A strange start to the day when @tobymartin tweeted me attaching an advert that he'd seen in a magazine at his parents' house. It showed Charley Boorman standing by his motorbike (brazenly wearing motorcycle clothing) and smiling. Was he advertising a motorcycle clothing shop? No, it was worse than that. The advert was for Herring shoes, a company that has been in existence for one year longer than I have. What the fuck? What are the chances of that? Boorman not only stealing my face (and it's my actual skin pulled over his own head which is why he is not as beautiful as me) but now he's advertising shoes with my name on. Is he taking the piss? Is this part of some long-term mind-fuck prank? Herring isn't a common name and my face is not a common face, so to see the two things come together in an advert (something I have always resisted doing) is more than bizarre. Did they want me to be in the advert but thought they couldn't afford me? Unlikely. I am sure Boorman can demand more than me as he is friends with Ewan McGregor and I am not. This is getting more and more surreal.
But more odd advert based news was coming in too. Apparently the Fringe guide have started censoring rude words from the brochure
. A couple of weeks ago I had been told that the words "dick" and "fuckinghamshire" were going to have an asterix put in them in one of the brochure entries. I couldn't be bothered to fight it. I mean "fuckinghamshire" is not a word and if you're going to censor it then you need to censor "Scunthorpe" too, but I wasn't going to push it. I thought it was a bit pathetic that they were censoring "dick" though as it's a very mild swear word indeed, one that I think a 5 year old child would use and not cause too much fuss and also it's a name. In a way I thought it was funny that they were censoring that and not the title of the show as "cock", although another fairly mild swear is one notch higher up than dick.
But today I learned that they're not only censoring the words in the entry, but also the title of the show AND the advert that I am paying them hundreds of pounds to put in their brochure. Now this has more serious repercussions for me personally, but also for artistic freedom at the greatest Arts Festival in the World.
Because this has never been an issue before (indeed in 2002 the entry and poster remained untouched) and I can't recall ever having come across such petty censorship before. I believe in 2007 I elected to self-censor the title of "Oh F*ck, I'm 40", but then Fuck is a pretty strong swear word and one without a double meaning. According to my dic*ionary, "cock" has 10 definitions as a noun and only one and a half of them are rude (it means penis, but also "anything set erect"). It has a five further meanings as a transitive verb and another tow as an intransitive verb. Like prick, it is a word that every child will be familiar with and won't be upsetting to them unless someone decides to inform them of the rude meaning. Putting an asterix in it solves nothing anyway - if you know what the word is then it springs into your mind anyway (with the slight danger you might think that the word is "cack" and I might get entirely the wrong kind of audience), if you don't then you will start to ask why the word has an asterix in it and what the word is and suddenly you'd find out that cock is rude as well. The censors are corrupting innocent young minds.
And the phrase "Talking Cock" itself is obviously a double entendre but in its basic reading means "talking nonsense" as there is no such thing as a talking cock in the rude sense, except in a story I heard about Keith Harris giving a lift to a production assistant. The problem is that someone sitting in an office is making an arbitrary decision based on their own interpretation of a word as to what should be censored. So a show called "Prick" is censored, whereas, "Prick Up Your Ears" would not be - even though you could argue that Orton was being willfully much ruder than Stuart Goldsmith there. Isn't there a personal judgement being made there that theatre is somehow more worthy and worthy of reverence than comedy? Is it right that the people putting together the programme are allowed to make that distinction.
Kunt and the Gang can go through because of the spelling? Similarly the word nigga is allowed? That's just insane. The people putting together the brochure are wrapping themselves in knots and in danger of looking like kunts (it's ok that's not rude, apparently). I wouldn't dare say they were being dicks about this. I wouldn't want to offend them.
What if there was a kids' show called "Cock-a-doodle-do" would that get censored? What if Dick Van Dyke played the Fringe? Or Joe Cocker? Or Benedict Cumberbatch? Our children must be protected from this filth.
But the worrying thing is that this censorship is not about words, it's about ideas. Neither my show title or Stuart's is offensive in itself (Sarah Millican pointed out his show might be about knitting). Somebody who has seen neither show, based on a 40 word entry has made a decision that the public need to be protected from an idea (whilst actually not protecting them at all in any case). I don't think this should be happening at an arts festival. This is where people come to have ideas (and sometimes worse than that) thrown at them. To be challenged. It's actually embarrassing that the Fringe seems to think the words "prick" and "cock" are challenging. Because next they will be saying that they don't like the sound of a subject of the show or the political views of the person performing it. They came for the people using childish euphemisms for genitalia and I did not speak out...
And censorship of words from a selected list is the most dumb kind of censorship anyway - the kind of censorship that allows someone to say kunt but not dick, to say meatus but not cockhole (when they mean the same thing), to leave "the yoghurt-spitting sausage" untouched in my Fringe entry, but to censor "dick". The kind of censorship that will allow a poster to show a drawing of a cock (there are hundreds of them on my poster and Kunt and the Gang's poster last year was a childish hand drawn spunking one), but not the word cock. A picture allows the offence to be visited upon children who are too young to even read. The Fringe brochure doesn't mind babies' minds being corrupted. These people are sick.
I am going to get my designer (who has worked hard producing something that he is artistically pleased with) to come up with some alternatives and I wonder will the Fringe brochure people object if the "o" of cock is turned into a picture of a phallus or if it is hidden behind a big splurge of dripping white liquid - both things would be more offensive and graphic than I would have wanted, but they might be allowed because a splurge of white liquid is not on the list of rude words.
And ultimately Talking Cock is not a title or a show that is intended to be offensive. It's a show that is asking people to think about the penis and why we view it in the way we do and to question if a body part can be offensive in itself anyway. What is offensive about the penis? It's a part of the body. It's a part of the body that can be used in odd and offensive ways at times, but you can use a hand to strangle someone or a foot to kick someone or teeth to bite someone or your mouth to say "The people who put together the Fringe programme are wankstains". But the words don't become offensive as a result. There are enough kunts out there to misinterpret and get affronted by something that they haven't even seen without the people in charge of the furking fringe programme getting in there first.
From a personal point of view it's a bit inconvenient and I would have liked some warning (or even someone telling me that the show title was going to be censored - because it wasn't in any version of the Fringe entry I saw) - it means that if someone puts "Talking Cock" into the edfringe search engine that my show will not come up so it might actually lose me some ticket sales. But I can kick up a bit of a stink and maybe turn that to my advantage so that's not the real issue.
Whilst I acknowledge there is a point where some choice has to be made over what is suitable to go into a general publication, I am concerned about the draconian level of censorship that is occurring here and what it says about what the Fringe is turning into. This should be the last place where freedom of expression is clamped down on. I hope the people who have made these decisions will change them. Because otherwise I fully intend to call them "kunts" on my amended advert.
And the really dumbass thing about this is that the uncensored poster will be plastered all over the walls of the city anyway.
Oh yeah and great news Monday 14th Leicester Square Podcast guest will be Jonathan Ross (and probably another big name too). Be lovely to get a big crowd in if you can make it