Mike Ward: Freedom of Speech Isn’t Free

mikewardGilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh
13 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AJ
Till 28 August 2016

The title of the show is a reference to the fact that Mike Ward was fined £25,000 by the Quebec Human Rights Commission for telling an offensive joke about a child, Gabriel, (now an adult) who suffers from Treacher Collins Syndrome. Gabriel was a well-known figure in Quebec after he was flown to Rome at the age of 10 years old to sing for Pope Benedict in 2006.

Julius Grey, Ward’s lawyer, argued that the nature of comedy was ‘almost always mean and hard’.

‘The position that we will put forward is that there needs to be larger artistic freedoms,’ he said in court. Ward lost the case but has appealed. At the time he tweeted: ‘Even Rocky lost the first one’.

His Fringe show indicated that he was still prepared to offend with references to paedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, domestic abuse, infanticide and incest. It certainly has the power to offend but is it funny? The answer I’d give is – sometimes. I found the over frequent empahsis on paedophillia wearing but the piece he did on watching gay porn with his wife was very funny. The best part of the show to me was when he interacted with the audience. He asked a gay couple in the front row some quite intrusive questions about their sex life but their unashamed responses and the banter between Ward and them were excellent. So too when he asked a French Canadian girl in the audience when she stopped having sex during pregnancy and she replied, sharp as a razor, that she didn’t do it at the hospital! He had less luck with a guy who admitted taking viagra but then, perhaps wisely, decided to turn more taciturn about his experience.

My sympathies are with Ward’s right to offend but I would like to see him adopt a more nuanced approach as he has not developed to his full potential as a comic. Despite some of the offensive content it’s hard not to see the warmth and humanity in Ward. If he moves beyond his current emphasis on shocking people and breaking taboos to encompass provoking a greater variety of emotional reactions he will go from a good comic to a great one.

Go see the show if only to defend the right to be offensive and push limits. Ward jokes about drowning a young kid (amongst other things) but he points out it’s an imaginary kid. There is no real crime. “It’s a joke”. It’s sad he has to point that out. Let’s not forget either that if we don’t like a view or joke we can say so. We can even tell our own joke. Freedom of Speech isn’t only not free but invaluable.

Four stars

Reviewd by Patrick Harrington


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