have no idea who you are – it is your first Fringe show. Remember that, defying expectations, a large percentage of your audience is likely to be local NOT from London. All the Fringe Office research I have ever seen seems to confirm this.

Another bonus to a clearly-defined title is that the title – as well as helping the punters know roughly what your show is about – will actually concentrate your own mind on exactly what the show is about and will stop you whizzing off in all sorts of irrelevant directions. Everything in the show should relate directly to the title.

And don’t use meaningless words – every word has to actually mean something. This is more important in the text rather than the title, but…

“Hilarious” and “rib-tickling” mean bugger-all.

Your show is in the Comedy section fer feck’s sake. Every show can say it is “hilarious”. What is your show’s Unique Selling Proposition? Why is it better and more interesting that the other zillions of comedy shows yelling for attention?

Do not even THINK about being zany!

Meaningless words like “wacky” and “zany” are actually suicidal. If any experienced reviewer sees those words in the description, it screams “18-year-old University student wankers who think they are funny and want to be famous and fêted”. It is like people putting up signs saying: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”.

These “wacky” and “zany” shows are almost guaranteed to be laughter disasters. I would personally avoid like the plague seeing any show describing itself as “wacky” or “zany” and I would be more likely to go see a comedy show calling itself “Satanic” than one claiming it is “hilarious”.

In my opinion.

But that don’t mean a thing.

The other vitally important factor to bear in mind is the oft-repeated refrain from William Goldman’s book Adventures in The Screen Trade – “Nobody KNOWS anything”.

However experienced or knowledgable anyone is, they don’t KNOW what will work.

You have to ultimately go on your gut instinct, have self-confidence and ignore any advice you think is wrong.

Don’t forget you can probably change the name of your show either until you submit it or until the final deadline for the Fringe Programme (both have been the case in past years) or until some arbitrary date that the Fringe Office may conjure up.

Because, just as this may be your first year at the Fringe, so it is for a lot of the people working for the Fringe Office, many of whom change from year to year.

Richard Herring had to splurge out his ‘O’

There was one inglorious year – 2012 – when a completely barking mad person was in charge of the printed Programme. I blogged about it at the time – here and here and elsewhere.

2012 was the year poor Richard Herring had his show asterisked TALKING C*CK despite the fact that the origin of the word ‘cock’ in that phrase is not sexual (it comes from ‘cock & bull story’) and despite the fact that his original show TALKING COCK had been printed in the Fringe Programme with impunity ten years before, in 2002.

In 2009, I staged a show which the Fringe Programme had happily printed as  AAAAAAAAAARRGHHH! IT’S BOLLOCK RELIEF! – THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD SHOW. They would never have allowed that in 2012 and that had nothing to do with changing public taste but with individual stupidity in the Fringe Office.

Never assume anyone anywhere in Edinburgh in August is sensible.

2012 was the year the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PRICK was UNacceptable by the Fringe Office but the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PR!CK was totally acceptable (with an exclamation mark replacing the I)… and Australian comedian Jon Bennett intended to perform his first Edinburgh Fringe show: PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK.

The show’s title had been printed in full without any problem in the brochures for the Adelaide Fringe, the Edmonton International Fringe, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Montreal Fringe and the Vancouver International Fringe. But the Edinburgh Fringe Office that year insisted the word COCK had to be changed to C*CK.

Mindless Fringe Office censored the word but not the image

To make matters even more ludicrous, the word had to be printed C*CK in the Programme listings, but the image for the show (also printed in the Programme) had the word COCK rising erect from a man’s groin.

The same Programme happily printed the show title MOLLY WOBBLY’S TIT FACTORY, a show by KUNT AND THE GANG and Reginald D Hunter’s show WORK IN PROGRESS…AND NIGGA while banning another comedian’s show title because it included three dollar signs in a row –  $$$ – which, it was claimed, did not fit ‘the Fringe’s house style’.

Always assume that everyone in Edinburgh in August is on some hallucinogenic drug or has a severe personality disorder. This assumption has served me well.

Never assume anything at the Fringe is easy or anyone is sane.

Most importantly, do remember that the title of your show is all about self-promotion, not necessarily about the show itself.

One template which I do recommend for any Edinburgh Fringe show title is:

AAAAAAARGH! I LISTENED TO JOHN FLEMING AND THAT IS WHY I, (INSERT YOUR NAME HERE), HAVE THIS CRAP TITLE FOR MY (INSERT YOUR GENRE HERE) COMEDY SHOW.

Trust me.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Fringe Day 4: a ferociously funny comic & a Fringe legend returns

Becky Rimmer was celebrating her Bat Mitzvah

Today, I saw the ferociously funny – and I do mean ferocious – Candy Gigi Present Becky Rimmer’s Bat Mitzvah!

Then the incongruity of Pat Cahill expertly controlling a full room with a fishing rod and stories intermittently about being The Fisherman

Other highlights were The Incredible Joz Norris Locks Himself Inside His Own Show, Then Escapes, Against All The Odds!!

The Fringe Office tried to ban him from using two exclamation marks in that title, but he claimed the second one was artistically vital and they backed down. In this show, his surreal creativity continues to inch towards the more personal material which I think may eventually break him Big, as our American cousins might say…

Over ten years in casinos and dry vegetables

I rounded off the evening with a large audience and a small dog listening to impressive storyteller Matthew Harrison explain what his show title Fuck Me Like Dry Vegetable has to do with his ten-year career in the UK casino business.

In fact, the censorious Fringe Office has insisted his show be called F*ck Me Like Dry Vegetable. That’s really disguising the word, good ’n’ proper!

With over 3,500 shows and around 50,000 performers in town during the Fringe, flyering to get audiences is vital and, very often it ends up with performers flyering other performers.

I bumped into Italian comic Luca Cupani at Fringe Central this morning.

Luca Cupani with the surprising flyer today

“I was flyering in the street,” he told me, “and there was this beautiful girl. She gave me her flyer and I gave her mine. I asked her: When is your show? She said: From seven to one. Which I did not understand but, when she left, I looked at her flyer and it took me a while to understand it was not normal. I thought she must be a very clever comedian telling jokes half-naked to challenge sexism. You know those kind of things they do. But no. Then I realised the truth.”

Highlight of my day, though, was to receive an email from 2007 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds. The last I heard of him, he had sold his canal boat in Nottingham or somewhere similar and disappeared off the face of the earth. His e-mail read:


The great Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds

I am still alive. Just.

I have a sister.

Foolishly, she has decided to become a stand up comedian.

It will end in tears.

She is like me. but better.

She is playing at Edinburgh Fringe.

She is called Jeanette Bird-Bradley.

Her show is Context, People! at the Bourbon Bar, 5th-13th August.

Thank you for the good memories. I still treasure my Malcolm Hardee Award.

I hope the last decade has treated you well.

Your humble servant

dokctor cocacolamcdoanlds


Kate Copstick’s chip price was an unPleasance surprise

I returned to the Edinburgh flat to find Copstick complaining. No surprise there.

She had had a small plate of chips at the Pleasance Courtyard at lunchtime which cost her almost 10p per chip. Par for the course in Edinburgh at Fringe time.

But not even that diminished the joy of hearing again from the great Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds…

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