Is ‘Cancel Culture’ killing comedy? Really?

Battle of Ideas festival 2021, Saturday 9 October, Church House, London


After 30 years of sell-out performances, Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown’s show at Sheffield City Hall, set for next year, was cancelled by Sheffield City Trust in September. According to Trust chief Andrew Snelling, Brown’s material did not reflect its values of being ‘inclusive for all in Sheffield’. In response, Brown said that those running trusts and councils should not ‘use your position to force your own private views/opinions and decide what people can and can’t do or can and can’t watch’.

The cancellation of Brown’s gig was just the latest in a series of actions against comedians for saying the wrong things. After the Euro football championships in July, Andrew Lawrence was accused of racism after posting a short, satirical video on social media. As a result, his national tour was cancelled and he was dropped by his agent. Scottish left-wing comedian Janey Godley was dropped from a Scottish government advertising campaign around Covid and suffered venue cancellations when some historic tweets ‘resurfaced’ and were deemed to be offensive.

Yet many comics state that ‘cancel culture’ is a myth, or at least overplayed. Writer and comedian Robin Ince believes that ‘cancel culture’ is an ‘illusory bandwagon, based on the idea that the most powerful people in the world are all these woke people who, for some reason, aren’t actually in power’. A Guardian columnist, Rachel Aroesti, recently wrote that the ‘concept of cancel culture destroying comedy makes most sense if viewed as part of a much broader political campaign against progressive politics’.

Are public officials and industry gatekeepers increasingly deciding the boundaries of comedy? Are jokes about people’s race, gender and sexuality a laughing matter or should they be condoned, regardless of their intent? Do complaints against cancellations simply play into the hands of those who want to undermine equality and fairness?

Alex Dale
designer and writer

Andrew Doyle
writer and comedian; author, Free Speech and Why It Matters

Simon Evans
comedian; regular panellist, BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz

Josephine Hussey
school teacher; theatre lover

Andy Shaw
co-founder, Comedy Unleashed