Now who's causing offence...

Comics hit back over newspaper 'slurs'

Richard Herring is considering taking legal action against the Guardian after an article suggested his act was racist.

A pre-Edinburgh piece by comedy reviewer Brian Logan entitled The New Offenders Of Stand-Up Comedy mentioned a podcast and stand-up routine in which Herring expressed a ‘purported hatred of Pakistanis’ and another routine in which he ‘claims to support the BNP’s policy to deport all black people from the UK’.

Elsewhere it said: ‘This year, veteran comic Richard Herring is sporting a Hitler moustache for his show in which he argues “that racists have a point”.’

However, Herring is furious that the quotes have been taken out of context to support an argument that comedians are increasingly turning to gratuitously offensive material for the sake of a shock.

On his Warming Up blog, he wrote that in an interview with Logan he was ‘largely critical of offensive comedy, arguing that it takes a very experienced and thoughtful comedian to get away with it’.

‘Either deliberately or through journalistic incompetence, [the article] totally misrepresents both the interview and my material,’ he added. ‘To have those contentious lines quoted our of context, with absolutely no explanation of what else takes place can have no other effect than to make the casual (and even the quite careful) reader assume that I am a racist.

‘It is true that I do utter those words, but it is followed by a smart and interesting routine about our attitudes to race and ethnicity and then about 40 minutes of me railing against the BNP and encouraging people to stand up to fascism.

‘He makes me sound glib, racist and needlessly controversial. And that just seems a double kick in the teeth given how the new show not only goes to some lengths to discuss issues of offence in comedy.

‘To begin with I was just a bit put out, but over the day I got angrier and more depressed about it. I wrote to complain to the Guardian but the letter has not yet been published…

I hope the Guardian will give me right to reply and am even looking into my legal options as I think this gives such a warped impression of the interview and my actual opinions that it comes close to defamation.’

Herring was not the only comedian to be upset by the article. Former if.comedy winner Brendon Burns has written to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger demanding a full apology in print at the way he was portrayed.

‘[Logan] has painted me as a hateful, ignorant man and he has committed a defamation of my character,’ Burns said.

‘During the interview I stated again and again that, for me, comedy is about taking down bullies. Why he would then in turn set out to paint me as a “gratuitously abusive” sub-intellectual bigot that doesn't know or understand his own audience is beyond me.

‘In the show [So THIS Is Offensive Now] we worked very hard to expose bigotry and hypocrisy. Pretty much everyone but Mr Logan that saw the show managed to figure that for themselves.’

The comedians’ anger was intensified by the fact the piece appeared in the Guardian, a newspaper usually sympathetic to the artistic intent of liberal comedians.

Herring said of the interview: ‘I felt I could talk in quite a lot of detail about what I do without fear that he would become sensationalist and take things out of context.’

And Burns added: ‘If this were in a more lowbrow reactionary publication I would have laughed this off. But to be labeled such in a paper I have loved, read and respected for years? I cannot and will not stand for this.’

The comedians have received support from fellow stand-ups.

Dave Gorman wrote on his blog that he was angered by the piece, saying: ‘This isn't the fleeting ire one feels at seeing a friend get an undeservedly bad review. This particular article goes beyond being just plain wrong. Not only does it brand someone as racist, it knowingly ignores plenty of facts in order to do so.’

Brian Logan has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Published: 29 Jul 2009

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