Artistic freedom or real freedom?

Blog by Tiffany Stevenson | 10 Aug 2010

I am looking forward to the Edinburgh Fringe. I love that first week where we comedians are like bouncy Labradors full of hope and optimism. By the last week we are arthritic, rheumy eyed poodles that might shit all over your nice carpet.

This year I am doing a show about dictators and how I feel we all have one in our lives. In fact the festival itself is a dictator to us; we build our year around whether or not we take up the financial and emotional challenge. I consider a show about dictators to be a bit risky but what a joy it is to be able to come to the biggest arts festival in the world and make jokes out of quite a controversial subject. I have jokes about Mugabe, Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler as well as some other despots closer to home.

Prior to the Fringe, I spent a month in China. Upon my return I kissed British soil and vowed never again to take for granted the freedom we have. I will never squander a vote, miss a chance to ridicule a politician or make my voice heard. It gives the Fringe a whole new sense of perspective.

To elaborate, I spent an entire month flitting between wanting to punch some Chinese people and then in the next moment cry my heart out for them. Stereotypically, Chinese people at their worse are brash, have no sense of boundaries, are unquestioning and overwhelming in number. At their best they are incredibly intelligent, diligent, hard working and enthusiastic. Many live in immense poverty. Children have rotting teeth and parents rotting minds. Amazingly they are ever chipper about their lot - but even this is state imposed.

I was performing at an event where people were forced to go by their government. There was a quota to fulfil and only positive feedback was accepted. Imagine that! Being forced to sit through a tedious Fringe play and then tell all involved how wonderful it was because David Cameron said you had to. I apologise, I mean, of course, Cameron and Clegg in that obvious equal balance of power...see I just made a joke at the expensive of our government. After all of that you couldn’t even go on a forum and moan about how shit it was because freedom of speech is banned.

As for the performers, they can’t advertise a show as signs are banned in case they are promoting anti-government propaganda. I didn’t see a single piece of imported press. The only English newspapers are written in China, are extremely biased and sycophantic in their reporting… much like The Daily Mail. The queues for various events were up to 3 hours long, in sweltering heat. Children had to defecate where they stood and grannies passed out. In contrast the Edinburgh Fringe audiences may have to suffer a little rain and the odd unsatisfactory cappuccino. Our whinges suddenly become very middle class don’t they?

So for this month of August maybe we can all embrace our freedom. Put aside complaints about comedians tackling taboo or controversial subjects and realise that freedom of speech is just that... freedom. Complaining about Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle is hardly the greatest use of our dissident voice but at least we have the choice. We can also lead the choir of approval and praise. Those comedic targets should take it on the chin too. After all we do have the British “come and have a go if you think you are hard enough” attitude. I know if I make a swipe at the Tories I won’t be sent to West Hill Island and the only ‘Long March’ I will be making will be up Arthur’s seat for a nice picnic. Ain’t I lucky?

Tiffany Stevenson: Dictators
The Stand Comedy Club II
times vary, 4–29 Aug, not 5, 16