This is our truth, tell us yours
Ever heard of Kate Smurthwaite?
No, me neither before Friday. Apparently, she’s a comedian. It may be that this blog is too provincial, or too easily bored, or has better things to do on a Sunday morning when Kate might be found on Radio 4 or discussing the Big Question with Nicky Campbell*, (Jem goes to church, and I go to the cathedrals of cycling otherwise known as the high roads of Northumberland) but Kate appears to have risen without trace to a position where she has some minor celebrity within the M25 as the kind of go to person for a certain class of comedy that takes itself very seriously.
It’s sometimes said that comedy is the new rock and roll. Put aside the image of Johnny Vegas as Roy Orbison, all neurotic passion and unfathomable sadness, and think about that for a minute. Then think about hype.
Not just the title of an under-rated novel by Robert Calvert, hype is the fine rock and roll tradition of making someone famous through media manipulation rather than talent. Sometimes, being outrageous is enough to make you famous. Now, it’s important to recognise that the difference between outrageous and self-conscious posing is very narrow – Alex Harvey was a genuine original, Alice Cooper a sideshow huckster fronting a mediocre heavy metal band. One was an innovator and inspiration, the other a wealthy rock and roller who’s most likely to be found playing golf with other dangerous celebs like Sir Bruce Forsyth. It’s a long time since politicians were calling for Alice Cooper to be banned but anyone with a concern for quality TV would want All Star Golf to be sent to Room 101…
Anyway, what’s that got to do with Kate Smurthwaite? Well, Kate appears to have decided her career needs a boost, (It’s a year now since she was on BBC Question Time, in a performance she modestly describes as memorable**) and has gone for an Alice Cooper moment, without going down the difficult route of anyone actually calling for her to be banned. It would be fun to share some of Kate’s tweets with you, but she’s blocked me for, well, challenging her – Kate is a firm believer in debate, apparently.
Now, here’s the funny thing. Kate told Goldsmiths College there would be protests at her performance. Goldmsith’s took her at her word, noted that hardly anyone appeared to want to see her, and cancelled the gig. Kate then contacted the media and told them she’d been cancelled because of her views. That’s a quality piece of hype, right there.
There’s nothing exceptional about Kate’s views. She’s a pretty ordinary specimen of a radical atheist with feminist leanings. Check out her list of past performances – a celebration organized by an association of ex-Muslims doesn’t sound like it’s going to be the most tolerant or amusing of occasions, if you’re a Muslim.You can imagine Richard Dawkins, the high priest of radical self regarding atheism approving as Kate sneeringly reassures Muslim women that she doesn’t mind if they wear a headscarf (as if they need Kate’s approval).
Where this blog’s authors came into this dispute is that Kate’s embraced the Nordic model of sex work, which seeks to respond to the challenges of sex work by inventing a model that deters people from being customers. Given how few tickets she’d sold for the gig at Goldsmiths you can see where Kate might have got that idea from.
Kate who is modesty personified, describes her act, on her website, as highbrow left wing comedy. If Frankie Boyle is some post punk agit prop band with a fine line in outrage, and Jimmy Carr is Spandau Ballet in their post-kilts music for sales reps era, Kate is Scritti Politti; irrelevant, self-regarding and destined to be a footnote in the charts when she turns herself into a safe lounge act doing covers. What’s most worrying though is that Kate is getting away with it. Her evidence for the tidal wave of protest that was going to wash away Goldsmith’sCollege and take Kate’s right to free speech with it is one tweet from the co-author of this blog to a feminist friend. One tweet. Kate has got lots of mileage out of it, but you know what’s interesting? Not one of the journalists who’s cut and pasted Kate’s press release into their columns has contacted Jem and asked her for her side of the story. Not one.
Oddly, too, Kate didn’t engage with Jem. Kate blocks those who disagree with her, as I’ve discovered.
So where does this leave us? Well, with another Oxford educated elitist sneering at the rest of us, proclaiming her right to free speech which trumps the right of others to tell her they disagree, and another media frenzy about one of their own being criticized when the central problem appears to have been that she’s not very good. To test this proposition I googled ‘Is Kate Smurthwaite funny?’
On the first page of answers there was this review; “You have to give the girl some credit; she is slick. She’s clearly at home on the stage, and it shines in her delivery; hardly surprising for someone who spends most of her time winding people up. This bodes well for Kate as she has a lot of important stuff to say; it’s just not that funny.”
Further down the first page is this review; “Kate Smurthwaite’s third joint preview at the Round Table last Sunday was an intimate affair – very intimate, as I was one of only four or five people in the audience.”
To be fair, some people find Smurthwaite very funny, and meaningful. I’m guessing they regard themselves as the kind of people who would appreciate high brow left wing comedy. According to one approving journo “Smurthwaite wants us to have a conversation, not just throw words around in the name of ‘free speech’ without really thinking about what they mean or the impact they might have.” One wonders what Alanis Morrissette would have to say about that…
*The biggest question being, who the fuck decided Nicky Campbell was the man to facilitate a discussion about the big questions?
**Memorable is a great word for reviewers – that time a drunk sitting in the seat opposite mine shit himself on the last train to Darlington was memorable, but possibly not in the way Kate means it.