Earl Okin

Earl Okin

Earl Okin’s first TV appearance was a child on the show All Your Own in 1959,but he began his career proper as a musician, recording his first single in the Sixties at Abbey Road. During the Seventies, he opened for such acts as Fairport Convention, Van Morrisson and Wings.

Also in the Seventies, he moved trough the folk circuit, where he encountered the likes of Billy Connolly and Jasper Carrott, who started to introduced comedy to their acts. When this circuit crumbled, Okin moved to the new alternative comedy circuit, and was invited to perform at the now legendary Comic Strip. He has been on the ciruit ever since.

Okin has also been an Edinburgh Fringe veteran, claiming to have performed more shows there than anyone else (502 over 18 years), and has performed his variety act around the world.

He has also had his own radio 4 series, Earl Okin & Friends, and recorded several albums of music and a couple of comedy.

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I'm not racist, insists comic who likened Rishi Sunak to Buster Keaton dressed as a monkey

Earl Okin defiant amid Facebook storm

Veteran comedian Earl Okin has sparked a racism storm after posting a photograph likening Chancellor Rishi Sunak to Buster Keaton dressed as a monkey.

More than 400 people commented on the post, overwhelmingly saying the comparison was racist.

But Okin refused to bow to their pressure to remove the image, insisting he was mocking the politician for being right-wing, not for his Indian heritage.

In fact, the 73-year-old claimed anyone who saw anything problematical in the post exposed their own 'racial obsession' as he was 'colour-blind' himself.

Okin – a bossa-nova aficionado who has supported Paul McCartney and Van Morrison on tour – originally posted the pictures with the caption: 'Two random pictures. Absolutely no connection between them whatsoever.'

Once the racial connotations were pointed out, Okin added some context by explaining that he thought the Chancellor looked clueless like Keaton.

However, he did not explain why he had chosen a picture of the silent comedy great in make-up as a monkey from  routine in his 1921 film The Play House.

Responding to the scores of critics whom he called 'ridiculous', Okin said: 'I have no intention of taking this down and it has nothing to do with racialism whatsoever. 

'I couldn't concentrate on what the Chancellor was saying because I couldn't get Buster Keaton out of my mind. There's anti-racialism and there's ridiculous PC. 

'Had our chancellor not come from an Indian family, nobody would be writing any of the above drivel. I'm personally colour-blind. For me, he just looked like Buster Keaton. If you don't think he looks like Buster Keaton...fine. I think he does. 

'This is just bit of fun. I think it's the facial expressions. That said, I'm much more against this Chancellor because of his approach to "helping" those at the bottom of the pile. He's a right-wing Tory. He comes from the world of Hedge Funds etc. 

'By the way, there's also something about the way that Boris moves that makes me think of a gorilla.

One of his Facebook followers pointed out: 'There's a significant difference between saying he looks like Buster Keaton and saying he looks like Buster Keaton pretending to be a monkey. I realise you're having trouble seeing it but this is racist.'

But Okin shot back: '...and saying that Boris reminds me of a gorilla? No. It isn't racialist except in your mind. It's the facial expressions that are so alike'

'It's not offensive at all. It's a joke about someone in a very high position. I can't see that it will affect the chancellor in any way! If you want to see it as offensive, that's YOUR choice.

'YOU lot are much more racialist than I. It didn't even cross my mind that the Chancellor was Indian. I was poking fun at a right wing Chancellor who looked perplexed much of the time that he was speaking, reminding me so much of the expression on Keaton's face in this sequence. All YOU could see was the colour of his skin. All I could see was a Right-wing Tory.'

The incident has echoes of the post that cost Danny Baker his job with the BBC last year. In that incident, the broadcaster tweeted an image of a couple holding hands with a chimpanzee dressed in clothes with the caption: 'Royal Baby leaves hospital,' which was seen as a racist reference to Meghan's African American heritage – although he insisted he had not realised any racist overtones and said his intention had been 'to lampoon privilege'.

Okin was a schoolteacher before turning to showbusiness. Primarily a musician. He moved to the alternative cabaret scene when he appeared on Parkinson with Young Ones star Nigel Planer, who invited him to perform at the Comic Strip. 

Okin was a regular at the Edinburgh Fringe from 1983 to 2000, when he vowed not to return in protest at its growing commercialism. However he considers himself primarily jazz singer/musician and songwriter,  and some of his songs were covered in the 1960s by the likes of Cilla Black, Georgie Fame and Helen Shapiro.  

Here's the scene the Buster Keaton image was taken for, part of a sequence in which the comedian was recreating a variety show in a dream sequence.

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Published: 1 Apr 2020

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