Jerry Sadowitz: Pleasance claims 'the line was crossed' by Scottish comic's ‘extreme’ Fringe show

One of the biggest venue operators at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe says it was forced to pull the plug on an “extreme” Scottish comic because it could not ignore his on-stage “racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny.”

Scottish stand-up comedian and magician Jerry Sadowitz was banned from continuing his Fringe show by the Pleasance.
Scottish stand-up comedian and magician Jerry Sadowitz was banned from continuing his Fringe show by the Pleasance.

Actors, comedians, writers, poets, singers and broadcasters have hit out after the controversial stand-up and magician had his Fringe show banned in the wake of complaints from audience members and staff.

However the Pleasance said it had a “duty to respond” to a large number of people it said had walked out of the Glaswegian performer’s show at the EICC because they felt “uncomfortable and unsafe.”

A new statement from the Pleasance responding to criticism that it was guilty of double standards, by championing freedom of speech and cancelling a performer whose routines were well known to cause offence, suggested that “stories and language that were once accepted on stage” now needed to be challenged.

The Pleasance said it could not associate with material which “attacks people’s dignity,” adding that there was no place for racism, homophobia, sexism or misogynistic language in its venues.

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    Fred MacAulay, Brian "Limmy" Limond, Katherine Ryan, Richard Herring and Michael Redmond have been among the comics to offer support to Sadowitz after the Pleasance pulled the plug on his show on Saturday night after a performance the previous evening.

    Broadcaster Piers Morgan and Jeremy Vine, Waterboys singer Mike Scott, actor Tam Dean Burn, poet Jenny Lindsay, and actress and writer Emma Kennedy have also hit out at the decision from the Pleasance.

    It has claimed that it "champions freedoms of speech" and does not "censor" performers, but has also suggested Sadowitz’s show has “no place on the festival.”

    Audiences were warned in advance that the 61-year-old’s show – Not For Anyone – would contain “strong language and themes some may find distressing”.

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    According to reports, Sadowitz exposed himself on stage, made sexist comments and delivered a racial slur targeted at former Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

    Sadowitz, a regular performer at the Fringe since the 1980s who is renowned for performing offensive material, has insisted he was not aware of anyone walking out of the first of two Fringe shows at the EICC.

    However the new statement from the Pleasance said: “Due to numerous complaints, we became immediately aware of content that was considered, among other things, extreme in its racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny.

    "We will not associate with content which attacks people’s dignity and the language used on stage was, in our view, completely unacceptable.

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    “A large number of people walked out of Jerry Sadowitz’s show as they felt uncomfortable and unsafe to remain in the venue.

    "We have received an unprecedented number of complaints that could not be ignored and we had a duty to respond. The subsequent abuse directed to our teams is also equally unacceptable.

    “At the Pleasance, our values are to be inclusive, diverse and welcoming.

    "We are proud of the progress we have made across our programming, which includes significant investment and support for Black, Asian and Global Majority artists, LGBTQ+ voices, those from working class backgrounds, and the strong representation of women.

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    "We do not believe that racism, homophobia, sexism or misogynistic language have a place in our venues.

    “In a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged. There is a line that we will not cross at the Pleasance, and it was our view that this line was crossed on this occasion.

    “We don’t vet the full content of acts in advance and while Jerry Sadowitz is a controversial comedian, we could not have known the specifics of his performance.

    "The Pleasance has staged his work numerous times over the years, but as soon as we received complaints from those in the building which caused us great concern, we knew we could not allow the final performance to go ahead.

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    “The arts and comedy in particular have always pushed the boundaries of social norms but this boundary is always moving. Our industry has to move with it. However, this does not mean that we can allow such content to be on our stages.”

    The plug was pulled by the Pleasance on Sadowitz’s second and final show on Saturday afternoon, just hours before he was due to return to the stage.

    He later told his Twitter followers: “Did a show last night, 75 mins, thought it went well. Didn't see any walkouts. Today I’m told my show's been cancelled. Great stuff. I'm truly sorry for everyone who travelled to see the show tonight.”

    Herring said: “Jerry is a challenging comedian but that’s the whole point of his act. The Fringe should not be cancelling shows in any case. Very worrying development.”

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    Vine said: “I've seen Jerry Sadowitz perform four times. Each gig was more offensive than the last. No one complained because that's what Jerry does.”

    Ryan said: “Very strange to cancel someone’s entire run for apparent ‘offence’ when there’s a content warning right on the booking page.”

    MacAulay said: “This is an utterly dreadful development.”

    Scott said: “I don't know what Jerry's been saying but the Pleasance can't cancel his show and in the same statement say they champion free speech. It's one or the other.

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    "Cancel the show or champion free speech. That's the choice. Don't pretend it's otherwise.”

    Lindsay said: “I think there are far too many young writers, comedians, arts staff, venue workers, who do not realise just how abnormal and unhealthy it is for things like this to happen.”

    Morgan said: “Imagine getting a comedian cancelled on the day Salman Rushdie was stabbed? Pathetic. Free speech is being destroyed."

    Kennedy said: “Going to a Sadowitz show and thinking you’re not going to be offended is like jumping into a tank of sharks with a bloody leg thinking you’re not going to be bitten. You get what you pay for. Cancelling him is ridiculous.”

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    Anthony Alderson, artistic director at the Pleasance, said: “The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material.

    "While we acknowledge that Jerry Sadowitz has often been controversial, the material presented is not acceptable and does not align with our values. This type of material has no place on the festival.”