Controversial comedian Jerry Sadowitz has hit out at the Edinburgh Fringe venue which cancelled his comedy show, saying it has “cheapened and simplified” his work.
The Pleasance pulled the second night of his two-night run on Saturday, amid claims his act was “extreme in its racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny”.
The venue said they had received an “unprecedented” number of complaints after a “large number of people walked out” and that some of their staff had subsequently received abuse.
American-born Scottish performer Sadowitz is a regular performer on the Fringe, but is probably best known for his starring role as Ebeneezer Goode in the video for The Shamen’s 1992 UK number one hit.
His acts – which often feature magic tricks – are frequently provocative and close-to-the-bone. In 1991 he was knocked unconscious by a disgruntled audience member during a performance at a comedy festival in Montreal, after mocking French Canadians.
His Edinburgh show – Not for Anyone – was described on the venue website as featuring “whacky impressions of Greta Thunberg, Frankie Boyle and deep vein thrombosis” ahead of its cancellation.
A punchline to one of his jokes saw him whip out his penis and show it to the audience.
The Pleasance say they are not able “to vet the full content of acts in advance” and did not know the “specifics of his performance”.
Sticking to their decision to cancel the show, they said “a line was crossed” and that “in a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged”.
Responding to the cancellation of his show, Sadowitz wrote on his Twitter page: “I don’t wish to humiliate The Pleasance but they are doubling down on their position and I don’t want to be made the victim of that.
“I repeat… I did a 75-minute show for 600 people that went pretty well and left with no hint of anything going wrong.
“In addition to now being told there were multiple walkouts and ‘abuse of staff’ my act is now being cheapened and simplified as unsafe, homophobic, misogynistic and racist.”
He also said he was “offended” by those who “stormed out” without properly listening to his material.
He added: “I ask nobody to agree with anything I say or do on stage… God forbid they should end up like me… and I have never ONCE courted a mainstream audience to come to my shows because guess what??? In real life, I really DON’T want to upset anyone… including [director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust] Anthony Alderson.
“The show is what it is, for those who enjoy it. The rest of you… please stick to Carry On films.”
He added in a postscript: “If the Pleasance can’t apologise to me they should at least apologise to the 300 people who paid for and travelled to see the show on Saturday.”
The 61-year-old performer had previously said on Facebook that he had not seen any walk-outs and that he was “truly sorry” for those who had travelled to see his Saturday show.
Fellow comedians including Richard Herring, Katherine Ryan and Al Murray expressed concern over Sadowitz’s cancellation.
Herring, who has cited Sadowitz as an influence, wrote on his blog that to complain about him being offensive “is like asking the actor who plays Macbeth to be arrested for murder”.
Ryan said it was “very strange” to cancel a performance for “apparent offence” when there was a content warning on the booking page.
The venue’s original listing carried the warning: “This show contains strong language and themes some may find distressing.”
In his own description, Sadowitz had joked that he would be doing “less hate-fuelled swearing” in a bid to appeal to the middle classes.
The Pleasance said they will not be working with Sadowitz again.
While comedy and the arts are often considered to be a space in which boundaries and social norms can be pushed to their limit, current discussions around inclusivity raise questions about what is and isn’t acceptable to say on stage.
A growing trend for cancel culture – where performers are prevented from performing due to content that can be considered offensive or problematic – has led some to question whether freedom of speech is being curbed in a bid to avoid potential offence.