An organisation has been established to tackle sexual harassment in the UK comedy industry. Get Off! Live Comedy was launched this week with a fundraiser at London’s Comedy Store featuring Sara Pascoe, Nish Kumar, Russell Howard and Sikisa Bostwick-Barnes.
The lack of structure and regulation within the live comedy industry, plus the fact that most of its workers are self-employed, has led to problematic power imbalances and difficulties reporting harassment. The new organisation was set up by comedians Nina Gilligan and Kiri Pritchard-McLean following a wave of revelations from the industry in 2020. “We think everyone deserves a safe, respectful workplace,” said Pritchard-McLean.
Venues and promoters can become members of Get Off!, which provides them with access to an independent HR professional as well as assistance with harassment policies and training. Individuals can also approach the organisation to report incidents. “If you’ve witnessed or experienced sexual harassment you can come to us,” said Gilligan. “We want victims and witnesses to feel safe enough to come forward, so that we can investigate based on evidence.”
Members who complete training and embed a policy will earn the right to display the Get Off! kitemark, showing performers and customers that they are actively tackling the problem. “We want the general public to understand who we are, so you can consume comedy ethically,” said Gilligan.
Rondom 60 venues and promoters have already joined, insluitend die Comedy Store, Glee en the Stand. “I’m pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic everyone has been, from the rooms above pubs to the big chains,” said Pritchard-McLean. “It shows this is a priority, they’re not just paying lip service.”
Jessica Toomey runs Manchester comedy club the Frog and Bucket, which is now a Get Off! member and will host a fundraiser for the organisation later this month. Toomey also sits on the Live Comedy Association board and is part of its sexual harassment taskforce. “We knew that something like this had to be set up, but we almost felt it was impossible," sy het gese. “Get Off! helps flag a venue as a safe space. If you saw a venue hadn’t signed up to this, you’d wonder why. If something happens in your venue, it could be quite daunting to deal with that and know you’re doing it in the right way. When it’s your business, you’re naturally going to be protective over it, so you need someone who is not linked to comedy and can take a fair, independent view of any complaints.”
Simon Mason, production manager at the Comedy Store, bygevoeg: “It’s important that all comedy clubs are involved. We are the longest-standing and one of the biggest, so it seems right to lead by example. We have a lot of young comedians performing here and they have to feel safe.”
Get Off! has collaborated with the University of Sunderland to conduct a comprehensive survey on harassment in the industry. “If you have anything to do with live comedy – if you’re a technician, agent, produsent, whatever – please fill in the survey,” said Pritchard-McLean. “We want to be industry-led.” The results, said Gilligan, would help determine where to put their resources.
“Often people don’t think of organisations like this until they need them,” said Pascoe. “It would be great if they at least knew it was there. Anything like this requires constancy – we need to make sure this is a constant conversation.”
The organisation will host further fundraisers in early 2022 in north-east England, Wallis en Skotland. When live comedy begins to recover from the pandemic, Get Off! will ask members to contribute a percentage of ticket sales.