THE last laugh this week will surely go to the controversial top-hatted anarchic comedian and self-deprecating magician, Jerry Sadowitz.
Ever since his second Fringe show, Not For Anyone, at the EICC, was axed at the last minute by the offended management of the Pleasance Theatre, ticket sales for his October tour have gone ballistic, selling out in record time.
It’s an extremely clever sales and publicity trick that Jerry himself would have been proud to conjure up, if only it had been deliberate. It wasn’t; but it’s proof, if any were needed, that there is still a huge public demand for his outrageous brand of dark comedy and unsettling social satire.
The hasty decision by the Pleasance’s director, Anthony Alderson, to cancel Jerry’s second show after supposedly receiving a string of audience complaints and walkouts on the first night, was farcical.
Not least because Anthony publicly stated that the Pleasance was “a venue that champions freedom of speech” which “does not censor comedian’s material” – and then did exactly that. He cancelled the show with immediate effect and justified the decision with some woolly waffle, that he believed that “opinions such as those displayed by Sadowitz were not acceptable” and they “did not align with our values”. Values that seem to have been made up on the hoof.
Jerry is an irreverent comic ghoul, a seasoned veteran steeped in the black arts of alternative entertainment, and no stranger to controversy. When he was once banned for calling out Jimmy Savile for the depraved creature he was, Jerry should have been given a medal.
Anyone who buys a ticket for one of his shows knows only too well what they’re letting themselves in for. As should have the self-appointed moral guardians at the Pleasance Theatre. To say otherwise is disingenuous because his advance publicity material and website clearly warns that his show is Not For Anyone and warns that the show contains “Strong language and themes that some may find distressing”.
As comedian Andrew Doyle succinctly says in his recent UnHerd article, “The man is a monster, but he’s also one of the best showmen in the Edinburgh Fringe”; to denounce “Sadowitz’s onstage persona as racist, sexist, or homophobic makes about as much sense as condemning Macbeth for his ruthless ambition”.
Jerry has rightly hit back at the venue’s claims, saying: “In addition to now being told there were multiple walkouts and ‘abuse of staff” my act has now been cheapened and simplified as unsafe, homophobic and racist. I am not J** D******** folks. A lot of thought goes into my act ..... I am offended by those who, having never seen me before, hear words being shouted out in the first five minutes and storm out before listening to the material”.
Celebrities including Fred MacAulay, Jeremy Vine, JK Rowling and Piers Morgan have jumped to defend Jerry – something that they or I would not have done if Jerry were any of these awful things he has been accused of. Morgan tweeted: “Imagine getting a comedian cancelled on the day Salman Rushdie was stabbed? Pathetic. Free speech is being destroyed.”
He’s not wrong. In May, the king of comedy cringe, Ricky Gervais, was forced to defend his new Netflix special SuperNature, which sees him tearing into cancel culture and the woke brigade. He said: “I try to remind them that a joke is a joke” but “it’s often taken out of context”. He added that “some people want to be offended, it’s their job; if somebody wants to be offended, they’re going to be offended, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”
Sadly, that now seems to be the direction of travel that our once-great comedy industry is heading because, as Andrew Doyle warns, it is being “dominated by those who are comedy illiterate”. The Pleasance Theatre and many in the Edinburgh Fringe really have forgotten how to play it for laughs.
It really is a comedy of errors, if ever there was one.