First, the good news. This Monday, UK broadcaster Channel Four signed up to a historic memorandum of understanding with Transmediawatch, pledging to handle trans issues sensitively and respectfully. I can only welcome something like this, given the amount of times on this blog that I've raged against disrespectful and insensitive coverage of trans issues in the media. Trans Media Watch are to be commended for their excellent work in getting Channel 4 on board, and I look forward to seeing the new approach in action on that channel.
Sadly, however, it would seem that one of Channel 4's competitors, ITV, literally didn't get the memo. Because, in the same week that 4 made this historic step in trans representation, it was announced that next week, ITV's lunchtime ratings hit, Loose Women (note to American readers - basically a British version of The View) announced that they would feature their first 'transsexual' panelist. Who would it be? Roz Kaveney? Natacha Kennedy? Well, both those girls are a bit intellectual, a bit too removed from the celebrity, Heat magazine world for Loose Cis Women...maybe Dana International would be more their speed?
Alas, no. Because it turns out the 'first trans panellist' on Loose Cis Women will not be any of these women, will in fact not be a trans woman at all, but will be...washed-up funnyman Peter Kay trotting out his tired old caricature of trans womanhood, Geraldine McQueen. But don't worry! It's all in aid of Comic Relief - because Kay is releasing this year's annoying Comic Relief novelty single as a collaboration with Susan Boyle. That makes it okay, right?
Well, no, not really. In fact frankly it makes me wonder what Comic Relief are playing at. In 2007, they literally wheeled Kay out, for another 'comedy' duet with his fellow bigoted 'comedian' (and previous target of this blog) Matt Lucas, this time making fun of disabled people with their 'hilarious' wheelchair-user caricatures Brian Potter & Andy Pipkin. And now here we are again, with Kay given free reign to mock some of the most vulnerable people in society - people Comic Relief ostensibly sets out to help.
It does make you wonder who Comic Relief exists for, doesn't it? Is it really about the charidee, mate, or does it exist to boost the careers of pointless, desperate, laughter-hungry failed humans like Kay and Lucas? What's Kay done on telly lately, besides those rubbish John Smith adverts? Well, he showed up looking off his face on the One Show...and that's about it, really. I know he's doing a series of shows at the O2 arena because he's now too up his arse to tour like a proper stand-up - and let's face it, sod the charities, that's what Kay is doing this single and his run on Loose Cis Women to promote. So why are Comic Relief indulging him with all this free publicity?
It's a legitimate question because, even leaving aside his transphobia, Kay is disliked by many in the comedy world. Channel 4 had to compensate an innocent man from Kay's hometown after one of Kay's shows apparently slandered him; he screwed collaborators Dave Spikey and Neil Fitzmaurice out of the credit for Phoenix Nights, the show which brought him to peoples' attention; he rubbished a routine by Noel Fielding - a comedian who, at his worst, is ten times more interesting than Kay - purely to court the affections of a single heckler in the room.
Anecdotally, people talk of him tightening mike stands as much as possible when he comperes shows, just so the acts who follow have to start their set fighting to get the microphone to their height; of other comedians refusing to speak to him backstage lest he steal their gags; and of him introducing performers by saying 'don't worry if the next act's shit, I'll be back on in a minute'. His autohagiography was so badly-written and contained so much chip-on-the-shoulder score-settling that sales for its sequel tanked so badly it was cited as a factor in the decline of the UK book industry; and his 'ecological' approach to DVD releases - endlessly, cynically recycling the same old material - has became an old, unfunny joke - much like the ones that litter his routines. Little wonder that, when he appeared to receive an 'outstanding achievement' award at the 2009 British Comedy Awards (I suppose spinning twenty minutes worth of stand-up material into a ten year career is some kind of achievement), the assembled comedians pointedly refused to give him the usual standing ovation.
Peter Kay used to tell jokes. Now he is one. When the laughs he could get by endlessly repeating the phrase 'garlic bread' dried up, he did what far too many rubbish comedians do and went to the endless well of transphobic gags. So far, so par for the course: regular readers will know transphobia in comedy is no rarity, and in fact this blog has gradually turned into a kind of Trans Comedy Watch, so often have I been forced to lay into yet another pointless funnyman for spreading prejudice with a liar's smile on his face; but what is special about this case is the support Comic Relief are giving Kay, and the platform they are giving him to ponce about doing his hateful caricature of a trans woman.
Trans women are one of the most vulnerable groups in society worldwide, as this blog and many, many others have documented time and again. Comic Relief claims that it exists to help the most vulnerable in Britain and throughout the world. That is a laudable aim. But it sits uneasily with providing a platform for a turgid little man like Kay to mock those very vulnerable people it claims to support. I had hoped they'd learned their lesson after the disgusting ableism of the Kay/Lucas video. Clearly they haven't.
This Friday, Comic Relief will squat on the Friday night schedules in its usual bloated manner, interspersing variety turns and almost-funny skits with tug-on-the-heartstrings real-life bits and asking, again and again, for our money. The money they raise does a lot of good. But let's be brutally honest: there are lots of other charities out there, and I can and do donate to those charities. I do charity gigs and I use my poetry to engage in activist causes as often as I can. I'm no Scrooge: I believe in standing up for the vulnerable and using my money to help them improve their lot in whatever way they can.
I'm a charitable person. But this Red Nose Day, Comic Relief will not see one red cent of my hard-earned cash, and they won't see any again until they stop allowing their shindig to be hijacked by hateful, transphobic 'comedians' like Peter Kay. Because transphobia is just not funny. Ever.