Jerry Sadowitz is such an alternative comedian that even the Edinburgh Fringe – renowned for being alternative – can’t cope. The US-Scottish comedian is so alternative that even he doesn’t appear at the regular alternative shows like Live at the Apollo or indeed, Mock the Week. His style is deliberately outrageous and he addresses the most controversial of issues in a uniquely provocative manner.
Simply put, he isn’t for everyone.
But he is for some people – each to their own, as the saying goes – and Sadowtiz has made a successful career of playing to a cult audience at small comedy clubs up and down the UK.
But not at the Pleasance venue in Edinburgh. After his first performance there on Friday night, the venue dropped him. The reason it gave was: “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.”
Pleasance director, Anthony Alderson, said in his statement that “the material presented at his [Sadowtiz’s] first show is not acceptable and does not align with our values … the Pleasance will not be presenting his second and final show.”
Apparently they dropped him because so many in the audience complained to the venue. What’s odd about this is that the outraged didn’t just walk out, which is what most sensiblly outraged people would do. That’s far too old-fashioned.
Comedy is complicated and it would seem getting more complicated. Sadowitz, for example, does not tell the sort of cringeworthy bigoted jokes popularised by Roy Chubby Brown and Jim Davidson in previous decades. (He said in his subsequent statement that ‘I am not J** D******* folks’, his use of asterisks making it very clear how he feels about Davidson’s style.)
It is instead a form of social satire, though one where the comedy is often jet black, and frequently obscene (at one moment in the Edinburgh show he exposes his penis. As has already been said, really not for everyone!)
If there is a place for this sort of thing, you might think, surely it’s a renowned comedy festival known for its alternative, anarchic spirit?
Even Alderson appears confused: “The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material.” Evidently he hadn’t noticed any contradiction. Perhaps he is in the wrong line of work. Or perhaps this is a sign of things to come. Much criticism is made of “cancel culture”, some of it rather sensationalist and unhelpful. But there is something rather odd and perhaps alarming about comedy festivals cancelling comedians.