Tag Archives: comedy

Egon, But Not Forgotten

24 Feb
"That's a Big Twinkie" Harold Ramis as Dr Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (1984)

“That’s a Big Twinkie” Harold Ramis as Dr Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (1984)

Harold Ramis, who was best known for his role as Dr Egon Spengler, one-quarter of the Ghostbusters, and avid collector of “spores, moulds and fungus” died today aged just 69. But should he have died at 89, or 109, he would still have been too young, and his death would still have come too soon.

He leaves behind a substantial and inspirational body of work as a writer, director and actor, such as Animal House (1978) Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). However, it was Groundhog Day (1993), where he directed Bill Murray as a self-absorbed TV weatherman that made the biggest impact on a new generation of actors, comedians, film lovers and everyone in between.

For many, Ramis became synonymous with great American comedy, thanks to his one liners and his ability to subvert the traditional ‘straight man’ role easily, making the serious character more comic, accessible and likeable. In fact, what made Egon funny, and indeed, what made a lot of Ramis’ films very funny, was his ability to take the power from the ‘funny guy’ on-screen with such simplicity.

Before he became a comedy performer, director and screenwriter, Ramis began his working life as a substitute teacher, he also worked in a mental institution before moving into journalism, working as a freelancer for the Chicago Daily News and as the Joke Editor and reviewer for Playboy‘s Party Jokes section. He then moved into radio and television, working with Murray, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi on National Lampoon’s Radio Hour, and the legendary Second City comedy troupe.

While Bill Murray’s mostly ad-libbed performance as the unorthodox parapsychologist, Dr Peter Venkman, is still a highlight of both Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989), it’s Ramis’ more subtle asides, such as the infamous “Do.” “Ray.” “Egon!” one-liner, complete with that self-effacing smile as the Ghostbusters warm up their proton packs that lingers long after the credits have stopped rolling.

In a world dominated with a media obsessed by celebrity and notoriety, Ramis managed that which many modern public figures struggle to do; create great, lasting work with grace and humility, inspiring countless young people along the way. He built a good reputation, gaining the love and respect of his colleagues, including Murray, although the pair were estranged for years after the release of Groundhog Day, but reconciled before Ramis’ death.

In recent years he continued writing, directing and acting, appearing in comedies such as Knocked Up (2007) Year One (2009), and directed the films, Analyze This (1999), the sequel, Analyze That (2002) The Ice Harvest (2005) and a handful of episodes of the US version of The Office (2006 – 2010).

It’s a strange thing, when a celebrity that has influenced us dies. We mourn because we feel that their death means that we have lost a part of ourselves, a precious piece of our lives that cannot be replaced. We mourn because their death reminds us that this person was only human after all, and therefore, we ourselves, are only human, with an unknown amount of time left on the planet.

His work was original, simple, silly, but always brilliant, and an appearance from him in a film made everything better. His brief cameo in the comedy Baby Boom (1987), made me watch until the end in the hope he would reappear. He didn’t.

Ramis brought such joy to my childhood, and I feel much poorer knowing that his new work won’t be a part of my adulthood.

Thanks for everything, Harold Ramis.

L-R Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters (1984)

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters (1984)

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Trash Interviews Mike Sheer

24 Oct

A few weeks ago, the Canadian comedian, Mike Sheer published a piece on Chortle, in which he discussed rape jokes and whether women can be funny. The piece was meant to be tongue in cheek, and promote debate on attitudes to women in comedy and rape jokes in general. It was not well received by a number of people who read it, and so, after Mike commented on the blog I wrote about the subject, I asked him if he’d be willing to be interviewed via email about the piece, the backlash it created and his thoughts on the whole situation.

He agreed. This is the interview, with Mike’s responses to my questions appearing in full. The only changes I have made is adding anchor links when they were needed.

Tell me a bit about yourself, how you got into comedy, why you came to the UK, etc.

I am a 31 year old Caucasian man born and raised in Toronto, Canada. All my family except my sister and me are from England, so we dodged that bullet. When I started doing comedy, my background was in live music, acting, and writing monologues & horror stories. I ended up at a college in Toronto that had just started a comedy program. I wanted to do sketch comedy and theatre.

I never had plans to be stand up comedian, but it fit in with everything I wanted to do: write, be on stage, travel, anger & disappoint people. Also, the incredible difficulty appealed to me. I remember thinking stand up comedy was perfect because you can do anything you want.

I arrived in the UK to live in 2009 after years of being back and forth between Melbourne and Toronto. I came here because this is supposed to be where you go to do comedy when you’re Canadian and don’t want to live in the US.

When did you first notice comments in the comedy industry about women not being/being funny? 

Within a week of living here. The first things I was told were “women aren’t funny” and “Canadians are funny”. I thought, what about Canadiennes?

My Australian girlfriend who I moved here with was doing a bit of comedy and initially got involved with the Laughing Cows thing in Manchester. I hung out with them one night and heard all about the prejudices.

Obviously, women can be very funny, why do you think comedians are still asking whether women are funny?

First of all, as far as I know it’s not really comedians who are asking it. It’s audience members and bookers. But mainly journalists who think it’s a surefire interesting topic.

I really think to say women aren’t funny you are belying a deeper issue you have with females. Like I said in the article I wrote:

“I hate how they appear to like me and then rarely do. So when one steps behind that microphone, can you blame me for reeling?”

This goes for both sexes. I know women who say women aren’t funny, but then go on to show they have issues with the gender.

The thing is that people judge comedians on physical appearance – whether that means boobs, facial hair, skin colour, whatever. It’s natural. It’s up to the comic whether or not they want to incorporate that in their act. I think a lot of comedy courses now tell you to, but there’s few things as awkward as when a comic rattles off superficial gags about their appearance and no-one cares. This can happen with more urbane crowds. And it’s how I feel when I watch someone. Like, I don’t really give a shit what you look like. I just want to know what’s up with you. If that involves how you’re perspective has been shaped due to your physicality that’s cool, but own it. Don’t make it a gimmick.

I went through a phase where I thought all grossly fat comics were hilarious because the pathos of being that unhealthy and also wanting to comedy was a funny pairing to me. It’s the humanity behind the pretense to humour that I find hilarious. Some of the most poignant, jaw-droppingly hysterical moments in live stand up I’ve seen have been when the mask slips out of place by accident. A lot of comics are able to recreate that but nothing’s funnier then when it happens by mistake.

For example, I will never forget this act that I went to comedy college with. He was a clean-cut suburban boy who really wanted to be a stand up. Week after week he would come up and try to slickly deliver these awful bits about hot dogs and the Backstreet Boys. Then one day he came in all unshaven and told us his girlfriend had split up with him. He went on stage and started ranting away, calling her a “cunt” etc. It was so funny, because you were seeing the real him.

I seem to have really really gone off topic.

What is your opinion on rape jokes? Have ever told one, or would you tell one?

I’m going to give this question a lot more thought than I ever have before, because I’m interested in knowing the answer too.

Okay, after the more thought, here is the answer:

I have a joke that implies I rape a turtle. I have a joke about the tip of my dick getting ripped off like a bottle cap by the teeth of a Scottish woman. When I’m being heckled by a particularly imposing Alpha male figure in the audience I’ll often insinuate I am going to be sexually violent at him, usually with the microphone stand. Or vice versa. Does that count?

One of the things that pisses me off and drove me to write the brilliant piece of damning satire that I did, is that “Rape Joke” has become a meme. We bandy the term around like it can only mean one thing: a whimsical quip regarding the rape of a woman. The kind of thinking that leads us to say “STOP RAPE JOKES”, and the perpetuation of it, is what devalues it as an issue people genuinely have with comedy.

It’s one of those things that’s considered a problem, but is not. It’s a symptom.

Also, if some people want other people to stop making jokes about rape, these people need to come up with a better way than directly complaining about it. The kind of person who make jokes about something like sexual violence is not going to do what they are told, or even asked nicely. I always thought this was obvious, but it’s clearly not.

Anyway, maybe I am wrong here, but I assume when you ask if I tell “rape jokes” you mean jokes about a woman being sexually brutalized? The answer to that is no, I’ve never done that. And no, I wouldn’t sit down with a strong black coffee and rack my brain trying to write one.

When I was doing comedy in Toronto, a “rape joke” would be taken to mean a joke about male-on-male prison rape. Generally the punchline being that it’s instigated by “a big, black guy named Bubba” or some such thing. And no, I’ve never done that joke either.

Do you think rape jokes and jokes about women being funny are acceptable for a comedian to say in 2012?

That’s an interesting question because you used the word “acceptable”.

I’ll put it like this: I wrote an article making fun of attitudes towards the debates of funny women and rape jokes. I’m not sure I would say it, in that I would not do it in my live act. This is mainly because, what are the chances your audience cares/knows about these issues? I wrote it on the internet instead, where it’s more relevant, thinking that it would find its audience, which it did.

As far as it being “acceptable” (I keep putting that words in quotes because that’s what we do when we hate a word but still have to use it, as if we are protecting our other words from it’s horrible presence), I am of a belief that most comedians share: say whatever the fuck you want. As a comedian, it is your right. You’ve earned it. Especially in 2012.

Because, to be a comedian, you will have subjected yourself to the worst of humanity as someone in a weakened position. Nearly every comedian has a tale about being attacked at or after a gig, mostly apropos of nothing. We know what is funny to say and what is just cuntish to say. We know. And we always deal with the consequences – mainly because you have no other choice, but also because that’s part of the arrangement.

So the only time it isn’t “acceptable” to say something as a comedian, is when you are doing it without any aspirations of humour in mind. In those cases you are just a local psychotic (who can also potentially be quite entertaining).

But the ongoing debate about whether or not it’s okay to do is never going to be solved. A lot of comedians that are of a certain ilk, of which I am one, see the world for all its ills all the time. I am constantly seeing the flaws in everything. That’s why we get so defensive and/or reactionary when it’s implied we don’t know what’s “acceptable”, or that we’re being “offensive”.

Why do you think comedians are using rape jokes? And why do they seem to be using them more now?

First of all, there’s the easily adaptable formula of taking something horrible and addressing it in a light-hearted way. This is a fun game to play with a bunch of your idiot friends, but doing it in your act is selling yourself short.

But like I said in the article, there are billions of gigs popping up all over the place. Also, billions of people want to be comics. And good, honest, and/or interesting material is a grinding & risky slog. So people form their act in unison with what they think people will want to hear. And going with the general misogynist tone in some areas can perhaps give birth to the Rape Joke.

Something that the Twitter/blog reaction to my article really drove home for me was the desperation people have for content. Everyone online is trying to build an empire through their blog, loads of comedians are trying the same with Twitter. And me as a spokesperson for misogyny and rape became a solid piece of content that people eagerly latched on to. This is the same thing that shitty comics are doing in shitty towns at shitty gigs all over this shitty world. Using iconic tragedies as content.

Is there a correct way to perform or tell a rape joke, in your opinion?

With an arrow-through-the-ears headband? A Canadian accent? A cheeky wink and a vagina? No, I wouldn’t deign to know the correct way to do anything. However, if you look at Jimmy Carr who does some rape jokes in the classic sense, you should probably do it in front of an audience of thousands who bought tickets to specifically see you.

What inspired you to write that blog post? Was it because of a specific situation, or was it the result of many situations and conversations that you’d witnessed over time?

Yes it was a build-up. Things like how the Australian girlfriend I mentioned earlier made a hilarious & interesting comedian, but was so put-off by the industry that she didn’t want to do it anymore. The weirdness of having quotes by intellectual beacon Christopher Hitchens shoved in my face as unequivocal proof of women’s unfunniness. Online aggressors demanding an end to “rape jokes” and those that engage them. The constant flow of articles pondering women’s funniness written by morons who think it’s an actual subject worthy of study. Feedback from idiots who consider themselves comedy experts because they own a television. Pretty much anyone whose ever analyzed comedy in a destructive way.

Can you tell us what happened with Chortle? Did they approach you and ask to use your blog, or did you approach them?

Chortle provides a free space for people to write articles about comedy. Even though they end up being mostly re-imaginings of the same topics, it’s a great thing for them to do. I’d submitted one once before . I’d sent in another one but was told it was too jokey to put in. When I sent in the Women or Rape article I figured it would be turned away too.

How did you think people would react to your blog? Did you think they would see it as satire?

I had no idea that anyone would see it as anything but satire, but to be completely honest I didn’t really think about it that deeply. I know I’ve just gone on about us comedians being savvy etc. but I didn’t apply all my analytical faculties to this one. It made sense to me, and a couple of other (female) people I sent it to.

As soon as Chortle put it on, I got another email from them saying to look at the outrage on their Twitter timeline. I had a look and was surprised, but thought it was hilarious someone would think anyone would actually mean these things in the way they were written. I went out to do a gig and didn’t get back online until about midnight when I saw the true fury.

Quite a few blogs, and even an online petition, had popped up. As I said before, it’s mostly people trying to brand themselves and be the go-to for insightful opinion on the latest moral scandal. They need content. And if it’s content framed in a context they are secure everyone else believes, all the better.

It was funny seeing people pick apart arguments within my article that were hugely absurd, and posit that I sincerely believed it. Writing a blog decrying me as a misogynist rape fanatic must have been a gloriously easy task. Low effort and huge reward in terms of readership. That’s why I liked your blog, because it wasn’t sensationalist and asked questions.

But I really do think it’s all fair enough. The internet is weird because you can hear everyone’s opinion. In real life, nothing would ever get done if you knew what every single person thought.

What did you think of Chortle’s response to the blog? Do you think Chortle should have used your blog?

Sure, that’s why I sent it to them. I think they had the appropriate response. Chortle – as far as I know – is the brainchild of one man, and he got the joke. So he responded accordingly by saying he got it and there it is.

Did Chortle advise you on how to deal with the fallout from the blog? 

No, they were as surprised by it as I was.

Your blog obviously got a lot of negative coverage, was there any piece of criticism that stayed with you, or anything that you agreed/disagreed with?

The biggest thing I learned was how the internet works. It’s a frontier, and frontiers are always rife with terrifying pack mentality when it comes to justice.

I should have put in a caveat when posting to Chortle. Since the audience was so broad, I guess it did need something to indicate I was joking. Again, I didn’t think of the scope I was reaching, and the possibility of decontextualisation. If it was in my live act, I would have been more careful.

I try very hard to look behind the words people use and see what they really mean, and it’s because of this that I wasn’t bothered by the criticism. A lot of people were quite transparent. They came at me with harsh words, petitions, hashtags like #mikesheerisacunt (which I’d like to keep going) – but it didn’t/doesn’t bother me because it’s not really directed at who I am and what I stand for.

I put out the follow-up article afterwards and some people have said they’re disappointed I had to. But I did it in response to all the women’s groups, rape crisis centres etc who thought it was a serious piece of hate speech. That was something I felt I needed to put right.

Once it became known it was intended as satire, people wanted to stay angry. So it just boiled down to a group of people saying I’m a bad, unfunny writer. My Twitter allies closed ranks and took care of them for me. But surprisingly, there were a few comedians joining in the criticism. I found this odd, because in my experience comedians don’t openly get involved in these things. Oddly enough, I think a lot of those comedians suck and are boring too, but I would never tell them! Why would they need to know that? Even ones who write insipid, cloying articles for free morning newspapers.

Do you think your blog has helped raise awareness of these jokes, or simply made you seem like something you’re not?

It’s hard to say. I wanted to push the arguments about these issues so far that we could move on from them, and I sort of feel like I did that, but as a side effect I became a pariah. It’s funny how we are more keen to target an individual and create a devil out of them than get anywhere with real issues. We are truly a tabloid culture. At the risk of sounding like a negative nelly, I’ve learned that very few people have an interest in accomplishing anything, as our personal hang-ups always get in the way.

The reaction to this was so mixed, in terms of people loving it, hating it, chuckling and moving on, etc. But I got the impression that those who really hated it but knew I’m not a jerk needed it to be a failure. So I got quite a few “sorry you failed, better luck next time” type comments, which I’m happy to play along with.

Now this whole free speech thing has come up, where people are getting arrested for dumb jokes online. And now Frankie Boyle is in court defending his TV show. It’s all so stupid. He’s being called a racist because of things on his show that we’re meant to parody fascist opinions. And he’s coming out about being in anti-racist groups etc. But it’s like that stuff doesn’t matter these days – words speak louder than actions.

Without getting into the free speech topic too much, as it’s quite boring, I have to say that to me part of having it is that it’s self-policing. A lot of people didn’t like what I said, and misinterpreted it, but they came forward and abused me. That’s the way it should be. Real law doesn’t need to be involved

What’s next for you? Are you going to continue blogging, writing online and gigging?

Yeah, I’m going to try to do a lot more of the online article writing thing.

I’m getting told a lot to try to do a stand-up show about this experience, and I’m playing around with that. This year I’ve had a pretty great UK festival run with my solo show Undergod  and am hoping to bring it to Canada in the new year. I’ll be doing the UK festivals next year with something new anyway. The act is always doing something.

Right now I’m also doing a lot of work with my ska band Rags Rudi – we’re recording an EP and gigging around town. It’s great playing with them because you can make people have a great time and never have to explain yourself to those who didn’t. Know what I mean?

Is This Chortle’s Idea of a Joke?

2 Oct

Today, the comedy website Chortle (which I won’t link to, because frankly they’ve had enough traffic for one day) published a piece in their Correspondents section – part of their website where comedians write “first person opinion pieces” about issues affecting comedy – by a comedian called Mike Sheer. The blog, (which again I won’t link to, because it’s had enough hits for one day) was called ‘Women or Rape: Which is Less Funny?’ and was seemingly, Sheer’s attempt to answer, once and for all, that age-old question of whether women are funny, by comparing women to every Fringe comedian’s joke du jour: rape.

In the piece, Sheer decided that while women aren’t really that funny, an idea he explained by using several incredibly humourless and brutally offensive anecdotes about women getting an easier time of it because they’re “weak and soft”, they were less funny than rape jokes. Although, he was in support of rape jokes in general as the censorship of them, according to Sheer, is “abhorrent”.

The piece, as you can imagine, was not received very well online, and on Twitter at least, people are already announcing that Sheer’s career is over, and Chortle has come under heavy criticism for publishing the article. However, Sheer has had some support, not least from fellow comedian James W. Smith who revealed in his blog that the piece originally appeared on Sheer’s personal blog, and was republished by Chortle. Smith’s blog actually gets to the real crux of the issues with Sheer’s piece, which is that while he knows him personally and also his comedy style, Chortle should not have republished his work.

Herein lies on of the many problems with Sheer’s article. The internet, unlike the human mind, doesn’t come with a sarcasm alarm; no klaxon sounds in our ears when we read something that the author has intended as a joke, albeit a very unfunny and sexist one. The fact that Sheer is not very well-known, and his views on the subjects of rape and women appear to be so extreme means that a lot of people are going to read what he’s written as opinion, not humour. Additionally, when you write such sexist material you’re going to elicit a response that you haven’t prepared for.

However ‘hilarious’ Sheer’s intentions might have been when he wrote his article, Chortle’s decision to repost it is what really concerns me, as does their response to the online reaction the piece has caused. Chortle’s Editor, Steve Bennett was quick to defend the article saying “…we’re not about causing needless offence” before stating that the piece was about making fun of issues of censorship and arguments about what is appropriate inside the comedy circuit. However, Bennett didn’t apologise and he ended his statement by admitting that he found the negative reaction funny, saying: ” The fact people have taken this article seriously might be the funniest thing I’ve ever heard, outside a fart.”

Whether Sheer’s piece is simply a poor attempt at satire, or a platform for him to make a better name for himself by being controversial, the fact remains that the continuing popularity of rape jokes in the national and international comedy circuit must be addressed. Bennett’s defence of Sheer’s work, which veers on the standard response of “It was just a joke” reveals a lack of understanding and empathy for the power that any writing about rape has on people, or the gravity of the depth of feeling towards the use of rape jokes in the comedy circuit.

Put simply, any fool could make a rape joke, and it seems like most fools do, especially if they are paid to go on a stage and say it in front of hundreds of people. However, the way many comedians use rape as a source of their jokes doesn’t do anything for the crime or its victims. Recent incidents, such as when the American comedian Daniel Tosh, who dealt with a women in the audience who disagreed his statement that “rape jokes are always funny” by saying: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” reveal that more and more comedians view rape victims as something to be laughed at. In Tosh’s case, he used the threat of gang rape; a brutal and repugnant act of sexual violence, in order to silence a woman who merely disagreed with his material.

Rape is a violent crime, it is not about sex or desire, it’s about power and control, it’s about one or more people violating another human being in the most despicable and inhumane way. We must find a way to talk about it more, to help end the stigma that exists in our society that stops victims for coming forward out of fear of not being believed. The same stigma that vilifies the victim through the use of cruel practises like victim blaming, where society blames the rape victim for any reason, such as walking home late at night, being in a relationship with the rapist, being drunk, having had a drink, or simply for wearing a short skirt. Telling rape jokes like the ones that Tosh et al have championed is not the way. If anything, the rapists are the ones most deserving of a dose of satire, of jokes and of laughter because they have to prey on others for their own twisted and pathetic pleasure.

So what next for Sheer and Chortle? While it looks like they tried to do something different with this piece, they’ve offended a lot of people, regardless of their intent. An apology issued by both Sheer and Chortle would go some way to make up for the offence caused by the article, as would make a donation to a rape charity or a local rape crisis centre. In the meantime we can only wait and see what happens next.

Trash and The Libel Case Or, How to Piss Off a Theatre Critic

9 Sep

I updated this blog for the first time in nearly three months last week, but I couldn’t update again without discussing the tale of my recent experience of dealing with a very difficult company at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This encounter was very unpleasant, stressful and infuriating. Despite my anger, I’ve decided not to name the company involved, but for the purposes of this blog I will refer to them as Sunshine Inc.

This was my fourth year of reviewing during the Fringe and my first experience of being a Fringe editor, as I took up the post of Scotland Editor at The Public Reviews in May. In the midst of sorting through the thousands of Edinburgh Fringe PRs I received, my editor, John, forwarded me a PR for a Fringe show, suggesting that we book tickets and make a fun evening of it. The show was being performed by Sunshine Inc, and was presented as a two-hour long interactive comedy show, that involved actors impersonating characters from a famous TV comedy.

I booked the tickets for the show through their internal PR contact, a woman I’ll call Melina, who, I have to stress was very polite, helpful and friendly at the beginning. I did have to move the tickets by one day because of a scheduling clash, but again, Melina was very accommodating, and both myself and John were very much looking forward to the evening.

The show, however, was not like we expected, and we quickly realised that while the characters in the piece were designed to look and sound like the TV characters – they dressed similarly, and they even used their famous one-liners – this was where the similarities to the TV show ended. The evening consisted of these actors using new and ‘original’ content instead of established sketches from the TV programme, which wasn’t what I was expecting. Suffice to say, I didn’t enjoy Sunshine Inc’s offering, and I wrote what was I felt was a negative, yet honest and fair review, which was published on The Public Reviews website shortly after. In my review, I stated that the show was “unauthorised” as when I researched the show, I found a number of articles and quotes from the makers of the TV show saying that the show had not been authorised by them. Quotes from Sunshine Inc’s Managing Director, Francis, revealed that he hadn’t contacted the makers of TV programme to ask for permission to use the characters. Furthermore, on Sunshine Inc’s website they stated in the small print that their work had no association with the makers of the original TV show. So, with this information to hand, I mentioned in the review that the show was unauthorised.

A few days after the review was published, Melina emailed me to ask if we had any feedback on the show, and I replied with a link to the review, along with a brief response explaining that I hadn’t enjoyed the evening, but thanking her for inviting me and John along.

Melina’s response was interesting, to say the least; she emailed me back almost immediately and asked for the details of our “Managing Director” stating that there were points in my review that were of “great concern”. I responded, explaining that John, my editor, was the best person to contact and included his email address.

However, Melina emailed me again to ask for John’s mobile number, but because John was reviewing throughout the day, I was unwilling to share his phone number without his consent, or without him knowing what was going on. I decided not to respond to her email immediately, and concentrated on getting in touch with John to explain the situation.

As I tried to get hold of John, however, Melina continued emailing me demanding John’s phone number, saying that Sunshine Inc’s managing director, Francis, wanted to speak to him. Again I didn’t reply to her emails as I was concentrating on getting in touch with John. However, Milena’s emails continued, and she then began demanding that I remove the review from the website “immediately”. She also claimed that the show was authorised, yet didn’t say by who, and didn’t produce any evidence of this authorisation. When that failed to elicit a response from me, she further claimed that my review was “lies” and was therefore “libel” and again demanded I take the review down “immediately”, or they “would take legal action'”.

After reading these emails, John asked Milena to send him an email detailing her concerns, and to also highlight what parts of the review that she and Francis believed to be libellous. He further asked her to include the evidence of their authorisation so that we could address their concerns. Milena, however, ignored this, and emailed me again, telling me to take down the review before they took legal action. I replied, repeating what John had said, and also stressing that we couldn’t help them until they told us what issues they had with my review. I also asked her to send me evidence of authorisation, and asked for specifics, including the details of who exactly had authorised the show, such as the TV channel, the production company or the show’s writers.

Milena responded, ignoring my request, offering no evidence of authorisation, and further accusing me of trying to discredit the company, alleging that I had something against Sunshine Inc. This is untrue; I had never heard of Sunshine Inc until John forwarded me their Fringe PR in May. After reading this email, and following legal advice, I was told not to respond to any further emails from either Milena, Francis or any other representative of Sunshine Inc, as they had stated they were taking legal action, and could use our emails against us in the future. The lawyer also assured us that if they really were taking legal action, we’d be hearing from their lawyer, and not them, as they would also be told not to contact us for the same reasons.

However, despite my silence, Milena continued to email me throughout the day, and her emails became steadily more aggressive and more bizarre. John even forwarded me an email that Milena had sent to him, alleging that I was involved with a rival theatre company, naming the founder of that company, a woman I shall call Julie, and stating that this company had a “history of malicious intent” against Sunshine Inc. Incidentally, when Milena emailed John with this allegation, she inadvertently libelled me and Julie by alleging we were working together. These emails culminated in Milena taking a screenshot of my Twitter account, stating that the nature of my tweets regarding their show, which had been written after the review had been published, showed my negative review had been “premeditated” and that they were “taking further action”. They further accused me of “gross unprofessionalism”.

I contacted the Fringe Media Office to ask for advice about the situation. To my surprise, they told me that they were aware of what was happening, as Sunshine Inc had contacted them earlier that day. They told me that in a phone call that lasted around an hour, both Milena and Francis had spoken to Fringe media officers, demanding that the Fringe use their “considerable power” to force John and me to remove the review from The Public Reviews. The Fringe Media Office refused, as they don’t possess that power, nor do they want to.

A few days later, someone from Sunshine Inc called my mobile, but I let the call go straight to answer phone. They didn’t leave a message, and luckily, they haven’t tried to phone me since. Their emails, however, continued until the end of the Fringe, as they emailed John on several occasions to ask for the details of our “Managing Director” and for an address, so they could send an “official letter of complaint.” Eventually, John emailed them back, explaining that we had no managing director, we had no official address as we are online media, and that the best way to get in touch was to email him with specific concerns. Which, irritatingly enough, was what we asked them to do weeks earlier, when they had first made legal threats. They responded, asking “Who owns and runs The Public Reviews?” To which John explained that he did, and we haven’t heard from them since.

This happened during the second week of the Fringe, and while I like to consider myself as an experienced and confident reviewer, this incident shook me to the core. It made me question myself, my writing, my abilities and my voice, and was an extra stress during an already incredibly stressful time. I trained in art journalism for two years at university, and I have worked hard for the last three years since graduating to establish myself as an honest, objective and constructive critic. While I have had my fair share of abuse because of my reviews, this is the first time that I have been threatened with legal action for what I have written. I researched the piece thoroughly, as I do with every review I write, and I wrote a truthful and accurate review.

What’s very interesting, however, is that Sunshine Inc had one other reviewer attend the show, who also gave them a negative review. I have spoken to the editor of that publication, and they have not been contacted by anyone from Sunshine Inc. Recently, I made contact with one of the writers of the TV show, who confirmed that Sunshine Inc had never received authorisation from him to use his characters in their show.

Reviews are, essentially, the reviewer’s opinion, and as with any thing else in life, opinions will differ on almost many subjects, especially when it comes to performance. People are entitled to disagree with critical opinion, just as they are entitled to disagree with popular opinion. However, threats of legal action, and the intimidation, bullying and harassment of journalists simply because someone disagrees with what they have written, are immoral, unethical and odious. I cannot and will not be treated this way, by a company that are so desperate to undermine my authority and my review that they are prepared to not only accuse me of libel, but also in turn, libel both me and Julie in email correspondence. I have no idea if Milena and Francis have threatened journalists before, but judging by how quickly they threatened me with legal action, I would hazard a guess that this probably isn’t the first time that they’ve done this.

My advice to any company that is disappointed with a review is to see what they can take from it. If the review is constructive, then there will be something positive in there that you can learn from. If the reviewer has made an error, such as a spelling error, or got the name of an actor wrong, then feel free to contact them and tell them. Journalists, like all human beings, are fallible, and often work to very tight deadlines, especially during Fringe time. Tight deadlines, full schedules and many, many sleepless nights can lead to mistakes in copy. Editors are often very happy to correct inaccuracies when contacted.

However, a difference in opinion is simply a difference in opinion. Libel law exists to protect people who have been libelled and who have had very unfair things said about them in print. It does not exist to prosecute journalists who give a show a negative review, and it most certainly was not created to be used as a threat designed to intimidate journalists, editors and bloggers. Libel is a very, very damaging word and process, it comes with responsibility and should only be used if there is an actual case for libel proceedings. Journalists are busy people. Journalists are especially busy during the Fringe; we don’t even have the time to respond to the most basic emails during August, let alone waste precious hours and even days, dealing with baseless and utterly false allegations against us. I am very angry that I had to devote what little time I had during the Fringe to Sunshine Inc, because it cut into my reviewing schedule, which meant that I couldn’t attend the shows that I really, really wanted to review.

So to all journalists and bloggers: familiarise yourself with UK media law; study it until you can recite it. Join the NUJ – they have lots of lawyers who can deal with threats like this on your behalf. Stand your ground, don’t give into intimidation, bullying and aggressive, underhand tactics by “companies” like Sunshine Inc.

To all the people who supported me during this difficult time, including John and Glen at The Public Reviews, my close friends and family, the Fringe Media Office, Liam Rudden of The Edinburgh Evening News, Nick Awde of The Stage, and the CATS panel, including Michael Cox, Joyce McMillan, Mary Brennan, Allan Radcliffe, Mark Brown, Neil Cooper, Mark Fisher, Thom Dibdin and Gareth K. Vile: thank you. Your words and advice were of great comfort, and I’m so glad that you took the time to listen to me and support me last month.

And finally, to Sunshine Inc, I will say this: journalists communicate with one another. This means that if you threaten a writer or a publication with legal proceedings, other writers will hear about it. Once others learn about your treatment of journalists, it damages your reputation more than any negative review ever could. Some might say that’s ironic, but to me, that’s poetic justice.

Update: Following a request from Interactive Theatre International (formerly Interactive Theatre Australia) I am happy to confirm that the show and company in this blog have no connection with Interactive Theatre International or their show, Faulty Towers The Dining Experience which was performed at B’est Restaurant at this year’s Fringe.

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