Broadcaster Tam Cowan defends Jerry Sadowitz over ‘outrageous' Fringe ban as he reveals curbs on radio jokes
Broadcaster Tam Cowan has hit out at the “outrageous” treatment of Jerry Sadowitz, told how his Radio Scotland show has had to be toned down because of the risk of causing offence, and revealed how he avoids joking about women’s football due to the likelihood of triggering protests about sexism.
Cowan, one of Scotland’s leading after-dinner speakers, has defended Sadowitz after the plug was pulled on his Fringe show in the wake of complaints about its "extreme” content, saying his shows were “a wee release from the 21st century”.
The co-presenter of Radio Scotland’s Off the Ball show for more than 25 years said the comic’s venue, the Pleasance, had let themselves down for dropping his show, which it claimed had triggered an “unprecedented” number of complaints about racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny.
Speaking at the Fringe, Cowan told how jokes which would previously have been broadcast on air by the BBC without triggering any complaints were now seen as too risky “because people were not so keen to jump on the offended bus”, and told how he had begun to fall foul of charities which had book him over the content of some of his material.
He revealed how had become embroiled in a lengthy “legal battle” after reading out a joke about Rangers and Celtic on Off the Ball, which takes a satirical look a Scottish football each week.
Cowan said he was still angry at the criticism levelled at him over a controversial newspaper column about women’s football, which led to a suspension from BBC Scotland nine years ago, after he suggested Fir Park, the home of the club he supports, Motherwell, should be “torched” after playing host to a women’s football match.
The Pleasance came under fire from Fringe comics earlier this month after suggesting that “the line was crossed” by Sadowitz.
During an in-conversation event with Graham Spiers at the Fringe, Cowan, a regular at the comic’s stage shows, said: “I think it’s outrageous. Jerry is absolutely brilliant. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you go to see him.
“It’s well advertised that if easily offended then stay away. If you Google him it tells you everything about him.
“The Pleasance have left themselves down very, very badly, but they have done him no harm whatsoever.
"I am going to see him up in Perth in October. Ticket sales for his shows have gone through the roof.
“You know what you are getting with him - anything that has been in the news, celebrity deaths are his speciality, horrible murders, just the darkest of dark stuff, but it is a wee release from the 21st century.
“For 75 minutes you think it’s like being back in the playground at school, when you would tell jokes about anything and everything, all the disaster jokes that you couldn’t wait to tell your pals back in the day.”
Recalling the furore over his 2013 newspaper column, in which he described an international women’s football match at Fir Park between Scotland and Bosnia as “a turgid spectacle”, Cowan said: “What really angered me was the line that caused the bother, where I said the stadium should be burnt to the ground after playing host to a women’s international. It was the amount of folk who said: ‘How dare you?’
"Of course I didn’t want Fir Park torched. I’m going into my 44th consecutive year of having a season ticket there. It’s like my second home. That’s what got me about it.
“I didn’t mind anyone taking offence at stupid, puerile, school jokes. But that’s where folk built up a head of steam.
"I’m not stupid. There’s nothing to be seriously gained by properly offending someone. I just made sure I dealt with it in the proper manner. I put out an apology to anyone who didn’t get it or didn’t like it.
"There was no malice in it from me. It was horrible at the time. Anybody who knows me knows I’m not like that.
"The thing that gets me, for all the jokes that we’ve made in the past about Alan Rough with his perm and all that, or Frank Haffey conceding nine goals to England, if you dare saying anything the performance of a female goalkeeper, oh for f**** sake, they’re out with the torches outside the BBC. I mean, where is the equality there?”
Cowan told how he had been accused by a listener of “fanning the flames of sectarian hatred” when he read out an Old Firm-related joke about Larkhall on Off the Ball, which the complainer took to the BBC, its board of governors and industry regulator Ofcom.
He said: “I would love to meet the guy who complained. I wasn’t allowed to contact him. He was clearly-only half listening. He put two and two together, got 119 and complained, and I had to fend off all this nonsense for telling a joke.
“I hate the whole Rangers Celtic thing. Anybody who knows me knows I absolutely abhor the whole bigotry and sectarianism thing. I’ve got no time for it.
"The worst thing you can say to some people is, ‘To be honest with you, it goes in one ear and out the other’. They think you’re being dismissive of it and are almost giving it the nod. It irks me, of all the things that you can get into trouble over.”
Cowan was asked by Spiers about the prospects of putting on his own one-man show at the Fringe.
He said: “I’m toying with the idea for next year. All I need to do is get a venue. If you’re going to do it you’d want to do it properly and do it every single day or night for a month.”