Tag Archives: free speech

Jonathan Pie co-writer says: “A lot of comics are not in favour of free speech”

Jonathan Pie is a fictional UK TV news reporter, played by Tom Walker, in satirical political videos posted online and in stage shows. The scripts are written by Tom Walker and Andrew Doyle.

Andrew Doyle on his return from Scotland

Andrew Doyle and I met in London just after he had come back from Scotland, where he had filmed a half hour TV documentary about a man who had been prosecuted and found guilty of training a pug dog to give a Nazi salute. The man – calling himself ‘Count Dankula’  – then posted a video of the dog on YouTube; he said he had done it as a joke for his girlfriend. 

Probably all my blogs should come with the warning that I do not necessarily agree with all the interviewee’s opinions. And, equally, I do not necessarily disagree with all of them.

Make of that what you will.

Just saying…


JOHN: Why the interest in the pug dog?

ANDREW: Because it is such a landmark case in terms of free speech. Lots of people have been found guilty of telling jokes in this country, but we don’t hear about them very often: they’re mostly just unemployed teenagers on Facebook. It’s the first case of its kind that has got widespread attention and it has caused a real division within the comedy community, which I think is fascinating.

JOHN: And that division is?

ANDREW: Well, when I wrote a Jonathan Pie video about it with Tom Walker, we fully expected comedians to be up in arms about the case. There were a few who were annoyed about it – Shappi Khorsandi, Ricky Gervais, David Baddiel – but most comedians were silent about it and quite a few sided with the court’s decision. It was the opposite reaction to what I would have expected.

It has really illuminated the fact that actually a lot of comics are not in favour of free speech at all. And that fascinates me.

JOHN: Any particular type of comedian? Left wing or right wing?

ANDREW: Well, virtually all comedians are left wing.

JOHN: But the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ wing are just a quirk of French history, aren’t they? If you take both to extremes, they end up in the same place. It’s a circle not a straight line.

ANDREW: Well, most comedians are middle class Blairites who call themselves ‘left wing’ but they don’t really know what ‘left wing’ means. I think because they identify as left wing and because the Left is often so hostile to free speech and has not done a very good job defending it, you now see people like Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins defending free speech and that makes the Left even more suspicious of free speech. It’s a really dangerous situation.

The Left needs to reclaim free speech – I am passionate about that, although I have been called a misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi.

A misogynist homophobe neo-Nazi??

JOHN: But you are gay. Why are you allegedly a homophobe?

ANDREW: Some of the jokes I make, apparently.

JOHN: So the Left are not very good on free speech?

ANDREW: No. They used to be. If you go back to the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s, they understood that free speech was at the heart of any…

JOHN: So you’re saying the New Left and the Blairites were OK but the Corbynistas are a bit Fascistic?

ANDREW: I wouldn’t go so far as to say Fascistic. And I don’t think the Blairites were particularly strong on free speech. There have been increasing attempts at press regulations and Hate Speech laws are now enshrined in our way of life. That is not a free speech position.

JOHN: But it’s not opinion, only incitement to violence, that is criminal.

ANDREW: No. The 2003 Communications Act deems that anything you send online that could be ‘grossly offensive’ is a criminal offence.

JOHN: Virtually anything Jerry Sadowitz says is offensive to someone.

ANDREW: Yes. That’s his schtick. If some of that were to go online, then theoretically he could be arrested.

JOHN: Do you think PC has gone too far?

ANDREW: I don’t use the term PC. I associate political correctness with a different thing. To me it is a good thing. It is about a general, shared, agreed discourse that we have in public, in work, where we basically agree to be polite to each other and agree not to say certain things. It’s a social contract.

Andrew writes regular articles for Spiked magazine

Obviously I am not in favour of enforcing any type of speech law but, say, if you agree to work in an office, part of that is an obligation not to use the word “faggot”. That’s not a free speech issue. You can say it elsewhere but not in the office you have chosen to work in. I don’t think the idea of society encouraging people to be polite is a bad thing – and that is all I see political correctness as being.

What is happening now is not political correctness. It is a transformed, perverted version of political correctness, creeping into authoritarianism.

JOHN: You seem to be saying you are not in favour of any restriction of speech laws.

ANDREW: That’s right. I am not.

JOHN: But someone should not be allowed to say: “I think you should go out and kill all black people…”

ANDREW: Yes, that is a terrible thing to say.

JOHN: Surely saying that should be illegal?

ANDREW: No.

JOHN: Is it not an encouragement to commit a crime?

ANDREW: No, because whoever commits the crime should be held responsible for the crime. I am really uncomfortable with the idea of diminishing the responsibility of someone who breaks the law.

JOHN: But, by that logic, Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust because other people did the killing.

ANDREW: He explicitly ordered and orchestrated it so, yes, he is responsible. He was not trying to persuade the SS to do it for him, he was ordering the SS to do it. They are responsible too – the people who did it – but he is too, because that is part of a military chain of command. That is not the same as someone standing at Speaker’s Corner shouting out that gay people should be castrated.

Just because he shouts that out, does not mean that people are going to go out and castrate gay people and, if they did, they would be responsible. It is not the same thing.

JOHN: But, if someone goes out and does something criminal as the result of hearing a speech, that speech was incitement to commit a crime, isn’t it? Which is illegal.

Andrew’s stand-up comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017

ANDREW: Yes, but the problem I have with this is that, on balance, I do not think it is safe to allow the state to have the power to criminalise speech – even if that means some really horrible people are going to try to persuade people to do horrible things. On balance, I think that is deeply unpleasant but it is not as frightening to me as the state having the right to lock people up for what they say and what they think.

We cannot trust the state. We know that now. They have convicted in a court of law a man for making a joke video about a pug dog giving a Nazi salute. And they call that Hate Speech. We cannot trust them to distinguish between a joke and some psychopath in a park shouting and inciting murder.

JOHN: The pug dog video case was in Scotland. Would it have been illegal in England?

ANDREW: Yes, The Communications Act applies to all of the UK.

JOHN: This is all a bit serious.

ANDREW: Do you want to talk about something flippant?

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

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Filed under Comedy, political correctness, Politics, satire

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

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

Women’s Equality Party website

.

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