When a comedy review becomes a hate crime. (And what to do about it.)

As a comedian of 17 years experience I’ve had bad reviews before. I’ve also had a lot of good ones. But a review I came on the receiving end of recently was so unbelievably misrepresentative and packed with lies, slander and libel it had me contacting lawyers and trade union representation. So I thought I’d write about the experience in the hope that should any other artist or performer come on the receiving end of blatant lies about themselves, lies they may find being published online, it might encourage them that there are things you can do about it. Don’t ever take these things lying down or dismiss them as part of the job.

Before I get into what was said about me and how I dealt with it I feel I should maybe put the comedy that was attacked so scathingly into a bit of context for you.

Here’s a review the material in question received from the Glasgow Herald at the Edinburgh festival.

“Given that we’ve had indyref, a general election and Jeremy Corbyn since the last Edinburgh Fringe, you might expect there to be more self-confessed “political” comedians around this year. Oh, a lot of acts will dip a toe in “UKIP are nasty” shallows, but it takes someone like John Scott to dive in head-first and punch every hideous sea creature he meets right between the eyes. Before you know it, he’s chewed up and spat out austerity, Margaret Thatcher, the paedophile scandal, benefit fraud, racism, class, homophobia, Mhairi Black and a sneezing attack on a bus (ok, the last one isn’t strictly political, but it is a great anecdote, so worth a mention). He reserves a special venom for Tony Blair and the invasion of Iraq but somehow, filtered through his comedy-club delivery, it doesn’t feel like a soapbox diatribe or a trendy-leftie ticking off: this is political comedy built from the grassroots up, an informed opinion column with a spiky sense of humour. “
And here’s a clip of me doing some of that material at The Tyne Theatre Newcastle in front of about 750 people.
OK so before we start putting this bad review into some context lets get to the guts of it and let you read it. (This still makes me feel a wee bit queasy.)
This festival of direness is brought to a climax by headliner John Scott. Once again, a set littered with standard observations (on more than one occasion he actually utters the phrase “what’s that about?”) and average stories (“all true, by the way”), the butt of which tends to be his long-suffering wife and/or women in general. There’s plenty of racism and homophobia too, with homosexuality and Islam in particular being used simply as punch lines in and of themselves, constantly alienating and othering specific groups in his audience. His entire act feels strangely anachronistic – didn’t comedy as a whole leave all that dross behind ages ago, when it realised it was much better off without it anyway.”
So there you have it. Within one sentence I am labelled a RACIST, HOMOPHOBE and ISLAMAPHOBE. How someone could reach such conclusions with the material being presented to them simply beggars belief. So how could someone come to write such a thing?
The show that’s being discussed was an Anti- Valentines special at the Stand Comedy Club Newcastle. As for my long suffering wife. Well yes there was material about her that night. Every single word of it run by her before it’s ever said in public, with a couple of the lines written by her good self. Yes I wasn’t being the romantic Scotsman that night. It was an ANTI-VALENTINES show. But let me reassure you whenever I do write or talk about women they are put into a context of strength and having the upper hand with me being the self deprecating idiot.
Let’s try for a bit more context. The reviewer that night was a young woman from Newcastle University Comedy Society. This was the first review she’s ever written (she’s obviously looking to make friends for her future career). Due to some derogatory comments she’d handed in at the interval about the night in question she then found herself the butt of the comperes jokes for the second half of the show. Not from me but from the female  compere.
The review was also scathing of all other acts on that night… apart from the compere. Hmmmmn…
There may be another problem at play here but I can’t prove it. Several years ago a prominent self anointed critic and comedy Policeman did a scathing review of me being a hack and if you Google my name it’s one of the first things to come up. As is his website for most British comics. Sometimes I think new “reviewers” head there first and then regurgitate his critique. I was so upset at this particular possible regurgitation that I’ve now contacted Google on the grounds of the European law regarding the Right To Be Forgotten to see if I can have the review removed from my timeline. If this is what it results in then I believe I have a case.
So how did I react. Well I immediately mailed the website it was published on with a letter that had the heading ” REMOVE REVIEW OR BE TAKEN TO COURT.” I wasn’t joking on this. I contacted the performers union Equity and was advised that on the evidence I could provide of the true nature of my comedy (i.e. someone who speaks out against racism, homophobia and Islamaphobia.) I had a very strong case. And it wasn’t just material I had as evidence. Just a WEEK before the review was published I hosted and self organised/promoted at The Stand Comedy Club Newcastle’s an LGBT special.  Yeah…some homophobe me!
The website I will admit couldn’t be more apologetic and removed the review within an hour of me discovering it. They informed me they were going to have to overhaul their editorial procedures and that the site was really about encouraging the arts in the north east.
I then enquired if it would be possible to get an apology or perhaps even have a meeting with the reviewer but the editors said the buck stopped with them but she would be informed of the severity of the situation. She was out reviewing another comedian THE NEXT NIGHT. So that’s why you find me here writing this blog.
The problems such slander could have caused me in my career are quite monumental. Just the following week I was sharing a platform for The Labour Party on the Stand up For Jeremy Corby tour along side the likes of Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy. You can but imagine the reaction of the people who trusted me on that platform had such accusations been easy to find with a quick Google of my name.
But the question I really ask myself is how could someone arrive at writing such hate filled lies about a performer? Is it a reflection of our current social media age? Was this an attempt to publicly shame me…or…is the writer just a hate filled little shit envious of those actually enjoying a career in an industry they so obviously are desperate to be a part of. If they read this and do wish to join us in the green rooms around the land you can be assured your crimes will be well documented.
So if you are a performer, writer, painter, juggler…whatever…don’t think you have to take abuse about your work lying down. Slander like this is not just part of our job. The writer in question should be extremely grateful I didn’t take this all the way to court…but hey…I’m generally known as one of the nice guys.
 

DAVID BOWIE ONE OF US.

 

From Brixton streets of black and Blues and working class of stock
A messianic boy named Jones was born the future king of rock.
The eyes didn’t match, the teeth needed capped, the complexion white and snowey
Yet behind those eyes lay a visionary later know as David Bowie.

David Bowie let them boogie, let the children play
David Bowie such a tease wasn’t really gay.
But it mattered not. He knew the plot. The suggestion was enough.
And a million forbiden lovers cried that there Bowie’s one of us.

He turned a planet feeling blue into a spinning glitter ball
And it wasn’t just the platform shoes that made us all feel tall
Because he blew away conformity. Made the rule book look quite petty
When he told a generation you’re beautiful, you’re changing and you’re pretty.

David Bowie let them boogie, let the children play
A million suburban heroes he birthed if only for a day
He screamed, he bawled, he was outrageous kicking up a fuss.
And from our factory production lines he screamed Rebel! Rebel!
For he was one of us.

He then shot off to Germany to escape that juggernaut called fame.
Ig and Zig and Eno stood watching lovers by a wall
The music did unite them from East and West they came
And a people reunited danced as that wall it took a fall.

David Bowie let them boogie, let the children play
A new Queen Birch named Thatcher tried to take all we had away.
But Davy boy he never flinched as he lifted us from dread
Put on your shoes, you know the ones, they’re revolution and they’re red.
OK the came some albums we’d rather not discuss
But that just proved he’s fallible because Bowie’s one of us

How many days have we left? With Hours you told us Seven
Then on a morning cold in January Look up here I’m in Heaven
From Stardust to Blackstar the circle was complete
To celebrate your legend we went Outside, did some dancing, tears fell upon the street

David Bowie let them boogie, let the children play
Your legacy is like diamond forever here to stay
Your songs will ring forever on the streets where they’ll be busked
And in a million years when they ask why we’ll say because he was one of us