Thursday, 17 March 2011

Comic Relief's Garlic Bread-heads Need to Show Some Damn Respect

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.


  1. Comic relief are shite.

    The disabled people's movement hate 'em too, and probably a few more movements besides. Much like a lot of other bullshit high-viz charity stuff, a pile of disrespectful crap targetted at Joe Average gets pushed out, intermittently either poking fun at the rest of us, or reinforcing our status as sad victims of circumstance who need saving in a completely ineffectual twice-yearly feel-good telethon campaign distracting everyone from the freezing and slashing of budgets for services which actually *do* provide an effective solution, and foreign (and business) policy continues to reinforce poverty in the global south.

    The placard slogan within the disabled people's movement about this sort of thing is "piss on pity".

  2. This is the best blog - apart from my own! - I have read in a very, very long time. Superb. I am really impressed by it!

    You kind of beat me to it too I have to say... it really got me when I saw that there was going to be the 'first transsexual woman' on Loose Women because I really thought it was going to be a genunine trans woman. I am that stupid. There's something SO wrong about the way they are making a joke about that, it basically tells us that the thought of having a real life trans woman speak on the show is something that not a single person involved put their hand up and said "Actually, that would probably be quite a good idea." It's like, I don't know, I haven't watched every episode (not watched for years actually) but let's say they'd never had a woman in a wheelchair on before. That would be pretty bad. But maybe we could excuse the show-makers, maybe it had just worked out that way or whatever. But imagine if someone joked about having the first woman in a wheelchair on the show. I am quite sure that everyone would actually be quite ashamed that that was the situation, and wouldn't want to go along with the joke. But this suggests that they can never imagine having a trans woman on. It's like having the first talking dog on the show or something, it's just an absolute piss-take.

    Out of all the things I see in the media, sometimes just little things like this really bother me and I can't quite explain why. Maybe because it's all so daytimey and charidee and something all the family can sit and laugh at. Just makes me feel like a twat. Makes me feel like I could never go on Loose Women.

    Not that I'd want to.

  3. Very perceptive comment, Paris! You've hit the nail on the head, I think, with your observation that the 'humourous' nature of having a (fake) trans woman on the show indicates that they'd never consider it seriously - and don't understand how that refusal to take real trans women seriously is a problem.

    And as you say, the fact it's 'so daytimey and charidee' and fun for all the family makes it even worse. It makes me feel the way I imagine Asian people, or cis gay people must have felt in Britain in the 70s - we're surrounded by a culture which - in its most mainstream forms - treats us as a joke. It's horrible.

  4. This is an excellent piece, Adam. More power to your elbow. Do keep up the good work.

  5. I sat here reading your post with Friends on in the background and the advert break come on - including an advert for a repeat of a Peter Kay show with him dressed as the character he appeared in Loose Women as. Oh dear Channel 4, such a let down so so quickly.

  6. What can I say? Brilliantly put.

    I purposely turned my back on the whole of Red Nose Day and listened to vintage comedy from Radio 7 on the iPlayer instead. You know .. the sort of stuff which took real talent and effort to write and wasn't built on denigrating anyone for laughs.

    Why should I support something that gratuitously takes the piss out of groups whose equality I work to advance?

  7. There are plenty amongst us in the transgender world who would be far better panelists than Peter Kay in drag. What about Natacha Kennedy? Roz Kaveney? Lisa du Preez? Lauren Harries? Stephanie Anne Booth? Myself? April Ashley? Caroline Cossey?

    To be honest, Comic Relief/Red Nose Day has had its day long ago. I personally do not support it and never have done as I support my own charities. And it is about as funny as toothache. Also, I will NOT support an organisation that insults people like myself.

  8. VERY well written Emily. Unsurprisingly, I sent everything I was going to donate to Comic Relief to the Save The Children Japan Tsunami Fund instead, Glad I did in more way than one.

  9. Just had a look at the Comic Relief website; here are some of the things they support;

    Young People & Mental Health
    Young People & Alcohol
    Sexually exploited and trafficked young people
    Domestic and sexual abuse

    All issues which are faced by trans people, young trans people in particular. yet Peter Kay's actions are all contributing to making these things worse for these people.

  10. Hi Adam,

    couldn't find a way to email you about this, so I am using the Post a comment bit...

    After reading this, I am trying to get an article in the Guardian about it, hope you don't mind me taking inspiration from this, but I think CR needs to be made to take responsibility for its actions, and may be susceptable to a little bit of pressure.


  11. Hi Natacha! I'd be honoured if you were to refer back to this post or its arguments in your article. I hope you do manage to get it in the Guardian, you're absolutely right that CR need pressure putting on them to take responsibility for this and acknowledge what they've done. Take whatever you need! (is it cheeky to ask for a hat-tip if it gets published?)

  12. Great post. I avoided all the Comic Relief palaver because of the attitudes things like that promote about disabled people. As a result of that, I didn't know that this godawful Peter Kay character was being used in this way. Thanks for backing up my suspicions that people will exploit / take the piss out of any and every marginalised group when they feel they have an excuse.