The comic Jerry Sadowitz has been cancelled, according to various figures on the right. This is appalling, they say: everyone knows Sadowitz should be allowed to get his penis out on stage, wave it at a woman and call Rishi Sunak a P*** with zero consequences. Jerry has always been offensive, so he should be allowed to continue being offensive well into the 22nd century. And the Pleasance Theatre, the Edinburgh Fringe venue that booked his performance last Friday (12 August), had no right to cancel his next gig. They should have known what he was like and not booked him in the first place. It’s censorship on a par with what’s happened to Salman Rushdie, they claim.
Sigh. Unless the news cycle has moved on significantly by the time you read this, a fatwa calling for Jerry Sadowitz’s death has not been issued by the Iranian leader (I would be amazed if the country knows who he is). He has not been stabbed, has not just been taken off a ventilator and has not been living in fear for his life for the past 33 years. Sadowitz has merely had one gig cancelled and will soon start a tour, so the publicity from this furore will no doubt be very welcome. Far from being cancelled, he’s simply been barred from performing at one of the hundreds of comedy theatres and clubs in the UK. He’s still free to ply his trade anywhere that will have him.
Full disclosure: I have never seen Jerry Sadowitz perform, despite having been a comic on the UK circuit for 20 years. The thing is, most of the other people taking part in this debate haven’t seen Sadowitz perform either, as he doesn’t often do gigs and seems to have mainly done magic shows recently. There are no videos of him online as he asks people not to film him, and apparently issues takedown notices if any footage is uploaded. So it makes perfect sense that the Pleasance staff wouldn’t have been aware of the nature of his act. Simply warning that it’s “offensive” wouldn’t prepare most people for seeing a man who is neither black nor Asian using racial slurs towards these minorities.
Sadowitz is reported by an audience member to have used the word P*** to describe the UK’s ex-chancellor (and no, that doesn’t stand for “posh”). His supporters say that if I only saw Sadowitz perform, I would understand that he’s an “equal opportunities offender” – that he makes fun of white people too. I recall the same argument being used in defence of the racist comic Bernard Manning. And I’m baffled as to why Sadowitz is the only non-Asian comic allowed to use a slur I remember being shouted at my beloved Indian grandad by a gang of white youths when I was five years old.
I can’t help but notice that most of the people queuing up to defend Sadowitz are white men, who can’t possibly understand how unpleasant it is to hear hate speech directed at your race – and nor will they understand how having a man expose his penis at you can feel violating. But ha ha, Jerry’s so edgy and he’s a comedy legend, so people of colour and women just need to get over themselves, right? No one has the right not to be offended.
Which is true, but people have the right to complain, to not attend Sadowitz’s gigs and to not host his shows. And that is literally all they’re doing.