Andrew Lawrence: The Hate Speech Tour | Review by Steve Bennett

Andrew Lawrence: The Hate Speech Tour

Review by Steve Bennett

Andrew Lawrence takes a perverse pleasure in being Britain’s most-hated comedian.

He was surely the most written-about act on the Fringe last year, with a proudly contentious show inspired by the bruising online fights he had after expressing right-wing views on immigration. Problem was, the show veered wildly between sounding like one of Katie Hopkins’s vile columns and the work of a intelligent comedian.

This year he’s refined his shtick. The targets are better chosen, and he’s made it explicit in a pre-show announcement that this is a comedy show so these may not be his sincerely held views. And if you think they are, you’re an idiot. There’s special scorn in this lengthy preamble, too, for journalists who’ve fuelled a climate where certain things cannot be said. Accept my terms that you may hear offensive material or leave now, he says, entering into a contract with his audience.

Is ‘only joking!’ a get-out-of-jail card that absolves a comic from any responsibility for their words? I’d say not. But a social backlash – as Lawrence felt when he became a pariah last year – seems an appropriate reaction, not the huge fine Canadian comic Mike Ward, also at the Fringe, was served for his bad-taste jokes. It is against this creeping censorship that Lawrence is taking arms.

In The Hate Speech Tour, he focusses his bitter rage almost exclusively on the agents of the left who enforce political correctness. That seems a fair target: in the liberal arts world, and to some extent beyond, that’s even punching up, as they have all the power.

Previously, he used the banner of free speech to attack the vulnerable who the left sought to protect, which seemed a much less worthy target – fuelling hatred towards those groups, joke or not. It was certainly less comfortable to hear.

Despite finessing his intent this time around, Lawrence still has issues with the funny, as he’s prone to very long rants building up to punchlines that aren’t always worth the wait. During one of these diatribes early in the show, a member of the audience decided to express his own free speech right by yelling out: ‘Say something funny.’ And although he had a valid point, he interjection probably strengthened Lawrence’s position, because nobody likes a boorish heckler.

Most of the show wouldn’t pass any political correctness test, but errs more on the side of the provocative than the downright nasty. Dismissing camp gay men for using homosexuality as a substitute for personality, for instance, is an attack on behaviour, not sexuality, and he makes that clear.

And we can probably assume that his sympathy for Islamic State terrorists were they to target the Fringe is tongue-in-cheek. The target’s his jealousy of comics doing better than him and his animosity towards the comedy establishment he thinks has kept him down.

His most convincing counterpoint to such critics would be to dazzle with a devastatingly hilarious show, for if you’re funny enough audiences will laugh first and judge later. The Hate Speech Tour isn’t that.

But he’s getting clearer about where the nastiness is directed, rather than lashing out wildly in all directions – and the censorious quite probably deserve it.

Review date: 22 Aug 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Assembly Roxy

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