Brandon Sullivan ✒ Around about 16:00, 13th Aug 2022, Jerry Sadowitz Tweeted the following:

Did a show last night, 75 mins, thought it went well. Didn't see any walkouts. Today I’m told my show's been cancelled. Great stuff. I'm truly sorry for everyone who travelled to see the show tonight.

When I first had the pleasure of seeing JS live, around about 2004, early in his set he said “It’s like I’m leading you all into battle. You won’t all still be here at the end.” He was right; there were walkouts. They missed incredible magic tricks performed with elegance and course humour, and comedy that was exhilarating. I can’t precisely recall too much of the content of that show, but he listed people that he hated, starting with us, the audience, moving on to the city of Edinburgh, and working his way out. He also did a piece about accidently looking up child pornography, and then being so keen to exit it that he accidently put in his credit card details. Operation Ore and Pete Townsend were big news at the time. At the end he said “I’ve never really been good with goodbyes, so, I’ll phone you” and walked off.

In a statement announcing JS’s banning, the director the venue (The Pleasance) Anthony Alderson said: 

The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material.
While we acknowledge that Jerry Sadowitz has often been controversial, the material presented at his first show is not acceptable and does not align with our values. This type of material has no place on the festival and the Pleasance will not be presenting his second and final show.

Chortle reported the following incidents which seemed to be the cause of the ban:

One audience member told the Scottish Sun: ‘He called Rishi Sunak a 'p***'; said the economy was awful because it is run by ‘blacks and women.’ He got his penis out to a woman in the front row. The problem was not the audience.

The last time that I saw Jerry Sadowitz, probably 2019, he also “got his penis out” but it wasn’t to a singled out woman – it was used as part of a scene he was doing, and it landed hilariously. He also used the ‘p-word’ – in that instance, with the word ‘Oxbridge’ in front to describe a clichéd liberal news reporter. I would place a bet that the invective on Sunak also having the word Oxbridge as a prefix to the ‘p-word.’ At the 2019 show, he also spoke of using offensive terminology, with a theatrical raise of his hat. One layer of irony means that he disagrees with everything he does a good job of persuading the audience he believes – an almost audible sigh of relief from the liberal Edinburgh audience. But then, hat back on and demonic grin: he says beneath that layer be believes everything that he says to be true.

JS has an understanding of the craft and form of comedy which places him, in my opinion, in the rarefied company of the likes of Stewart Lee and Chris Morris, and not many other people. JS, like Lee and Morris, use a barrage of psychological tricks to discomfort their audience, and bewilder as well as amuse them. But JS is far more unrelenting, much less obliging. Whilst Lee will torment an audience for minutes, keeping them nervously waiting to see where he’s going about a joke about a Muslim woman causing a delay at a London Weight Watchers, the audience can always take comfort in his impeccable liberal values. If Stewart Lee is like sitting on a ghost train, JS is like watching Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket: his delivery is genius, and the lines are comical, but is he going to hurt someone? Should I feel guilty about laughing?

I found sitting in the audience at a JS show more comfortable than at an Al Murray the Pub Landlord show. Al Murry’s show was painfully funny, but it was obvious that a sizeable part of the audience didn’t know that it was them and their worldview that was being lampooned. Murray was making political capital out of a Little Englander, not celebrating him. The joke was lost on parts of the audience. Should that have mattered? It did to me.

So what happened between The Pleasance and JS? The Pleasance’s statement is incoherent. One cannot say “The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material” and then say “This type of material has no place on the festival and the Pleasance will not be presenting his second and final show.” They are mutually exclusive, aren’t they?

JS didn’t do a Cosmo Kramer/Michael Anderson racist rant at audience members (as far as I know), he just did his show. As Jeremy Vine said: “I've seen Jerry Sadowitz perform four times. Each gig was more offensive than the last. No one complained because that's what Jerry does.” What did The Pleasance expect? Were there complaints? As comedy writer Viv Groskop Tweeted:

If the cancelling of Jerry Sadowitz’s Edinburgh show is about nudity then loads of other shows should get cancelled too … If it’s about content ... then let grown adults Google acts before they buy tickets. It’s not difficult.

It will be interesting to see what unfolds. I can imagine that this will be a high profile and politicised case. I wonder if JS will attract the same levels of support that self-described comedian Mark Meechan did? But I cannot imagine JS standing as a UKIP candidate and hanging out with Tommy Robinson. JS seems too self-aware and highbrow an artist to take that route. And, it simply wouldn’t be funny.

I think the Edinburgh Festival is degraded by the decision taken by The Pleasance. I don’t necessarily consider denying commercial opportunities to individuals an attack on freedom of speech as such, and nobody automatically deserves an audience or attention. But the venue agreed to host an artist, who possibly sold out well in advance, and then, from what I can gather, proactively decided to deny people who had paid to see said artist’s art, even though the artist in question did nothing different to what he had done before.

This all seems a bit silly and very avoidable.

⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys. 

The Cancellation Of Jerry Sadowitz

Brandon Sullivan ✒ Around about 16:00, 13th Aug 2022, Jerry Sadowitz Tweeted the following:

Did a show last night, 75 mins, thought it went well. Didn't see any walkouts. Today I’m told my show's been cancelled. Great stuff. I'm truly sorry for everyone who travelled to see the show tonight.

When I first had the pleasure of seeing JS live, around about 2004, early in his set he said “It’s like I’m leading you all into battle. You won’t all still be here at the end.” He was right; there were walkouts. They missed incredible magic tricks performed with elegance and course humour, and comedy that was exhilarating. I can’t precisely recall too much of the content of that show, but he listed people that he hated, starting with us, the audience, moving on to the city of Edinburgh, and working his way out. He also did a piece about accidently looking up child pornography, and then being so keen to exit it that he accidently put in his credit card details. Operation Ore and Pete Townsend were big news at the time. At the end he said “I’ve never really been good with goodbyes, so, I’ll phone you” and walked off.

In a statement announcing JS’s banning, the director the venue (The Pleasance) Anthony Alderson said: 

The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material.
While we acknowledge that Jerry Sadowitz has often been controversial, the material presented at his first show is not acceptable and does not align with our values. This type of material has no place on the festival and the Pleasance will not be presenting his second and final show.

Chortle reported the following incidents which seemed to be the cause of the ban:

One audience member told the Scottish Sun: ‘He called Rishi Sunak a 'p***'; said the economy was awful because it is run by ‘blacks and women.’ He got his penis out to a woman in the front row. The problem was not the audience.

The last time that I saw Jerry Sadowitz, probably 2019, he also “got his penis out” but it wasn’t to a singled out woman – it was used as part of a scene he was doing, and it landed hilariously. He also used the ‘p-word’ – in that instance, with the word ‘Oxbridge’ in front to describe a clichéd liberal news reporter. I would place a bet that the invective on Sunak also having the word Oxbridge as a prefix to the ‘p-word.’ At the 2019 show, he also spoke of using offensive terminology, with a theatrical raise of his hat. One layer of irony means that he disagrees with everything he does a good job of persuading the audience he believes – an almost audible sigh of relief from the liberal Edinburgh audience. But then, hat back on and demonic grin: he says beneath that layer be believes everything that he says to be true.

JS has an understanding of the craft and form of comedy which places him, in my opinion, in the rarefied company of the likes of Stewart Lee and Chris Morris, and not many other people. JS, like Lee and Morris, use a barrage of psychological tricks to discomfort their audience, and bewilder as well as amuse them. But JS is far more unrelenting, much less obliging. Whilst Lee will torment an audience for minutes, keeping them nervously waiting to see where he’s going about a joke about a Muslim woman causing a delay at a London Weight Watchers, the audience can always take comfort in his impeccable liberal values. If Stewart Lee is like sitting on a ghost train, JS is like watching Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket: his delivery is genius, and the lines are comical, but is he going to hurt someone? Should I feel guilty about laughing?

I found sitting in the audience at a JS show more comfortable than at an Al Murray the Pub Landlord show. Al Murry’s show was painfully funny, but it was obvious that a sizeable part of the audience didn’t know that it was them and their worldview that was being lampooned. Murray was making political capital out of a Little Englander, not celebrating him. The joke was lost on parts of the audience. Should that have mattered? It did to me.

So what happened between The Pleasance and JS? The Pleasance’s statement is incoherent. One cannot say “The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material” and then say “This type of material has no place on the festival and the Pleasance will not be presenting his second and final show.” They are mutually exclusive, aren’t they?

JS didn’t do a Cosmo Kramer/Michael Anderson racist rant at audience members (as far as I know), he just did his show. As Jeremy Vine said: “I've seen Jerry Sadowitz perform four times. Each gig was more offensive than the last. No one complained because that's what Jerry does.” What did The Pleasance expect? Were there complaints? As comedy writer Viv Groskop Tweeted:

If the cancelling of Jerry Sadowitz’s Edinburgh show is about nudity then loads of other shows should get cancelled too … If it’s about content ... then let grown adults Google acts before they buy tickets. It’s not difficult.

It will be interesting to see what unfolds. I can imagine that this will be a high profile and politicised case. I wonder if JS will attract the same levels of support that self-described comedian Mark Meechan did? But I cannot imagine JS standing as a UKIP candidate and hanging out with Tommy Robinson. JS seems too self-aware and highbrow an artist to take that route. And, it simply wouldn’t be funny.

I think the Edinburgh Festival is degraded by the decision taken by The Pleasance. I don’t necessarily consider denying commercial opportunities to individuals an attack on freedom of speech as such, and nobody automatically deserves an audience or attention. But the venue agreed to host an artist, who possibly sold out well in advance, and then, from what I can gather, proactively decided to deny people who had paid to see said artist’s art, even though the artist in question did nothing different to what he had done before.

This all seems a bit silly and very avoidable.

⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys. 

20 comments:

  1. Coming the day after the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie highlights just how poorly freedom of speech and artistic expression is valued in the UK, unless its comrade approved art.

    So many bad takes about this on Twitter. Here's one from a "writer" who works for an indie publisher:

    "My argument against free speech is that it gestures to a theoretical impossibility, that is leads people to believe that the principle is being offended every time they face repercussions, and is weak as a defence of any individual view."

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  2. @ Christopher

    The attack on Rushdie was at the back of my mind when I wrote this - I didn't include a reference to it for a couple of reasons. The first is that I don't know much about Rushdie's work, beyond seeing a wonderful film adaptation of Midnight's Children. The other, more important reason, is that I think the Fatwa and subsequent attack on Rushdie are clear unambiguous examples of a curtailment of freedom of speech.

    I'm still trying to parse out in my own mind the differences and overlap between freedom of speech, and what happened with Sadowitz, which feels closer to a 'no-platforming' kind of thing, which doesn't involve censorship through violence or legal consequence, but can involve economic hardships (and unfortunate Stasi comparisons: see Mik Jegger in Stasiland).

    This from the BBC:

    'The manager of Glasgow's Pavilion Theatre, Iain Gordon, contacted BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime programme to say venues had to do the right thing for both their staff and customers.

    He added: "After the last visit of Gerry to the Pavilion Theatre a few years ago, it is not a show we would ever take again. There has to be limits on contents at times and we are more free than most theatres.

    "The problem with Gerry is, you do not know what you are getting. Ever."'

    What's interesting about Jerry Sadowitz is that a fair number of 'liberal-minded' comedians and commentators have come out in defence of him. I think it JS was a new act, they would not offer him any support whatsoever. It's only because they've seen his shows, often multiple times, and understand the context beyond the words.

    Whilst researching this piece, I came across this Twitter thread, which I think perfectly captures the hilarious tension of a JS show:

    https://twitter.com/ExcelPope/status/1558942459853422594

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  3. Timely piece Brandon - let them host Songs Of Praise if they are so easily offended rather than comedy. The real offence caused here is to those who paid to see the second show and were shafted by the dictatorship of the woketariat.
    Is it a censorship issue? Not directly but no platforming and cancel culture are tributaries that flow into the wider river of censorship.

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  4. Brandon,

    there is a clear link between the two. As the wonderful Kenan Malik has pointed out, the heart of the argument around The Satanic Verses is that it is always wrong, morally speaking, to give offence. This attitude has filtered through to all aspects of life, so much so that (as Hanif Kureshi has said on numerous occasions) The Satanic Verses wouldn't even be written today, let alone published.

    This idea feeds directly into no platforming. It assumes that the average person is stupid and unable to make their own mind up, therefore art and ideas need to be filtered before being presented to the public. This is a deeply condescending, and bourgeois middle class, idea.

    You are correct that, if Sadowitz was a new comedian, no one would be rushing to his defence. As Konstantin Kisin writes, 'In 2018, four short years ago, Nica Burns, the Director of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, launched the Edinburgh Festival with an agenda-setting speech. She began by describing the birth of alternative comedy in the UK in the 1980s as comics making the “conscious decision that it was unacceptable to tell jokes that were racist, homophobic and sexist”. Apart from being historically inaccurate – the main shift wasn’t about avoiding offence, it was about using jokes to tell personal stories – this gambit was the launch pad for a much more interesting pivot: “Today, it is the woke movement which is setting an ever evolving agenda as it seeks to establish a clear marker for what is unacceptable today,” she argued.

    “I think as we embrace the whole concept of the 'woke' movement, we will look back at this decade as a transformative moment for comedy, like the 1980s. I am excited!” she enthused, before adding: “I am looking forward to comedy's future in the woke world.”

    With people like that running the Fringe Festival, what chance does a young comedian who doesn't follow the leader have these days?

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  5. But what does it mean to 'be offended'? Stephen Fry said it was no more than a whinge. Hard to argue with that.

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  6. @ Christopher

    This is an area that I find quite difficult to get my head around. I remember a conversation AM and I had in which I said that a sectarian joke told by a certain Mr Murphy rightly led to his being sacked from his job, but that I didn't feel a comedian should be banned from telling said joke.

    RE:
    "This idea feeds directly into no platforming. It assumes that the average person is stupid and unable to make their own mind up, therefore art and ideas need to be filtered before being presented to the public. This is a deeply condescending, and bourgeois middle class, idea."

    I think it's more complex than that, though that is undoubtedly at play. We live in an era of manufactured outrage. The right overuses terms such as traitor, saboteurs, snowflakes, and, indeed, woke, and (self-identified) liberals overuse fascist, racist, misogynist, homophobe etc.

    I'm hoping that the following makes some sort of sense...

    The dissonance I feel comes back to a point you made a year or so ago: that the right have occupied/co-opted the 'free speech' cause, which is a failure of the liberal/left. Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak try to outdo each other in their antipathy to alleged 'wokeness' in the midst of omni political crisis affecting most of the population. That to me is the true condescension that is going on, or at least, a more authentically consequential form of it. That's not to say that what you point out isn't also happening, but to me, it's a relatively minor point compared to the threat posed by the right in the UK and elsewhere. If they weren't scapegoating 'woke' it would be something else. I find it hard to give cognisance to a concept that I think is distorted, amplified and weaponised by powerful politicians and media, usually when punching down.

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    Replies
    1. Brandon,

      Context is everything. From the report, it seems the (ahem) joke was blurted out randomly and without context. As well as this, Mr. Murphy has a well-known past (which I'm sure he wasn't shy about hinting at) and was working with people from differing sides of the socio-political spectrum. Whereas people pay money to go and see a comedian, therefore setting up the context that a performance is about to take place. Sure, you might not like the content, but it is in the realm of a performance.

      It depends on how we define ‘manufactured outrage.’ This business with Sadowitz can be seen as manufactured, as it is (ultimately) a business deciding not to work with someone based on negative feedback. However, when the surface is scraped, it becomes clear that the issues I described are at work here. Therefore, is it manufactured at all? I don’t think so.

      I did see one example of (what I would consider) manufactured outrage recently: a local Belfast band accused a well known promoter of sexually and physically assaulting them. Incredibly serious allegations to make, and the band put up a long post on social media saying that they were aware that it would cost them gigs, but it had to be done. The next day, they announced a new EP was available for streaming. It then emerged that the sexual assault was (what the kids refer to as) a ‘dick flick’ (akin to being flicked with a wet towel while in the school showers) and the physical assault was never proven.

      In regard to your final paragraph, I understand where you’re coming from. However, I don’t agree that the far right are the only threat. They are a visible manifestation of one particular side of a coin, whereas what we are discussing with the left plays into this (hence the horseshoe theory). By telling white people that they are inherently racist and limit opportunities for bettering themselves in favour of quotas on diversity, you end up creating potential recruits for the far right (a self-fulfilling prophecy). On top of that as well, you potentially create divisions within minority communities because differing groups are now competing for spots in jobs, government grants for projects and basic social solidarity. This is something that happened after the 1981 riots in Brixton and Toxteth. Thatcher started to offload money via local authorities (which were usually Labour run) for ethnic groups. As Ambalavaner Sivanandan has said, when that happened everyone became ethnic overnight (Greeks, Turks, Cypriots etc) and people were encouraged to see themselves as separate from the rest of Britain, whereas previously these people wouldn’t have thought of themselves as anything else but British.

      Delete
    2. I remember that conversation about Murphy and thought you made a good point - what is okay on stage is not ok in the workplace.

      I am in full agreement with Christopher on the threat posed to necessary discussion and reflection on society by the Woke school. There is a lot of good ideas amongst the woke but like the authoritarian left the attempt to suppress alternative ideas is what I find troubling. The Woke is giving the Right a penalty kick. I don't want to be censored, no platformed, cancelled by either Left or Right. How can we ever fully understand what might be wrong with society if we are denied the means to think about about what might be wrong, instead just submitting to Wokeist fundamentalism?
      Valerie Tarico whose work features on this blog has talked about the need for counselling that recovering wokerati undergo. It is the exact same as religious trauma counselling.

      Delete
  7. @ Steve R

    Aussie comedian Steve Hughes spends 11 seconds on his understanding of "be offended"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zob-q7TlS_4


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  8. I just had to share this, from the Aberdeen Press & Journal. Saturday 18th January 1992.

    TV Review, Alastair McCallum:

    “To put it mildly, I am not too impressed with Jerry Sadowitz, who is described as Scotland’s answer to Paul Daniels.

    In the Pall Bearer’s Revue (Monday, BBC2), he wore a bowler, a hat which has adorned the heads of past illustrious comedians, including Laurel and Hardy, Dave Willis and Charlie Chaplain.

    None of these entertainers would have devalued his talents with the level of rudeness shown by Sadowitz. It was unacceptable and had no place on TV.

    Sadowitz will have his devotees, who will follow each minute of his show avidly. If I had not been making a critical assessment, I would have baled out quickly.”

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    Replies
    1. That's still just whining. The whole point of comedy is to attack sacred cows. Ergo nothing should be off limits.

      Delete
    2. Steve - generally in agreement with that. Comedy should make us feel uncomfortable as well as make us laugh. But if nothing is off limits can it claim a right to a public broadcasting slot or should there be a dedicated venue / channel for that?

      Delete
  9. @ Steve R

    Genuine question: how would you feel if an Irish Republican comedian made jokes about the Shankill bomb on the BBC, or RTE for that matter?

    I would object to that. But I wouldn't if a venue hosted said comedian for a paying audience. I think paying to see a performer is a form of consent.

    Any time I've heard an IRA song at Parkhead, it's always pissed me off. I always think there's bound to be people in the stadium who lost a son/brother/uncle or whatever who was in the British army. I don't object to the songs as standalone constructions: but they're being foisted upon people who won't want to hear it (and probably being sung by half-drunk clown who don't have a clue what they're singing about).

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    Replies
    1. AM,

      We always have the power to change the channel if it's not to our taste.

      Brandon,

      Of course I wouldn't like it but free speech must not be infringed no matter how distasteful the content, and as I've said above we can always change the channel or not attend a venue. We can't control what comes out of the mouths of others but we can control our reactions to it.

      Delete
    2. Free speech can definitely be infringed as in the case of where it is used to bully. Bullying is a considerable threat to free speech why should it be permitted to use free speech as a shield? I don't believe in free speech absolutism. Wanna call a black guy a nigger? That is not free speech - it is free insult. I am primarily interested in freedom of opinion and inquiry and in that sense free speech becomes instrumental to that end. It is impossible to inquire and express opinion without the freedom to speak. Outside of that I have no particular attraction to Free speech.
      As for switching over the channel, I don't think the viewing public should have to do that on a public broadcasting network. Let those who want to scripture squawk or shock jock get their own channel for that. And those who want to listen or view can tune into that, much as those who want to see comedy know where to go to get it. I want to hear what hate preachers have to say but I don't see why that gives me a right to have it on public broadcasting. I think it goes back to Brandon's crucial point about venue.

      Delete
    3. But if you put caveats on what you accept as free speech you are allowing a weakness in the armour. How do we account for these? I'd accept the protection of children and the disabled but if the recipient of speech that they find whinge worthy are of mature age and compis mentis, then they can rebutt. We CAN put the distasteful on a separate channel but it will still be on the TV. It's up to us whether we watch it or lament maguires absence on the other channel...

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    4. Steve - even by preventing free speech from "intruding" in the areas of children and disabled, the caveat is introduced. I think is it unavoidable. Like yourself I am wary of the "free speech but" school and believe that anything can be said by anybody but not wherever they want - not the task of writers or artists to set the boundaries. Like sex between consenting adults - venue sets the limits. There are porn channels for that.

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  10. I remember watching a documentary that featured Darcus Howe interviewing hardcore Christians who protested against sex education leaflets. One of the protesting women passed, but couldn't bring herself to look at, a leaflet showing a depiction of two men bringing their relationship to the next level.

    Darcus had quite a sly smile on his face, and said something like "What's wrong with this? It is educational: I didn't know that they could do it like that."

    The woman was shocked. I still lol, as the kids say, when I think about that scene.

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    Replies
    1. That is the one argument for legalising flashing - if it is done in front of fundamentalist Christians! If they believe that their great willie watcher in the sky is enraged by sex, fine. Let them abstain. The rest of us are not bound by their religious opinion.

      Delete