Jerry Sadowitz cancelled: Cool heads and mature discussion needed over surreal Fringe episode – Brian Ferguson

There have been more than a few surrreal episodes in the 75-year history of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Jerry Sadowitz's Fringe show was pulled by the Pleasance after his opening night performance at the EICC.
Jerry Sadowitz's Fringe show was pulled by the Pleasance after his opening night performance at the EICC.

But it is hard to recall anything quite as bizarre as the ban on the Scottish stand-up comic and magician Jerry Sadowitz.

His show is by a country mile the most discussed out of the 3,500 being staged at this year’s Fringe – yet it had just one performance before the plug was pulled on Sadowitz and is now impossible to see in Edinburgh.

Two months after the world’s biggest and most celebrated “open access” festival, Sadowitz will perform the show he was not allowed to in Edinburgh during an extensive tour of venues across Scotland, including Hamilton, Galashiels, Perth, Livingston and Kilmarnock.

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While ticket sales for these shows will certainly have had an almighty boost since the Pleasance pulled the plug on Sadowitz on Saturday afternoon, the controversy has not reflected well on the venue operators, one of the biggest staging Fringe shows in Edinburgh this month.

On the face of it, its decision appears inexplicable, given that Sadowitz is probably the one regular performer at the festival that a hardened Fringe-goer would seek out if they wanted to find a show likely to cause offence.

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The Glaswegian performer, whose politically incorrect routines have been performed on Edinburgh’s stages since the 1980s, had long since ceased to be a source of controversy at the festival.

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He had been booked for two nights at the EICC by the Pleasance. However, in many ways, he had become a peripheral figure at the Fringe as generation after generation of new comics emerged.

So how on Earth has one of the longest-running venue operators stumbled into a stramash which casts up all kinds of questions about the future of the Fringe for audiences, performers and venue workers?

It is perhaps the last group, which may well have include people in their first jobs, that holds the key to understanding the decision.

Walk-outs and complaints from members of the public have been inextricably linked since the earliest days of the Fringe.

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But if people working in venues are not prepared to put up with the material they are seeing or hearing, then that is another matter.

Regular Fringe-goers may find this notion ridiculous given the anything-goes ethos of the event, which was underlined only two months ago in a blueprint published by the Fringe Society, headlined with a pledge to “give anyone a stage and everyone a seat”.

The Pleasance’s decision to pull one of its own acts who had been performing at the festival for decades would seem to call into question the open-access principle.

The aftermath of the cancellation of Sadowitz’s show – a decision which obviously had to be taken a few hours ahead of his second performance – was clearly no time for cool heads and mature discussion.

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But when the dust settles on this row and this year’s Fringe is wound up, there perhaps needs to be some serious thought about how to ensure performers have the freedom to put on the shows they want while respecting the people who are working at the event, ensure the festival is as inclusive, diverse and welcoming as possible, and for there to be no repeat of a damaging and embarrassing episode.