Jay Mack, Comedy Unleashed, Leeds 2023

Comedian Jay Mack Fights Back

Over coming weeks, I’m doing three interviews with people from the local cultural scene who face or have faced the threat of cancellation for their views or act. The first is with Castleford comedian Jay Mack.

I’ve known Jay Mack since I first saw him at Comedy Unleashed Leeds in April 2023. On this second appearance there in October, comedian and compare Dominic Frisby described Jay’s style as “very dark”, and even I’ve taken the odd sharp intake of breath, in between laughing out loud. Now someone’s come for him and his act.

JAY, what can you tell us about the case brought again you?

“There isn’t much about the case I can actually comment on. That’s partly because I can’t discuss active legal proceedings and partly because it’s so nonsensical that I could only speculate. I wouldn’t begin to do that for fear of going insane. Not at this time. Anything I say will be used against me vexatiously. All I can say is that someone has begun legal proceedings against me citing my comedy material as evidence. It’s been an insane saga, and this is where it’s ended up. It’s been like living in a Netflix docuseries. It makes Tiger King look tame.

Because these proceedings have been brought on me so insidiously, they’ve eaten time and resources and I believe are being executed to prevent me from doing comedy and to re-frame themselves like a victim when they’ve been the one harassing me. What specifically they’re offended by I’m not yet sure as they haven’t clearly stated, but they blatantly want me to stop doing what I’m doing. Nobody can grow their audience and develop their craft in these conditions and the court system is just another way that ideologues undermine artists.

I don’t feel comfortable calling this a cancellation per se. What I have is a problem with vexatious litigants. I think if I said I were being cancelled it would do an injustice to more established people who have had legit, heavy-duty cancellations. There’re many acts walking round with battle fatigue.”

Amongst the growing list of comedians who’ve faced cancellation in recent years includes, most prominently, Jerry Sadowitz at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe and the three you mention in your campaign – Andrew Lawrence, Alistair Williams, and Sammie Pressdee. Now, people may find humour offensive for all sorts of reasons. But doesn’t the very roll and nature of comedy make it possibly the most ridiculous thing to try and cancel?

“Last night I sat and watched 15 seconds of Mock the Week. It made me want to euthanise myself. Inane drivel. But I wouldn’t ban it. As dreadful as it was that programme brought people joy. The same is true of edgier comedians. There’s an enormous and growing demand for hard comedy.

Comedy is meant to be provocative. Undermining it just because it has fulfilled its purpose is pointless. The brutal comedy styles of raw comedians like Jerry Sadowitz are a product of their environment. It’s harsh because life is harsh. It’s enjoyed by people who have lived harsh lives. Sadowitz is an obscenity artist. I don’t imagine anyone was surprised when he turned out to be offensive. Why seek it out if you can’t handle it?

I think people in the digital age lack the social skills to understand art beyond the pedestrian. Personally, I think a lot of people need to get a grip. Banning comedy is like banning sneezing. Laughing is an involuntary reaction. How can you ban that? It’s like banning blinking.”

If the case against you were successful, what would this mean for you personally and as a comedian?

“Well, I’m still a new comic, I’ve been thrown in the deep end. This time last year I was punched on stage testing new material. It only made me more determined to do the more savage material that I love doing. So far, I’ve had an overwhelming response to what I do thanks to amazing events like Comedy Unleashed. So it wouldn’t deter me from doing what I’m doing now, it would probably stand to make me worse. But if actions taken against me were successful it would really make me worry for comedians everywhere.

People have been trying to cancel comedians since Lenny Bruce. There’s always some excuse. Usually some clumsy ‘ism’ or ‘phobia’ but, in reality, they’re just really unhappy people with some weird agenda and that’s my job to joke about things like that.

I gave up drugs for comedy, I’m not about to start self-censoring or seeing things as off-topic. If something’s funny – it’s funny.”

You can judge Jay’s act for yourself at Comedy Unleashes Leeds, HiFi Club, Friday 2nd February – buy tickets here.

Donate here to support Jay’s campaign, and defend freedom of expression in comedy.

Paul Thomas is co-founder of The Leeds Salon public discussion forum.

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