Tag Archives: censorship

The Women’s Equality Party, sexism, Dapper Laughs and very bad or good PR

Women’s Equality Party website

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God, if he or she exists, is a comedy scriptwriter.

Last week, a friend of mine joined the Women’s Equality Party, which writer and presenter Sandi Toksvig co-founded back in March this year. Two days ago, my friend was filling in a survey email from the party and was finding one question a bit tricky:

What do you think would help most to free our streets, workplaces and public spaces from harassment abuse?

She asked me what my answer would be. I replied:

I guess better social education at school age.

Now we jump to yesterday, when the Chortle comedy website reported a story under the headline:

DAPPER LAUGHS; I’M A FEMINIST
‘I’d say yeah, equal rights’

There was a storm in the comedy and television teacup earlier this year over Dapper Laughs’ unacceptably sexist material. As a result, Daniel O’Reilly (the real name of Dapper Laughs) went on Newsnight, the BBC TV current affairs show, to give a contrite apology, claim he was misunderstood and say he was going to ‘kill off’ the Dapper Laughs character.

A few months later, he ‘revived’ the Dapper Laughs character and just carried on as before.

Both decisions were terrible pieces of PR because they both implied or exposed blatant insincerity and rampant cynicism.

Yesterday’s Chortle piece reported an equally mis-begotten PR decision. It is an excellently written piece of journalism, so I feel justified in nicking the copyright material. It is balanced yet shows an opinion.

Steve Bennett of Chortle pointed out that “In several of his (Dapper Laugh’s) online videos he filmed himself yelling sexual comments at women in the street or from his car as he drives past. One of his tweets said that he was so annoyed with his girlfriend that he’s gonna ‘pull out his Chris Brown moves’, referring to the rapper who assaulted his girlfriend Rihanna. And his chat-up lines included: ‘Just show her your penis. If she cries, she’s just playing hard to get.’…”

The meat of the Chortle report was an interview Daniel O’Reilly gave to women’s rights campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez for On Demand News. In the video of the interview, the new Dapper Laughs DVD cover is very prominently displayed.

O’Reilly said:

“If you ask me if I consider myself a feminist, I’d say yeah – Equal rights… A big one for me is I didn’t realise… I didn’t realise how much women have to deal with sexual advances and sexual harassment on just an average day-to-day basis… I’d hate to say I was naive to do it but I didn’t know how much of a problem it was until my content about it… that I was trying to take the mick out of men being like it… until it come under so much fire I was like Really is it this bad?. I matured cos I learned about it.”

Steve of Chortle then tellingly and admirably added in the line:

“Dapper Laughs’s next gig is hosting the PRP awards for the porn industry in London tomorrow night.”

In my opinion, the On Demand News interview shows an astonishing level of PR stupidity. Apart from trying to be contrite – which is unconvincing – O’Reilly ‘explains’ his about-turn on the Newsnight interview – that he would abandon the Dapper Laughs character – by dragging in his dad having had cancer and his post-cancer-scare dad persuading him to continue with the character. All the while sitting in front of the giant DVD cover.

This is a PR miscalculation on such a vast scale in every direction – he thinks it will make him look like an OK bloke whereas the effect (rightly or wrongly) is to make him seem even more appalling.

I posted a link to the Chortle article on my Facebook page with the comment: The boy needs serious PR guidance.

Comic Daphna Baram commented:

Dapper Laughs in the interview

Dapper Laughs’s words are rather undercut by commercialism

Why? His fame and infamy and the number of tickets he sells for his show and the numbers of pieces written about him and the number of people getting their knickers in a twist about him have way exceeded whatever potential of talent he will ever ever have. He is a PR genius. What journalists need is a “how to know they’ve been fussing about a PR queen for too long”, that’s what.

… which is a very valid point.

Connected to all the above in a way that is closer than it might at first seem is that, this week, I was also told by an acquaintance that his (the acquaintance’s) friends intended to heckle a comedian whose shows espouse political views they find obnoxious.

I was asked: “What do you think?”

My texted-back reply was:

It is always a bad idea to heckle someone whose views you disagree with, especially if the rest of the audience has paid to see the person. You are always going to be seen as the bad guy, whether your opinion is right or wrong. Because it is against freedom of speech. Anyone is entitled to say anything within the law. Anyone is entitled to say most Frenchmen eat babies. If you argue with them before or afterwards, that is OK but, if you try to stop them expressing their legal opinion, that is inherently anti-democratic bordering on Fascism. Objecting to a book is OK. Burning all copies so no-one can read it is preventing freedom of speech. Freedom of speech includes the right to say repugnant but legal things. The path from interfering with someone speaking their views out loud by attempting to shout them down and the Charlie Hebdo attack is not actually that far logically.

Which, as I said, is more connected to what is above than might first appear.

From the little I have seen of Dapper Laughs, I have no opinion which I would strongly argue. But he seems appallingly, unacceptably sexist and tries to excuse it with rampant, naive insincerity.

On the other hand, I would defend his right to say anything he wants, defend his right to make comedy out of anything he wants.

Going back to the beginning of this blog…

What do you think would help most to free our streets, workplaces and public spaces from harassment abuse?

I guess better social education at school age.

The perfect way to heckle something you don’t agree with

The perfect way to heckle something you don’t agree with??

But not censorship.

Freedom of speech includes the right to say repugnant but legal things.

The irony of course – as you will have noticed – is that, in saying I think Dapper Laughs has done bad PR, I have publicised him. So Daphna Baram may be right.

We live in an imperfect world.

God, if he or she exists, is a comedy scriptwriter.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Politics

In Paul Boyd’s wonderful Molly Wobbly musical, one Tit has been chopped off

Molly Wobbly’s wonderful Tit Factory at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe

Paul Boyd’s “astonishing” show at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe

Paul Boyd wrote the intro and outro music for my chum Janey Godley and Ashley Storrie’s weekly podcast.

He has also written 22 musicals. So he is an interesting man.

When I saw his musical Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe, I wrote in my blog that it was “astonishing. It has more catchy tunes in it than all of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals combined… It is a combination of Rocky Horror style exuberance, British music hall jollity and the best of West End musicals… Its effervescent vitality is quite something to behold.”

Now the show is about to start at the Leicester Square Theatre with a week of previews starting on 27th January, followed by an initial six-week run. The cast now includes Spike Milligan’s daughter Jane.

Paul outside the Leicester Square Theatre

Paul outside the Leicester Square Theatre

I had a chat with Paul Boyd in Leicester Square this week.

“I see,” I told him, “that the title has lost the words Tit Factory. It is now just called Molly Wobbly. Is that for commercial reasons?”

“Yes,” admitted Paul. “The pressures of commercial theatre. Not so much for London but, if it ever ended up touring the regions, you would never get the original title into a brochure. The one thing I always fought for was the title, but I finally gave up last year when I had a fight with Transport For London who would not advertise it. They wouldn’t advertise Molly Wobbly’s T*t Factory and they said: We wouldn’t even advertise Molly Wobbly’s *** Factory.

“I thought: Well, if I’ve got those sort of problems in London, imagine what it will be like in Bridlington or Bath. At Leicester Square, they are selling it as Rocky Horror meets Carry On meets Little Shop of Horrors. That’s fine. If you can sell it as that, do it.”

“Well,” I said, “my view on most things is: Write it as Art. Sell it as baked beans.

“Well, that’s it,” said Paul. “And, if you can sell that title…”

“I think it’s a really good title,” I said. “And pure kitsch is saleable.”

Molly Wobbly Leicester Square flyers

Flyers for upcoming Leicester Square Theatre’s production

“That’s how you market it,” said Paul. “But, if you sit down to write it, you have to be prepared not to tie up loose ends. You have to think: I’m just going to go completely off the wall. All my other shows are very neat. When I sat down to write Molly Wobbly, I had no idea where it was going or how it was going to end. With Molly, I didn’t even know what a Tit Factory was when I started.”

“You thought of the title first?” I asked.

“Yes. Because it was for a competition I did not want to win. In 2006, Cameron Macintosh ran a competition to write a musical for a theatre which was opening in Inverness.”

“The Eden Court?” I asked.

“Yes. I was asked if I would submit an entry, but I didn’t have time to write a musical. I was touring South Korea or Taiwan with another musical and had loads on. The rules for the competition said you could submit ‘up to ten minutes’ of material from the full-length show. I didn’t have the full-length show, so I wrote a 10-minute musical and made it sound like an extract, and, to make sure they would never ask for the rest of it, I decided to call it something that no-one would ever produce and the words just came into my mind: Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory. And, inevitably, it got short-listed. I had to pull out of the competition because I had no time to write it and no idea what it was about.

“It stayed as a 10-minute musical for about four years and then the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, heard the 10-minute extract and wanted to commission a full-length show and they twisted my arm and convinced me and I sat down thinking: What the hell is a Tit Factory and what happens there?”

A song from the original Lyric, Belfast production is on YouTube:

“What was your elevator pitch for Molly?” I asked.

“I’ve never found a succinct way of selling it. It’s about giving a woman a makeover and, by the end, the town of Little Happening has got a makeover. It’s about people bettering themselves and getting their ideals, whether or not that’s everybody’s ideal – and people, under the influence of a potion, deciding how they can be sexier or more beautiful.”

“With laughs,” I said.

“Lots of titters,” said Paul.

“How does anyone decide they want to write musicals?” I asked.

“Well,” said Paul, “I did Gilbert & Sullivan at school in Belfast and I’m a big G&S fan to this day. I had a good music teacher called John Ross Dallas – JR Dallas.”

“Like me,” I said. “I had a music teacher at school who loved G&S – They are SO clever and SO funny.”

Gilbert & Sullivan

G & S + Carry OnRocky Horror Show = Molly Wobbly

“At the age of 16,” Paul told me, “I played Coco in The Mikado and, at 17, I played Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance. I performed those things and I suddenly realised that there was something I was good at. All my teachers who had ignored me, because I was useless in all of their classes, were suddenly talking to me. I remember the Physical Education teacher came and congratulated me. I hadn’t spoken to him about anything other than chilblains for about seven years.

“Then I went to the University of Ulster to do a History degree and changed subjects to Theatre Studies. I ended up doing a terrible course which was so bad I decided the only way I was going to have fun was to write a musical. I was 19 and wrote a show called Macbeth: The Musical in 1992. A producer came to see it, bought the rights and toured it all round Ireland. So I had a show touring at the age of 20 and I haven’t stopped since, maybe because I’m afraid of trying anything else.

“Originally, writing musicals was an accident – a way of having something to do as an actor. Then I stopped acting in them and just wrote them.”

“You’ve written rather a lot of musicals,” I said.

Molly Wobbly was No 18 or 19. I’ve done 22 now.”

“But not,” I said, “without problems in Molly’s case…”

Molly Wobbly Hackney Empire Gary Wilmott

Gary Wilmott in unseen Hackney Molly Wobbly

“2013 was a very strange year,” said Paul. “The show had been a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. The Leicester Square Theatre wanted to put it on at Christmas 2012, but it wasn’t my call in those days: the show was owned by other people. There was this idea that it would go to the Hackney Empire and it was happening and then suddenly it wasn’t happening. It fell through at a day’s notice.”

There is a promo on YouTube for the unseen Hackney Empire production.

“We had rehearsed the show for three weeks,” explained Paul. “We had a fabulous cast and had wonderful production team – we had decades and centuries of experience. It was Friday morning and we were due to open that night. Then the finance all fell through on the day we were due to open. The money suddenly wasn’t there.

“Then, in 2014, I got the rights back and I was free to do what I wanted with it. So last year, we did a stage concert of it at the Phoenix Artists’ Club and then we were invited to take it to the Leicester Square Theatre.

Paul Boyd - Things are looking up now

Things – very much looking up this week for Paul Boyd

“There was a guy called Christopher Malcolm, who has now passed away. He was involved in the Rocky Horror company – he played the original Brad, directed all the big Rocky Horror shows in the 1990s and, in 2012, he started working with me on Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory and helped me shape it from the 2011 one-Act version to the Edinburgh Fringe shows which you saw in 2012.

“Christopher’s plan for the show was always to start it small, like they did with Rocky Horror – to start it as a cult thing. He was always wary of the plans to take it to the Hackney Empire or anywhere that big – not because it was Hackney, but because it was a 1,200-seater theatre.

“He passed away in February 2014, so he never got to see it at the Phoenix, but that was very much in keeping with his plan. The Lyric in Belfast was 300 and the Edinburgh Fringe venue was 400. The Phoenix Artists’ Club was 40 or 50.

“Where we are going to be in the Leicester Square Theatre sits 70. So it has the right feel. You’re actually sitting in Mammary Lane. It’s almost immersive. It feels like an undergroundy show with room to grow. If it grows, fine; if it always stays a little cult show, also fine.”

The YouTube promo for the original Lyric Theatre/Edinburgh Fringe shows gives a good flavour of the show:

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Filed under Music, Theatre

Trevor Lock on Dapper Laughs, Andrew Lawrence and the rise of liberal Fascism (my phrase not his)

trevor Lock, as seen by Poppy Hillstead

Trevor Lock, as painted by Poppy Hillstead

In yesterday’s blog, comedian Trevor Lock explained that he does not think Third World charity aid is always a good thing.

We talked at the end of a week in which there had been a social media maelstrom in the UK about comics Dapper Laughs and Andrew Lawrence.

Dapper Laughs had been at the centre of a storm about misogyny. Andrew Lawrence had posted on Facebook about the UK Independence Party’s poll successes and immigration.

I told Trevor Lock: “I don’t think Andrew Lawrence is being unreasonable if you actually read what he says.”

“Yes,” said Trevor. “If you read what he says. But it’s just… People… It’s absolutely terrifying… You can understand how Nazi Germany got off the ground. You really do see the witch huntery delight in identifying ‘the enemy’. It’s horrendous. Chilling. I found it chilling. That and the Dapper Laughs thing I find chilling.”

“Dapper Laughs,” I said, “I have no opinion on, because I’ve never seen or heard his stuff.”

“I don’t find him funny,” said Trevor, “but the point is he is not the anti-Christ.”

“Can I quote you?” I asked. “You might get hate mail.”

Andrew Lawrence’s Facebook postings ruffled feathers

Andrew Lawrence’s Facebook postings

“Yeah,” said Trevor. “I don’t care. I got hate mail for the Andrew Lawrence thing. I was ‘outed’ on Facebook for liking Andrew Lawrence’s thing. I was described as being a Right Wing, misogynistic whatever. It’s weird.”

I suggested: “It was the three-word description of some women on panel shows that did for Andrew.”

Women impersonating comedians,” said Trevor. “He didn’t say all female comedians and it’s true. They have a lot of people who are not comedians on the shows. I didn’t agree with everything he said and the way he put it, but the shocking thing for me was how people took delight in deliberately mis-representing him or jumping to the worst possible conclusion in order to hate him. It’s frightening.

“I find the self-righteousness of it terrifying,” Trevor continued. “This certainty – this chilling certainty – that they are right. That is how most of these people think. They are certain they are the good guys. Did the Nazis walk around thinking they were the bad guys?”

“That is something it’s dangerous to even talk about,” I suggested. “Presumably Hitler, while committing unspeakable evil, thought he was doing good.”

“Well, of course he did,” said Trevor. “Stalin thought it was a good idea to kill people. On Facebook, a propos the Andrew Lawrence debate, someone wrote something to the effect of It’s funny how, if everybody who opposed liberalism were to be shot, the world would be a much better place. It was there on my Facebook Feed and I just thought: This is interesting on so many levels.

Hessy Levinsons Taft's photograph was selected by Nazi party for the front cover of Sonne Ins Haus publication, but Joseph Goebbels' propaganda machine never discovered she was Jewish, 1935.

This photograph won a contest to find the ‘ideal Aryan infant’. It was selected by the Nazi Party as front cover of Sonne Ins Haus in 1935. They never realised she was Jewish.

“Well, Hitler was a National Socialist,” I said. “And that’s not a misnomer. I’ve always thought that Socialism is not a political system; it’s a religion. If you follow the true path of Socialism without deviation, it will create a perfect heaven on a perfect earth. That’s bollocks. That’s religion not reality. If you’re a Conservative and someone disagrees with you, then you think: Someone disagrees with me. If you’re a militant Socialist and someone disagrees with you, then you think: They are evil.”

“That’s what we’re talking about,” said Trevor.

“There’s that thing in some universities,” I said: “We are liberals. We are democrats. So we must not have people coming to talk to us if they disagree with what we think.

“It’s astonishing,” said Trevor. “This time last year, someone invited me to talk at Leicester University. He said: I am chairman of the Oxfam Society. I would like you to come and give a speech on the importance of charity. So I said OK.”

“Why did they invite you?” I asked.

“He said: I love listening to you and reading about your philosophical take on life.

“They also wanted me to write something for their student magazine and it was just after Russell Brand had said Don’t vote! when he was on BBC2’s Newsnight.

There is a YouTube clip of Russell Brand’s appearance on Newsnight last year.

“So I wrote this piece explaining my views on charity and they were on the phone to me saying: We’re not sure we can publish this and we’re really worried about you coming to talk to us.

“And I was like: Whaaatt?? You can’t publish my views on charity – about how I have a completely different understanding of charity and how giving money to an organisation is not what I understand as charity. And I was sympathetic to Russell’s idea about not voting.

“And they changed the wording of my piece. They edited bits out to make it sound like I was in favour of charity. They sent it to me and said: This is what we are going to publish. Is it alright?

How would that be alright? I told them. You have made me say Vote! when I did not say that; it was a complicated thing. And I am actually against organised charity. 

Yeah, they said, we’re really worried about what you’re gonna say.

Well, I asked them, why have you booked me? I even said it in the article. I said I didn’t know why I had been booked to talk about charity.”

“Did they keep the booking?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Trevor.

“How did it go?”

Trevor Lock may go to a variety of counties in South America

Trevor Lock talked to me at Soho Theatre earlier this week

“It went fine. There was one clever know-it-all trying to make me defend Russell Brand’s point of view, which I don’t fully share. But what was amazing was that this was a university unable to hear… I don’t think I’m known as being Right Wing; I don’t think my opinions are particularly Right Wing… I was just saying: This is what I think charity is.”

“And did they print your piece?” I asked.

“In the end,” said Trevor. “But it took me a long long time and I had to accuse… well, two of them got very angry.”

“They printed your original version?”

“Yes. Because I told them: You have to put THIS back in. Then they said: It’s too long…. I thought: Don’t tell brazen lies to me! You are telling me you have had to edit the article to make it sound the opposite of what I said because my article was too long??

“If they disagreed with your views,” I said, “all they had to do was commission someone with opposite views to write a counterbalancing article and then it would be an interesting debate.”

“This is the thing,” said Trevor. “When I went to university, it was about hearing and talking about ideas. I am 40 years old and here are young lads in theirs 20s who should be debating interesting thoughts. But they are frightened to hear my thoughts. It’s almost like being in Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

Welcome to 1984 Doublethink “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible.” Welcome to the Big Brother House.

“The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible”… Welcome to the Big Brother House.

I said: “Whenever wankers use the phrase ‘positive discrimination’ I think Have they not read about Doublethink in Nineteen Eighty-Four? Positive discrimination is discrimination.”

Trevor said: “What I have taken away from reading Facebook in this last week about Andrew Lawrence and Dapper Laughs is that Hitler could have happened here.”

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Filed under Censorship, Charity, Politics

Edinburgh Fringe: How the banned “Racist Joke Show” was a cunning stunt

Last night at about 8.45pm, I had a half hour snooze. When I woke up, it was 6.55am this morning. Einstein was right. Time warps. Especially at the Edinburgh Fringe. Well, to be honest, most things are odd at the Fringe.

Jay Islaam was at yesterday’s Grouchy Club

Jay Islaam was at yesterday’s Grouchy Club

At yesterday’s eventually crowded Grouchy Club show (people keep wandering in willy-nilly and then don’t leave – which is good), Jay Islaam talked about his Racist Joke Show.

This had been billed as part of the Freestival, the new free show organisation at the Edinburgh Fringe which got a reported £25,000 in sponsorship from La Favorita pizzas matched by £25,000 sponsorship from Arts & Business Scotland.

When Jay Islaam’s Racist Joke Show poster/flyer was brought to their attention, Arts & Business Scotland decided they did not want to have their name associated with the show.

“I have a confession to make,” Jay told us yesterday. “I put out this very provocative poster with just the words RACIST JOKE SHOW – BANNED FROM 100+ VENUES.”

“It hadn’t been, had it?” I asked.

“Well, I have,” said Jay.

“Why?” I asked.

“For a lot of reasons,” he replied.

“And the poster had a golliwog on it,” I said.

Jay and his golliwog, as seen on his website

Jay and his much-loved golliwog, as seen on his own website

“It was my own personal golliwog,” explained Jay. “But I had no intention of using that on the final poster, though I was thinking of using it on the flyers. It was a publicity stunt. I sent it to the media knowing it would get a reaction.

“(The comedy website) Chortle picked up on the poster and sent it to Arts & Business Scotland, who issued a statement without checking what the show was. I won’t comment on whether that was right or wrong, but that’s what they did.

“On the back of the flyer, it asked a series of questions:

  • Are we all racist?
  • Is political correctness an effective way of tackling the Far Right?
  • Is positive discrimination patronising and therefore intrinsically prejudiced?

“But, sadly, the show did not happen.”

“I know this is racist in itself,” I said, “but surely the name Jay Islaam would imply you are not – let’s say 500 years ago – of white British origin.”

“Well,” said Jay. “this is the thing. Part of the Racist Joke Show was about the fact it should not matter whether you are black or white or Indian if you want to discuss issues of culture or race or religion or sexuality. There should not be restrictions on someone just because they are the ‘wrong’ minority or majority.”

“Your name was on the poster?” I asked.

One of Jay’s characters: Michel de Fromage

One of Jay’s characters: decidedly odd Michel de Fromage

“No. It was on the back of the flyer – as was my photo – but in tiny writing. I did not want to be given a free pass to do the show because I was part of a minority – because the point is the things that I say about race and religion and sexuality and different types of prejudice should be something that anybody can say because they have a logical basis to them. You should not be censored because you are white or male or Chinese so you can’t talk about Indians. That was the point of not putting my name or picture on the poster.”

“I have never understood the argument,” I said, “that a black person can say the word ‘nigger’ but a white person can’t. The word is either offensive or it is not.”

“This is one of the things I was going to discuss,” said Jay, “and why I was using the golliwog as a symbol. People talk about ‘reclaiming’ offensive words, reclaiming insults like the Americans did with the word ‘Yankee’, which was supposed to be an insult.

“The show was wanting to do the same thing with words like nigger or Paki or Chink. You can say: I am black and I am going to reclaim the word nigger. But, if a white person says it and you are upset by it, then you have not reclaimed it because the word still has power over you. The show was going to be about taking the power away from these words and symbols.

A piece on Jay in this month’s Eastern Eye

A piece on Jay in this month’s Eastern Eye

“The poster was a blatant publicity stunt using the golliwog, but the upshot was the controversy snowballed to a certain point where the show was cancelled. That was not my intention.

“My intention was to create enough controversy that people would come and then I could preach to them. Get them in the church and then you can preach to them. But the church was knocked down before I was allowed to proselytise views.

“Hopefully next year I will be able to bring the show to Edinburgh. I have already been asked by some promoters in the North of England if I will come and tour it at their theatres.”

mrmethanebendsMeanwhile, back in what passes for the real world outside the Edinburgh bubble, this morning (when I eventually woke up) I read an e-mail from my farting chum Mr Methane – the world’s only professional flatulist act – whose company is called BO Productions. Yesterday, he received this e-mail:

Hi,

This is the first time I’ve been in touch and I wanted to find out whether you’d be interested in the idea of running a banner ad for B O Productions Limited on the Daily Mail website?

Web Windows is an advertising agency who are occasionally able to pick up some amazing late-availability banners. This is one of those occasions and you can find all the details of the offer on this link: One month Daily Mail banner campaign just £480.

If you’re not sure whether online advertising is right for you we’ve put together a Video Review: Why Online Advertising.

I appreciate this offer has appeared out of the blue, so if you’d like me to explain things in more detail, I can be contacted on the number below. Or maybe you’d just like to go ahead?

Best regards

Today’s front page of the Daily Mail

Today’s front page of the Daily Mail

It is good to know that the Daily Mail is obviously trying to expand and subtly alter its brand image and thinks its readers would appreciate a banner ad for a farting act and is actively courting Mr Methane. Meanwhile…

In other, more tragic, showbiz news, the increasingly time-constricted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday seems increasingly UNlikely to include a string of comedians doing impressions of iconic Lewis Schaffer (though we did try it out to great success at yesterday’s Grouchy Club).

Perhaps our final Grouchy Club show should be devoted (as, of course, we all are) to Lewis Schaffer.

Malcolm Hardee Show 2014

A show or event? Who knows? But it is happening this Friday

There is even worse news, though – I am told by his agent that Jim Davidson is unable to accept my invitation to take part in the Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championship during the aforementioned increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show this Friday.

I tried my best.

We will just have to soldier on with what we have.

Have we got a show for you?

Well, it is certainly going to be an event.

Now I must go away and figure out a running order.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, PR, Racism

Two views of British & Italian comedy (+ racism, sexism & women with horns)

Luca Cupani: a man not likely to lose his bottle

Luca Cupani: a man not likely to lose his bottle

London-based Italian comic Giacinto Palmieri told me I should meet Luca Cupani from Bologna. So I did. Yesterday afternoon. With Giacinto.

Luca moved to London at the end of January this year to be a comedian.

“In Britain,” Luca told me, “comedy is a huge thing, so I looked for an Open Mic night online and I found this King Gong night at the Comedy Store. They gave me a spot at the end of February. They seemed to think I might be frightened, but I had never heard of the King Gong night or the Comedy Store.

“I would like to also be an actor, but it’s not that easy because of my accent and because, when they look for an Italian actor, they want someone who looks like an Italian, not like me. At Twickenham in November, I did an open audition for the new Star Wars movie…”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” I said, “but you do look a bit like an alien.”

“I thought,” said Luca, “if they chose Chewbacca and Yoda, they can’t be too fussy about looks. I queued at Twickenham Studios at five in the morning along with 15,000 other people for six hours and the audition was just entering a blue tent and exiting the other side in three seconds.”

“Why couldn’t they just look at pictures?” Giacinto asked him.

“I dunno,” shrugged Luca. “They just wanted to meet someone. But I thought: The Comedy Store can’t be worse than this.”

“And was it?” I asked.

Luca right have been crucified on his first UK gig

Luca took the risk of being crucified at his first UK gig

“There were about 400 people in the audience,” he replied, “and they were not nice and, listening to the comics on before me, I didn’t get half of the jokes because of the cultural references.

“Someone said something I didn’t understand and people laughed. Then someone said something I didn’t understand and they sent him off. I didn’t know what was the secret to stay on stage.

“When it was my turn in the second half, maybe I was helped because they were a little… I wouldn’t say drunk, but they…”

“I think you can say drunk,” I told him.

“Well for some reason,” said Luca, “they liked me. I started talking about everything. I would have sold my mother to stay on stage. I did not sell her, but I stayed on stage and I won the show, the King Gong. It was my first time and I was so scared and I survived and won.

“So they gave me another five minute spot in June that I did and that went not so bad. At the end the owner, Don Ward, told me I have funny bones. I had to look it up in the Urban Dictionary. He told me to keep doing it and I would have another spot in November but just five minutes again because he told me: Your English is not that good.

Luca’s first performance at the Comedy Store is on YouTube.

“I was improvising,” explained Luca. “I can’t write jokes in English so, if I want to find new material, I have to go on stage. In my room, I can’t find any joke. I need to be on stage and under pressure or under fear and I start saying something funny and people laugh and that gives me energy.”

“You’re a very good improviser,” Giacinto told him.

“I find it difficult to translate the jokes I say in Italian into English,” explained Luca, “and it is different the things that trigger laughter here. In Britain, I realised there are some subjects or topics you should not mention: if you talk about things like cancer.”

“Are cancer jokes OK in Italy?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Luca. “You can make a joke about anything.”

Giacinto disagreed: “Romina Puma (organiser of Il Puma Londinese Lab) always tells me it’s easier for her to talk about disability in London than it is in Italy. She tells me people here are more ready to mix comedy and tragedy. I don’t know the Italian comedy scene now. But it is true there is more sensitivity here about racism and sexism.”

Luca Cupani 2014 Edinburgh Fringe show

Luca’s upcoming improvised Fringe show

“I did some jokes about cancer at the Comedy Store,” Luca added. “They laughed. But, if you talk to other comedians, they say: Don’t say this; don’t say that.”

“You can,” I said, “make a joke about anything if you deliver it in the right way. What can you not say in Italy?”

“In Italy,” said Luca, “we don’t have something like stand-up comedy in the Anglo-Saxon way. It’s more like you have to portray a character maybe like Commedia dell’arte… You have to be the lazy postman or the rich businessman. You create this character like a stereotype and you do some jokes around this. In Britain, you are yourself and you talk about your vision of the world.

“In Britain, everyone who is black plays the race card; he talks about being black. Everyone who is Indian talks about being Indian. Women: We are women. But, if you are not one and you say a joke about them, you are sexist or racist. If you are a white man, you cannot talk about black people or make a joke about women.”

“But,” I asked, “in Italy you can talk about North Africans arriving in Sicily by boat?”

“If it is disrespectful, no,” said Luca. “But you can…”

“In Britain,” I said, “the Scots joke about the English, the English joke about the Welsh, people from the north of England joke about southerners…”

“Though not on stage now,” said Giacinto. “That’s more in the pubs. The butt of the jokes in Italy are the Carabinieri – the military police.”

Luca (left) and Giacinto pose for me in Camden yesterday while an attractive lady casually picks her nose behind them

Luca (left) and Giacinto pose for me in Camden yesterday while an attractive lady casually picks her nose behind them

“Yes,” agreed Luca.

“So,” I said, “in England, jokes about stupidity are about the Irish; in the US, they are about the Polish; in Ireland, I think they are about people from Kerry…”

“And,” said Giacinto, “in Italy they are about the Carabinieri. Yes.”

“So not about people from other areas?” I asked.

“Italian history,” said Giacinto, “is so localistic. People were for centuries closed inside very small communities. Probably the Carabinieri used to be from the South traditionally so maybe there is a bit of anti…”

“People from the South,” said Luca, “tend to represent people from the North as stubborn and Yes, they work but they’re not that smart. The South portrays themselves as We know how to live. We are smarter, brighter. In the North they are slow.”

“The impression I get,” I said, “is that people in the North of Italy think people in the South are animals and people in the South think people in the North are Germans.”

“Yes,” said Luca. “People in the North think they are like the Germans and are perfect, but they are not. Part of my family is from Sicily.”

“I have got myself off-subject,” I said. “Back to you, Luca. You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe next month. You’ve never been to the Fringe before. Never been to Scotland before. And it’s an hour-long improvised show…”

“What ,” Giacinto asked me, “did you think of the preview of my Wagner show the other week?”

“I thought it was very good,” I said. “I didn’t have any misgivings about it because I thought: If the worst comes to the worst, there will be talk of women with horns on their heads.”

Giacinto’s Edinburgh Fringe poster

Giacinto: enthusiastic Wagner Fringe show

“Wagner,” suggested Luca, “helps you connect with your inner hero.”

“You are my personal hero,” said Giacinto, “because what you are doing – improvising an hour show – is crazy.”

“I would do a show about my sex life,” said Luca, “but basically nothing happens. I dated a woman who works in a bank and she just asked me about the Mafia for three or four hours.”

“One day,” said Giacinto, “I am going to do a show called All The Women Who Didn’t Sleep With Me (Abridged). The unabridged version would be too long.”

Your Wagner show,” I told Giacinto, “is actually ideal for the Fringe because it is a show performed by an enthusiast. In Edinburgh, the big thing is to latch on to a subject, then make it personal in some way.

“If the punters are sensible,” I continued, “even if they don’t give a shit about Wagner, they’ll think: Oh! Women with horns and a man with a sense of humour! That’s worth seeing! If someone’s an enthusiast, you know he’s going to be excited about the subject and will try everything to enthuse you and the hour is going to be interesting and, in this case, funny.”

“I know you don’t do reviews,” said Giacinto, “but, if you can manage to squeeze these words into your blog…”

“Did I not mention it before?” I asked.

“No,” said Giacinto, “you never mentioned my preview.”

“Oh fuck,” I said.

“But I’m still going to invite you to parties, don’t worry,” Giacinto told me.

“Parties?” asked Luca.

“John,” explained Giacinto, “says he doesn’t do reviews because he wants to be invited to parties by comedians.”

“You might have just managed to get into my blog,” I told him.

There is an award-winning short film featuring Luca Cupani on YouTube. (It is in Italian)

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Exquisite bad taste gets UK comedian Diane Spencer into trouble in Bahrain

(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)
(NOTE: I have changed the names of the people in Bahrain)

Diane Spencer’s DVD recording next week

Diane Spencer’s DVD recording next week

Next Wednesday, Diane Spencer is recording a live DVD of her Exquisite Bad Taste comedy show.

“What is your image?” I asked her yesterday via Skype. “I guess it’s fresh-faced, clean-cut English rose who shocks by saying rude things?”

“I prefer ‘edgy’ instead of ‘rude’,” she told me. “I have never told a joke to offend anyone. The first time I was called ‘shocking’, I was surprised. I thought Am I? And the first time I got called ‘crude’. I was really surprised. I’ve never aimed to be crude. When people call me ‘foul-mouthed’ I think OK, well I understand. I think I just have an in-the-pub sense of humour.”

“So that promoter booking you in Bahrain recently was surprising,” I suggested.

“When they initially booked me to go to Bahrain,”said Diane, “I actually asked them: Are you sure about this? You’ve seen my act. And they told me: You’re exactly what they want in Bahrain. They’ll love it. Don’t censor your act. They have people going over there censoring their acts and that’s not what they want at all. They want you to do what you do.

“There were two gigs: one at a local comedy club and one in the hotel where we were staying.

“I was nervous about the whole trip , but I talked to my friends who had been there and they said: As long as you’re polite and you observe the customs...

“Well, I don’t walk around in short skirts and sleeveless tops anyway. I’m ginger. I don’t do very well in the sun. I wore a headscarf. I was trying to be respectful of other people’s culture.

“I went over there with Joe Lycett and Jarleth Regan and Joe was already slightly nervous. He told me: I keep asking them about the gay thing.

The Gulf Daily News promotes the fateful show

The Gulf Daily News publicised the fateful show in Bahrain

“I told him: Well, you’re a gay guy. I’m an outspoken ginger woman. So I think they’ve sent us on purpose. I think it’s going to be fine, otherwise they wouldn’t have made this particular weird selection.

“So we fly into Bahrain and meet Peter, who has organised everything, He says to me: I saw your show at the Edinburgh Fringe. I really enjoyed it.

I say, relieved: So you’ve already seen my act! 

“Yeah yeah yeah! he says. It’s gonna be fantastic!

“So we arrive at the comedy club that night and they’re mainly British people. There were not many people wearing the headscarf.

“We sat backstage and there was an exit to the outside where there was this massive wall at least eight feet high. Then we met the guy who was organising the gig.

Hi! My name’s Muhammad! he tells us. I’m in telecommunications! I’m a bum! I don’t do anything! And you just know he’s like a billionaire. I don’t do anything! he says. What do I do? I do nothing! I just bum around! I just get comedians in! 

So everything’s OK and the woman who books the comedy – Susan – comes in and she’s lovely. She’s enthusiastic: Oh, I’m so excited about this! she says. I’m so excited!

“So Joe and I think: This is all going to be good.

Muhammad tells us: Just do it! Just unleash! Just do it! I don’t care what happens! If they don’t like it, who gives a shit? It’s comedy! You guys are hilarious! Go for it! Whatever they say, I’ll take it!

And I thought: Well, that’s lovely. How nice. He’s giving me creative freedom.

So the gig starts and Jarleth gets up on stage and does his act and everybody loves it.

“Then Joe gets up. They LOVE Joe. He keeps saying Salam in such a camp way they find him absolutely hilarious.”

“And he mentions being gay?” I ask.

“Oh yes,” said Diane. “No problem. But then I get up…

Sunset at King Fahd Causeway linking Bahrain/Saudi Arabia

Sunset at King Fahd Causeway linking Bahrain/Saudi Arabia

“I walk on stage and there’s two tables of women who fold their arms and glare at me. They are the Any other woman is a threat kind of women.

“I start off gently and it’s going well and it’s building and then I hit… erm…

“Well we WERE given censorship rules. Two rules…

“First rule: Do not mention politics or the local situation or the recent troubles. One of the boys did touch on it, but very lightly.

“The other rule: Nothing about the Bahrain Royal Family. 

“Now, being called Diane Spencer, I had pointed out to Susan beforehand: Look, I do have jokes about the Royal Family, but it’s the British Royal Family – Is this OK? 

“And she said: Oh, God, yes!

“So I start off gently and it builds and builds and builds… and then I get into my Prince Harry jokes which then lead on to my Princess Diana jokes, which I have only ever written to make people laugh. And I underline that.

“When people laugh, it’s really great. Sometimes they don’t laugh and I do try and say to them: Look, it did happen in 1997 – Diana’s death – so I think it’s OK if we laugh about it now.

“But, in Bahrain, I start to lose half the crowd. The people who are enjoying me are getting quiet. The people who are not enjoying me are getting vocal.

Diane Soencer performing at Soho Theatre yesterday

Diane performing recently at Soho Theatre

“So then what happens is I fall back to my super-clean, completely non-offensive material about my eyesight, my tooth, my ginger hair. I start to win them back and then I realise I haven’t got many options left now in my immediate mind. I have got options. But I can’t remember them. I can only really remember my British comedy club set. So I do my club set.

“And the reaction is incredibly mixed.

“At the end, when I say Well thankyou very much, half the crowd cheer and applaud. Twenty people have walked out. And the other half of the remaining crowd seem to be in a kind of weird shock.

“I walk offstage and… well, I don’t just walk offstage, I walk out of the building to this place with the high wall and I just stare up at the sky feeling a million miles from my culture.

“Joe comes out to say Hi and he can see I’ve got tears in my eyes and he’s telling me: No, no. Just relax, relax. 

“Then Susan comes out and Peter and Muhammad come out. Susan is panicky and stands about two inches away from my face and says: I’m going to be taken down to the police station! They say it was public obscenity!

“She’s now shitting herself and repeating: I just think you went too far! I just think you went too far! I mean, you did some clean material, but then I think you went too far! I think you went too far! They’re talking about taking me down to the police station!

“She is talking very, very fast and Peter is trying to calm her down while saying at the same time to me: No, that’s OK. You did… I love what you did and I… and everybody is kinda really confused. And what happens eventually is that Peter sweeps Susan and Joe away, leaving me and Muhammad outside.

“I’m one side of this eight-feet wall and I think maybe if I go outside I’m going to have stones thrown at me… by British people!

“But Muhammad says to me: This comedy club! This thing! Oh, I lose thousands on it! And then he tells me this story about when the troubles were happening a couple of years ago and they took him into custody for two weeks – He told me what happened – And then he says: 36 million? Gone! 

I say What?

“He says: $36 million. Gone! And I’m never going to get that back. That’s fine. Whatever.

They seized his assets.

“$36 million.

So then I thought: Well, my problems really are nothing. My bad gig is not an issue.

Diane remembers the Bahrain gig, talking on Skype yesterday

Diane remembers the Bahrain gig, talking on Skype yesterday

The next day, I sat by the pool at the hotel and restructured my set. I know people say Oh, you should just do what you do but, no, it’s about the crowd.

“I played Tetris in my mind with all my old material.

“That night, we re-arranged the second gig, which was in the hotel. Jarleth went last, Joe went first and I went in the middle. The hotel had drawn a bigger crowd, because people had heard what had happened at the comedy club the night before and were coming to see this cataclysm.

“Joe went on first. They loved him. Then I went on and I knocked it out of the fucking park. It built up, built up, built up and it was just lovely.

“In the break, people were coming up to me saying: We thought you were fantastic! You should START with the filthy stuff! Those people last night! What’s their problem? That was great!

“I also found out that the manager of the local comedy club had actually run into the dressing room the night before, after the gig, to try and find me and tell me that he loved it and to say he didn’t know what was wrong with the twenty people who walked out. He said I loved it!

“But, because of me, they’re now putting a disclaimer on the local club’s leaflets stating that they do not control any of the comedians.”

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Frank Skinner & Mr Methane TV act banned by the BBC (and Phil Spector)

Mr Methane ended up looking like a Muppet

Someone on the BBC TV show ended up looking like a Muppet

The comedy ‘Rule of Three’ and Fate have combined to decree that Mr Methane appears in my blog for the third day running.

One of his better stories can never be told because, before the performance, he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that he would never tell anyone the performance had taken place in that location to those people…

However, yesterday he reminded me about one publishable non-appearance he made.

Mr Methane is the Farter of Alternative Comedy, a phrase I will repeat until someone else copies it.

Comedian Frank Skinner used to have a chat show on BBC TV.

One week, Frank had actor Gene Wilder on his show and the subject of Blazing Saddles came up: a movie with a famous farting scene.

Frank mentioned Mr Methane’s performances to Gene and, in Mr Methane’s words, “slagged me off in a comic fashion, said I had played a few ‘bum notes’ and then did a bad impression.”

Mr Methane, a self-publicist experienced in blowing his own trumpet, took Frank to task about slagging him off and the result was he ended up on Frank’s TV show the next week, doing a duet of Da Doo Ron Ron, the 1963 Crystals song originally produced by Phil Spector.

Mr Methane appeared with Frank Skinner, but the BBC got windy

Frank appeared with Mr Methane, but the BBC got windy

“Frank was genuinely sorry about what he’d said the previous week and meant no offence,” Mr Methane tells me. “It was just a comedy slag off.”

According to Frank Skinner’s autobiography Phil Spector was not happy about the farted version of Da Doo Ron Ron. Neither was the BBC who got windy – not because of the song but because of the references to farting in the previous week’s show and the amount of complaints it had generated.

The BBC insisted that Frank edited out the Da Doo Ron Ron performance from his show before it was transmitted.

The act was unseen on the Unseen video

Act still unseen on the Unseen video

Later, the farted version of Da Doo Ron Ron was included on a video titled The Unseen Frank Skinner TV Show, but, Mr Methane tells me, “Phil Spector’s music publishers had an injunction put in place and all the videos had to be withdrawn just before Christmas. My section was edited out and a sticker put on sleeve saying This Video Does Not Contain Mr Methane… because most of sleeve artwork was basically press cuttings about our duet being axed from the original show: Beeb Blow Out Musical Bum, etc. All the re-editing delayed the video’s release and Frank missed the Christmas sales boom. No-one was happy.”

In his highly-recommended autobiography, Frank Skinner also talks about the occasion when Phil Spector, while receiving a lifetime music award, went into a rant live on Australian TV about the farted duet of Da Do Ron Ron, saying that Mr Methane and Frank Skinner had taken his work of art and desecrated it.

In 2009, Phil Spector was convicted of murder – shooting actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. He is serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life.

There is a YouTube video of the banned BBC footage which also features Ronnie Verrel (who did the drumming for Animal on The Muppet Show) on drums.

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Jimmy Savile, Gary Glitter and Roman Polanski. Comparing artists and arses.

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Spice World released with scum removed

Roman Polanski?” someone said to me yesterday afternoon. “Well, he’s not as bad as Jimmy Savile, is he?”

That is like a red rag to a bull.

Was Jack The Ripper not as bad as Adolf Hitler because he did not kill as many people? You could even argue Adolf Hitler was a morally better person than the Jack The Ripper because, as far as I am aware, Hitler did not personally kill anyone during the Second World War.

It is a pointless argument.

Jimmy Savile had-it-off with more under-age girls than Roman Polanski and was apparently at-it for 50 years. Roman Polanski was only prosecuted over one girl.

But the truth is you cannot compare evil.

Most things are grey. But some things are black and white and incomparable.

I had a conversation with two other men a couple of days ago and which I started to write a blog about the next day but which I aborted because it was too dangerous…

One man was involved in the comedy business. The other had been involved in the music business. We had got talking about Gary Glitter.

When the Spice Girls’ movie Spice World was made, it included a big musical routine involving Gary Glitter. Very shortly before the film’s release, he was arrested on sex charges. He was cut out of the film because (quite rightly) it was thought to be dodgy given the movie’s target audience.

But now, in many places, several years later, his music is, in effect, banned from being played because the act of playing it – and saying his very name in the introduction – is thought to be in bad taste.

The conversation I had with the other two men revolved around Art v Scum.

Just because someone is scum does not mean they cannot create Art.

Just because they have been rightly arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for an act of evil does not lessen the level of any Art they may have created.

I am sure all sorts of artists over the centuries have committed all sorts of morally and criminally heinous acts. But that does not mean we should not appreciate their art.

You may see where this is going and why I abandoned writing this particular blog a couple of days ago. Just by discussing it I might seem to be lessening my dislike of what the scum did. Which is not the case. But it is a danger.

Just because Gary Glitter is scum does not mean he did not create some very good pop music. Perhaps it was not high art. But it was good pop music. The fact that he was imprisoned for having pornographic images of children in Britain and committing sex crimes in Vietnam does not mean his records should be banned.

There is the fact that, if you buy his records, he will receive royalties. That is a problem, but does not affect the theoretical discussion.

Clearer examples are actors Wilfred Brambell and Leslie Grantham.

Homosexuality was stupidly illegal in the UK until 1967. In 1962, Wilfred Brambell (old man Steptoe in the BBC TV comedy series Steptoe and Son) was arrested in a Shepherd’s Bush toilet for “persistently importuning”, though he got a conditional discharge. Ooh missus. He died in 1985. In 2012, he was accused of abusing two boys aged aged 12-13 backstage at the Jersey Opera House in the 1970s. One of the boys was from the Haut de la Garenne children’s home, which is now surrounded by very seedy claims of child abuse, murder and torture (and which Jimmy Savile visited, though this is strangely under-played in newspaper reports).

Actor Leslie Grantham – who famously played ‘Dirty Den’ in BBC TV’s EastEnders – is a convicted murderer. In 1966, he shot and killed a German taxi driver in Osnabrück. He was convicted of murder, sentenced to life imprisonment and served ten years in jail.

Wilfred Brambell’s presumed sexual sleaziness and Leslie Grantham’s actual imprisonment for killing someone does not mean the BBC should never repeat Steptoe and Son nor old episodes of EastEnders, nor that it would be morally reprehensible to watch the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night because Wilfred Brambell plays a prominent role in it.

It does not mean that Wilfred Brambell and Leslie Grantham’s undoubtedly high acting skills should not be appreciated.

A chum of mine was recently compiling a history of glam rock for a BBC programme and was told he could not include Gary Glitter. That is a bit like not including the Rolling Stones in a history of 1960s British rock music or not including Jimmy Savile in a history of BBC disc jockeys.

Which brings us to Roman Polanski.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I think he is scum and (figuratively speaking) his balls should be cut off and he should be thrown into a bottomless pit of dung for eternity.

He drugged, raped and buggered a 13-year-old girl.

End of.

The defence “She was not that innocent” is no defence.

In January next year, the British Film Institute starts a two-month “tribute” to Roman Polanski at the National Film Theatre in London.

I have no problem with that. I might even go to some of the movie screenings.

Dance of the Vampires, Rosemary’s Baby and Macbeth are brilliant films. Chinatown and Tess are very good – although I have also had the misfortune to sit through the unspeakably awful Pirates.

As a film-maker, Roman Polanski deserves a tribute. As a criminal on the run from justice, he deserves to be arrested and imprisoned.

Art is often created by people who are scum.

Here is the deleted scene from Spice World:

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The road to Hell – my defence of sexist, racist and (yes certainly) rape jokes

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and by India’s We Speak News)

Frankie Boyle’s autobiography

As I write this, comedian Frankie Boyle is still in the High Court. He is suing the Daily Mirror for libel after they called him a “racist”. His barrister says it is perfectly OK to call him “vile” but not a racist.

His barrister told the jury that, during his Channel 4 Tramadol Nights show, Frankie had told a joke which contained the word ‘nigger’. The thrust of his argument was that racist words do not necessarily mean racist thoughts. Frankie Boyle, his barrister said, was attacking racists in the joke. Context is everything.

Almost a fortnight ago, I wrote a blog headed In Defence of rape jokes though, in fact, it said that I do not like rape jokes, as I have known and worked with three women who were raped as children and, by and large, the people who tell rape jokes are bad comedians going for a cheap (shock) laugh.

I wrote: “Trying to ban rape jokes is like trying to put sticking plaster over a symptom to hide an unsightly abscess, not cure the problem. It is the wrong target. The aim, surely, should be trying to stop audiences laughing at rape jokes.”

My So It Goes blog was picked up and reprinted a week later by the Huffington Post (though dated by them as 4th October).

In response to that Huffington Post piece, I got this e-mail from the people at ‘Rape Is No Joke’ (whom I had not named):

___

Dear John Flemming, (sic)

I am writing to correct a number of inaccuracies in your article ‘In Defence of Rape Jokes’ regarding our campaign ‘Rape Is No Joke’.

We are not advocating a ban on rape jokes and we do not believe a ban on something will fundamentally tackle an issue.

We are not calling for the subject of rape to become a taboo that is never mentioned in comedy. We are against jokes that trivialise the issue and the victim (which the vast majority of jokes about rape do).

Our pledge is asking comedians and venues to voluntarily sign up to say they won’t tell rape jokes or have them told in their venues as part of our campaign.

Our aim is to educate and tackle the, increasingly common, attitude that rape is something to be laughed at.

Obviously comedy isn’t the biggest offence facing women. However, comedy doesn’t exist in a bubble, it often reflects and has an effect on attitudes in wider society. Rape jokes add to the culture of dismissal and trivialising of rape that exists all too often in wider society. Whilst 80,000 women in the UK are raped every year, only 15% of them report it. Many of the other 85% are scared they won’t be believed or taken seriously. We want to start to tackle that culture. And we want to be able to enjoy comedy without misogyny.

We would be grateful if you could edit your article accordingly and remove the claims we want to ‘ban’ rape jokes.

Yours Sincerely,

_________

Now, far be it from me to criticise well-intentioned people, but this e-mail says: “We are not advocating a ban on rape jokes… Our pledge is asking comedians and venues to voluntarily sign up to say they won’t tell rape jokes or have them told in their venues”

If that ain’t advocating a ban on rape jokes, then daffodils are fish.

Good intentions. Bad idea.

The problem with banning any joke about anything is that who defines what the subject or the object of a  joke is? No rape jokes would, presumably mean no jokes – or sarcastic comments – about some of the late Jimmy Savile’s appalling activities. And, as I said in my original blog, where does it end? If rape jokes are banned then, surely, you must also ban jokes about murder. And, if you ban jokes about certain subjects told live on stage then, logically, you have to ban those same jokes on television and ban them in books, magazines and newspapers. Pretty soon, you will be trying to avoid people reading unacceptable comments previously expressed by burning books.

Today, comedian Rowan Atkinson is in the papers attacking the Public Order Act and “the creeping culture of censoriousness” and the “new intolerance”.

Rowan Atkinson attacks – in the Daily Mail today

According to today’s Daily Mail – not a publication known for criticising the police – a 16-year-old boy was recently arrested under the Public Order Act for peacefully holding up a placard reading ‘Scientology is a dangerous cult’, on the grounds that it might insult Scientologists.

In 2005, the Daily Mail points out, an Oxford University student was arrested for saying to a policeman: “Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?” Thames Valley police said he had made “homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by”. And a 16-year-old from Newcastle who growled and said “Woof!” to a labrador within earshot of police was prosecuted and fined £200 (later over-turned on appeal).

If the policing of public morality is happening at this unimportant level to this ludicrousness, then how much more oppressive would be the policing of any ban on more serious things – like jokes about rape?

Frankie Boyle’s barrister has been saying in court that the comedian has been called “racist” for telling jokes which were actively aimed against racists.

In a comment on my Facebook page about the Frankie Boyle court case, comedian Richard Herring observes:

“In none of the examples I have seen is Boyle using the words in a context other than to highlight other’s racism. If he is racist for just using the word, then anyone saying, ‘saying the word Paki is racist‘ is racist. So presumably everyone involved in the court case can now be called racist.”

Rowan Atkinson said yesterday: ‘The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm… can be interpreted as insult.”

The same can be said of jokes about rape. In my original blog, I linked to a superb piece of comedy by Janey Godley in which she referred to the fact that she herself was repeatedly raped as a child. This could, very clearly, be labelled a ‘rape joke’ though, in fact, it is not in any way making a joke of rape.

Banning any jokes about anything is a bad idea. Trying to get comedy club owners to ban comedians who (they believe) tell or have told or may tell ‘rape jokes’ is not just a bad idea, it is actively dangerous. Where does the censorship end?

Freedom of speech includes the right to be offensive.

The road to totalitarianism – to a police state – is partially paved with the good intentions of well-meaning people.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Legal system, Racism, Sex

In defence of rape jokes

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and y India’s We Speak News)

Tragedy/comedy masks, Hadrian’s Villa – but which is which?

A comedian phoned me yesterday evening, angry that another comedian was Tweeting trying to get comedy performers and promoters to sign up for a ‘No Rape Jokes’ pledge.

The idea is to ban comedians who tell rape jokes.

The first promoter to have ‘signed the pledge’ appears to be a club that only allows female comedians to perform, which seems a little ironic. I am thinking of opening a comedy club at which Jewish performers are banned but at which no rape jokes would be allowed. No problem there, then.

Trying to ban rape jokes is like trying to put sticking plaster over a symptom to hide an unsightly abscess, not cure the problem. It is the wrong target. The aim, surely, should be trying to stop audiences laughing at rape jokes.

Unless – in my opinion – they are funny.

Funny is funny.

I have known and worked with three women who were raped as children. All bore psychological scars. Obviously.

When I hear a comedian tell a rape joke, I cringe because of this. But also because the comedian is usually getting an easy laugh. He (seldom she) knows the audience will laugh in shock because the subject is in bad taste. They used to be able to get a laugh by just using the word “fuck”. That word’s shock value disappeared. Then it was the word “cunt”. Now that word on its own no longer gets a laugh.

But now you can get an easy laugh by telling a rape joke or a joke about (presumably) murdered little girl Madeleine McCann or her parents. It is lazy comedy. Knee-jerk comedy.

I do not like rape jokes. By and large. The comedians who tell them are bad comedians. By and large.

But Scottish comedian Jerry Sadowitz has told rape jokes. He is a brilliant comedian. The jokes were funny. I laughed. I enjoyed the jokes as jokes.

Fellow Scottish comedian Janey Godley (who was repeatedly raped as a child) used to tell stories around the subject of child abuse and rape. There is a fascinating clip on YouTube of her starting her act.

Normally, I do not repeat comedians’ routines. But this one is worth repeating because what is being said is in no way funny yet it gets big laughs because, as Frank Carson might have said: “It’s the way she tells ‘em”.

It is a masterclass in how to get laughs from an audience.

Janey says:

“When I was five, I was sexually abused by my uncle… Now, I don’t want you to all rush the stage and give me a hug, cos it’s OK… cos I got him killed for my birthday later on (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… Yeah (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… No, I did (BIGGER AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… That’s no a joke (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… Yeah (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… Got his cock cut off (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)… So… (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)…”

What is being said here is not funny.

At no point does Janey say she is joking. She says the exact opposite. She tells the audience a man was murdered and – five times – she points out to the audience that this is not a joke. She is joking about murder and sexual mutilation. But the laughter continues and heightens.

If rape jokes are to be banned, why not also ban murder jokes, incest jokes, adultery jokes and jokes about travelling salesmen, mothers in law and rabbits? All were certainly offensive to the ears of pre-War BBC Radio.

It is a short and slippery slope from banning jokes to burning books.

Lewis Schaffer, a Jew, has what I consider to be (currently) the world’s best three-part Holocaust joke, Should he be banned from telling it? He says on-stage that he is allowed to tell that joke. And not for the reason you might think. And that is part of the joke.

Blanket bans on jokes can never be a good idea. Let the audience decide. Or try to change audiences’ attitudes. But don’t try to ban the jokes.

I talked to comedian Bob Slayer about this last night.

“I’m thinking of blogging about The Rape Thing tomorrow,” I told him. “If I did, I could glide into the attack I have not yet launched in my blog on left wing neo-Fascism. That should get me spat at in the bars of Soho and the streets of Edinburgh… Love Bernard Manning. Hate Tony Benn,.. Something along those lines…”

I am old enough to remember the late-1960s and early 1970s when the Vietnam War was being fought. When people were booked at universities to speak in support of the War, demonstrations were organised by well-meaning left wingers who believed strongly in Freedom of Speech… to get the person banned from speaking.

In the real world, left wing irony has never been widespread.

Nowadays, freedom-promoting left wingers sometimes say candidates from the right wing BNP should not be allowed to promote their views in TV programmes or on the streets. But the BNP is not an illegal political party. If their views are so appalling, a law should be passed to ban the party. But, if what the BNP believes is expressed in a perfectly legal way, then trying to ban them from speaking is, in my view, Fascistic.

I personally agree that the BNP is abhorrent, but that is irrelevant.

I blame the French.

We say ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ because of the seating arrangements in the Estates General during and after the French Revolution.

The reality is that political extremism is part of a circle, not a horizontal line.

Hitler’s political party was correctly called a (national) Socialist party… Because extreme right wing views about a strong centralised state overlap into extreme left wing views about ‘the people’ controlling everything via a strong centralised state.

Wanting to ban jokes about rape is indefensible if you do not also want to ban jokes about murder. And, if you ban talking about certain things at live gigs then, logically, you have to ban the same things on television and in print.

It is a short and slippery slope from banning jokes to burning books.

Bob Slayer disagrees with me. He supports attempts to ban rape jokes in comedy clubs.

“Of course,” he says, “all of this will require a comedy police force to ensure that these rules are adhered to. Someone will have to vet every comedian, judge them before they even do their first open mic gig and award them with a provisional licence to perform clean, pre-approved jokes. They can then work towards proving they are capable of a full comedy licence to make up their own jokes.

“A comedian licence would work along similar lines to the one for buskers on the London Underground. It used to be that buskers who were homeless and looked like they were only busking in order to keep in the dry were driven outside to think about their lives while they slowly died of cold.

“Thankfully, they were then replaced by college students and trustafarians who had achieved at least grade 4 on their chosen instrument. These approved buskers were then given a laminated badge and allowed to entertain commuters with officially sanctioned playlists.

“I look forward to comedy being ordered in the same way.”

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Politics, Rape, Sex