How fragile are radical feminists if they're threatened by debate? | Comedy promoter Alfie Noakes on the backlash he's facing © Steve Best

How fragile are radical feminists if they're threatened by debate?

Comedy promoter Alfie Noakes on the backlash he's facing

It has been an illuminating two weeks since I wrote an article for Chortle entitled Comedians Should Tackle Feminist Radicals . The lessons, and the ironies, abound.

The majority of my critics seem to have been blind to the fact that I wrote I'll 'work hard to book a diverse bill'. Here's one representative comment: 'It'll be a load of privileged blokes punching down…" from the delightfully named Ruby Sparklepants.

More people chose to contact me directly than posted online, and most of these took the position that they did not agree with all I had written but on balance felt it was a relevant/reasonable article – then typically took me to task for a specific element.

Fine. It's a complex issue and I'd be surprised if I nailed it 100 per cent (and in 1000 words) and I'd be stunned if I were 100 per cent wrong. Somewhere between those poles is where the most truth and reason surely lies. You know, the grey areas… the areas ideal for exploration by comic minds.

I made an early decision in how to respond to postings on my Facebook group. believing that the best thing would be to let the acts, and the show, do the talking. Rather, I opted to further educate myself by absorbing relevant media.

I then occasionally responded to some of the comments with topical links to articles, podcasts and video clips. And I believe that the single most significant comment that I found regarding #MeToo came from cultural critic Laura Kipnis in an interview that I re-posted: 'A definition of wisdom is being able to hold two competing ideas simultaneously and #MeToo has gone too far… and not far enough…'


I'm a huge fan of the HBO Show Real Time With Bill Maher and I was gratified to hear Bill interview New York Times journalist Bari Weiss on his show, four days after my article landed, covering much of the same terrain.

It was revealing that one of my more vocal critics commented in response to my posting that interview, negatively of course, within one minute. It was a seven-minute clip!

It seems that 'The Comedy Bills' are pretty much on my side of the issue, and each happens to be a comedy hero of mine; Bill Maher, Bill Murray and Bill Burr. If only Billy Connolly had commented on this I'd have the greatest line-up of comedy Bills' possible.

Bill Burr gave a great interview about #MeToo days before my piece published, though I did not know until after, and Mr Murray has commented since.

Ironically, I've been criticised by a lady whom I have threatened with police action over a bombardment of messages inviting a romance. On one morning I awoke to more than 80 sent by her during a single night. #HeToo (Do I need to write that's a hashtag joke and I do not actually intend to draw a false equivalency? Probably.)

How I chuckled when 'Emily Pankhurst' was brought up by a female poster as a reference to criticise me… thank you to the man who pointed out to her that the legendary suffragette was actually called 'Emmeline'.

I was also accused of hypocrisy as I wrote of 'free speech' yet had barred someone from my room. The man was barred because he physically threatened another act during a show. I did the right thing and would do it again. Knowing something of this individual, he would be part of the problem that many women face. There are bad men out there, they do need dealing with, which brings me to my key point… please, let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The key word 'radical' in my article seems to have been a tricky word for many of my critics to read or remember. I feel that two particular feminists have, separately, created a significant contrast in the discussion.

A lady who I have long been on friendly terms with, though we disagree on much, is Suzi Wild, who wrote a rebuttal article entitled 'Feminism's gone too far? You try being a woman in comedy!"

I clearly can't try that since I am a man. I can however watch and listen, discuss and pay attention, educate myself, think and make observations. I have currently concluded, along with some very impressive company, that we are in a tricky time for comedy and free speech, hence, the insightful Aziz Ansari sketch on SNL.

Suzi made some fair and relevant points. Of course I disagree with some, viva la difference. For example, I have to challenge the notion that 'rape jokes were everywhere' in 2010. Really, no, they were not.

In fact, Suzi was one of the first acts that I invited to perform at the feminism challenge show (in certain ways Suzi was an inspiration for the show after witnessing her many Facebook updates and comments), she politely declined and instead wrote her article in response. Absolutely fair enough.

Now, contrast the behaviour of feminist Suzi Wild to the feminist Kate Smuthwaite.

I politely emailed Kate and invited her to take part in the show and made it clear that since it is a free show I can offer no fee, however, there would be a repscted photographer there and so a cool portrait shot would be provided and a copy of her filmed set. Of course, Kate would also get stage time to make her points. No fee, but still not 'for free'.

Various people declined my invitation to perform, each of them were polite. Ms Smurthwaite took a different approach by posting my invitation on her Facebook page and then wrote the following:

"WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS? Would I like to go onstage FOR FREE and do my actual professional job to defend my own BASIC HUMAN RIGHT to equality and liberty for the benefit of a man who thinks feminism is about Facebook profile options and calls women SHRILL for daring to raise an opinion in public and accuses women of CHOPPING SOMEONE'S HEAD OFF if they complain about a man but conveniently forgets that men are still ACTUALLY MURDERING WOMEN in the UK at a rate of two a bloody week. NO I FUCKING WOULDN'T. I'd rather eat my own young. And I respectfully suggest Chortle shouldn't be publishing this crap, **** could do better than to offer free photo shoots at such an event and whoever runs **** (and I know a lot of you know those people) needs to stop hosting this kind of pointless bigotry.'

I believe that I might know what you're thinking. That was a remarkable use of capital letters.

Or maybe, you're thinking, did she really just conflate male-on-female murder with a themed open mic comedy show? (How fragile is her political position to be so threatened by such an event?)

Could it be you're wondering, how many straw (wo)man arguments can be worked into such a short rant?

Perhaps, most importantly, did we just see an alleged professional act call for the censorship of a comedy show?

Could you be thinking, did this really happen from an act that has her own history of being outraged at having her own shows sabotaged and censored (indeed just a history of being outraged), in relation to her radical feminist views?

I'm very sorry to report that the posting, and dog-whistle call to attack all involved in the show, specifically the venue, was so concerning to our hosts that they asked me to pull the show.

Kate Smurthwaite got us censored!

I need to be clear, my room is great and in a cracking venue with wonderful management which is highly supportive of comedy (they just confirmed with me a slew of Edinburgh preview dates to add to our other events, you're welcome, comedy community. We have run more than 250 shows with them in less than two years. However, they are a bar that hosts comedy and they do not want this kind of trouble, quite understandably.

Can we see that somewhere in the space between the reasoned Suzi Wild and the unhinged Kate Smurthwaite, that there is a problem in the feminist arena?

So which side do you choose? Are you OK with censorship? Is it more palatable when called for by a feminist? Does the feminist Kate Smurthwaite represent your own sense of feminism? Or is there a spectrum of feminism? Are there grey areas? Are there areas to be explored? Or a faction to be deplored?

I have spoken of radical feminism as my concern, referring to encroachment on free speech and increasing public witch hunts which seem to be increasingly circumventing due process of law.

Remember, I promised a diverse bill on a show entitled Feminist Talking Points and not Bitches Be Crazy – Discuss.

Before we got shut down, the bill was already part booked. The age difference between the youngest and oldest act is almost 50 years, equally male and female, British and non-British, white and non-white and I won't make assumptions about the acts' sexualities.

Comedy rooms, especially at the open mic level which nurtures the next generation, should not always be 'safe spaces'. Like universities, they ought to be a place to incubate and nourish new voices, ideas and talent.

I was clear that the newly politicised We Are Funny Challenge shows would be a series, and to their credit, my venue is still welcoming these shows. We will now launch the first such event there on March 21 with a show entitled War On The War On Drugs. Let's hope that El Chapo doesn't start throwing an ill-informed tantrum on social media or that gig might get censored too.

I am already in contact with various venues and am committed to making the feminism show happen. The venue that will host us is yet to be known. It will surely be a special place that takes freedom of speech issues seriously, maybe a professional dedicated comedy club, able to host a show that will become far bigger than it would have been… watch this space.

#wetoo (That's not a real hashtag, so far as I know, as I'm not even on Twitter)

Published: 23 Feb 2018

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