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University cancels free speech comedy show

Comic Kate Smurthwaite has show pulled after threat of protest at views on sex work

Jon Cartwrightht

Comedy industry website Chortle is reporting that feminist comic Kate Smurthwaite has had a show cancelled at Goldsmith’s, University of London due to safety concerns.

Smurthwaite, a feminist and atheist activist, was due to perform at the South London campus tonight (2 February). But the show has been pulled after threats of a picket of the venue by some feminist students.

The group disagrees with Smurthwaites views on sex work: Smurthwaite believes buying sex should be criminalised, while Goldsmith’s Feminist Society is in favour of legalisation of the sex industry. While the majority of the Feminist Society voted in favour of Smurthwaite’s show going ahead, some feminists students insisted they would picket the venue in protest at Smurthwaite’s opinions.

In a post on Facebook, Smurthwaite said the threat of a picket had led Goldsmith’s to cancel the performance as it could not guarantee security.

Smurthwaite also pointed out the irony that her latest show is about free expression:

“The strangest thing is that my show is not about prostitution. I don’t even mention it. In a massively ironic coincidence my show is about free speech, it’s power and uses and abuses. It is also about Saudi prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi who is now being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
“I find it very strange that anyone would feel they couldn’t enjoy a comedy show unless they agreed with 100% of the political views of the person performing. Goldsmiths have recently hosted Phil Kay and Rob Beckett - did anyone ask them what they think about fox hunting or all-female shortlists?”

Goldsmith’s Feminist Society has been keen to distance itself from the cancellation. In a tweet posted on Sunday night, the Society stated: “Goldsmiths Feminist Society did not no platform Kate Smurthwaite and had nothing to do with the decision to cancel the show.”


Goldmsith's Student Union has put out this statement:

“The Goldsmiths comedy society is a small volunteer led group. They made this decision independently from the Union and we support their right to decide who plays their gigs.”

The Comedy Society President said:

“Despite many complaints from students about the content of Kate’s act in the past we were planning to go ahead with the gig until Kate told me 24 hours before that there was likely to be a picket with lots of students and non students outside the venue. I couldn’t verify this. Up to this point we had only sold 8 tickets so I decided to pull the plug.”

Kate Smurthwaite has replied on Twitter, saying the Comedy Society told her that they had 34 people booked to attend the show on Facebook, and expected more on the door:

Re: Goldsmith's claim that the gig was selling poorly, here's a direct quote from their message to me...

— Kate Smurthwaite (@Cruella1) February 2, 2015

..."there's 34 attending on the Facebook, we don't normally sell tickets before and get around 50 OTD"

— Kate Smurthwaite (@Cruella1) February 2, 2015


Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms. He is Director of Editorial at 89up and has written and ghostwritten for The Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The Sun, and The Irish Post.

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