Why can't I be a prick?

Fringe accused of heavy-handed censorship

The Edinburgh Fringe has been accused of censorship, double-standards and ‘snottiness’, after refusing to allow stand-up Stuart Goldsmith to call himself a ‘prick’ in the official programme.

The comic says he is frustrated and bewildered’ by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society’s demand that he amend his show’s title from Prick to Pr!ck for the official brochure and website.

However, titles with arguably greater potential for offence, such as Kunt And The Gang and Reginald D Hunter’s Work In Progress... And Niggas, have been left untouched.

According to a Fringe spokesperson, these contrived spellings ‘are sufficiently self-censoring’.

But it appears the festival is getting stricter on certain words. Richard Herring is reprising his show Talking Cock, which was listed as such in the 2002 programme – but has been modified to Talking C*ck: The Second Coming this year.

Goldsmith declared himself ‘absolutely staggered’ by the decision to ban the title Prick. ‘So they’re happier having the word “Nigga” with the “gangsta” spelling than “prick”’ which a little old lady could use?,’ he said.

Goldsmith says his ‘barely acceptable compromise’ could cost him ticket sales. A search for ‘Prick’ – which he will use on publicity around the Pleasance at the festival – returns no results on the Fringe’s website, even though tickets are now on sale. And some Google searches for ‘Pr!ck’ finds his show ranked lower than an artwork exploring the mating behaviour of hermaphroditic earthworms.

Conceived as a reaction to reviews that described him as ‘likeable’ and ‘charming’, the title was chosen, Goldsmith says, because ‘it’s abrupt, plosive, in your face and quite explicit from the poster that it’s a description of a smug, overbearing, awful human being.’

‘I love the dissonance of me going “Hey, look, I’ve spent all this money on an advertising campaign, saying ‘look at me, I’m a prick!” But the censor deflates that joke completely.

In tandem with the brochure’s 40-word blurb, ‘... selfishness, narcissism, violence and a winning smile. This show will make you a worse person ...’] the Fringe argued that Goldsmith was ‘making the context too explicit.

He said: ‘They were a little bit snotty about it, saying “if you’re intending a double-meaning, then you’ve failed”. What? Is this supposed to be something we’re working on together?’

In 2001, the Fringe featured a St George Medics’ revue, Just A Little Prick, while Dan Atkinson’s 2009 show, Death By A Thousand Pricks, took its title from moronic radio callers. Neither was censored in the programme.

The Fringe office said: ‘Mistakes have been made in the past with some show titles but these shouldn’t be taken as precedent.

‘The Fringe Programme has a print run of more than 400,000 with an estimated readership of 1,000,000.  The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society has a responsibility to make sure that the programme is as suitable for as wide an audience as possible.  We therefore work with participants to make sure that show titles, descriptions and images in the programme are family friendly.’

The spokesperson admitted that if a theatre company sought to present Simon Bent’s play about playwright Joe Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, with its thinly-veiled double-entendre title, ‘then we wouldn’t ask them to change it’.

‘Prick’ is currently rated as moderate swearing by the British Film Board of Classification, on a par with ‘wanker’ and ‘bitch’, and acceptable in a film with a 12 certificate. A 2000 report by the Adverting Standards Agency ranked it as the seventh most offensive swear word, whereas ‘nigger’ was fifth and ‘cunt’ first – with 96 per cent of people saying it was a fairly or very severe word. Posters for Hunter’s 2006 Fringe show, Pride, Prejudice and Niggas were banned from the London Underground when it transferred to the West End.

Goldsmith isn’t alone in accusing the Fringe of petty censorship. Writing on his blog, publicist John Fleming accused the programme compilers of ‘mindless bureaucratic stupidity’ and ‘overkill’ after Photoshopping an additional balloon on to a thumbnail-sized publicity picture for The Greatest Show On Legs, which featured the scarcely discernible tip of one of the late Malcolm Hardee’s testicles.

– by Jay Ricahrdson

Published: 8 May 2012

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