It felt inevitable, to be honest. Women in comedy were all braced for it. Within minutes of the Russell Brand allegations being made public – allegations Brand has denied in no uncertain terms – people swept in to criticise everyone who was aware of the rumours around him and “did nothing”. Responsibility was placed on us, those who were quietly protecting each other but were deemed to have not taken enough action to prevent this kind of alleged behaviour. And my God, we are so tired.
Realistically speaking, rumours are exactly that unless you hear directly from a victim. With that in mind, it is very difficult to go “on the record” with any information you have received. There is a risk to you for sharing it from a legal standpoint, particularly where you know the person in question has power or money. There is also a risk to the person the information pertains to, if somewhere along the way a detail was misconstrued, and also to the victims whose story isn’t yours to tell.
Women who have spoken face intense scrutiny; you only have to look at Katherine Ryan yesterday to see that. We have also seen many moments heralded as comedy’s answer to “Time’s up”, with names named, often at great psychological cost to the victims, only to see those whose time was allegedly up gigging again months later.
So we do what we can in smaller ways, through DMs and conversations in green rooms. I have lost count of how many messages I’ve received along the lines of “just a heads up about X”, or how many lift shares a promoter has arranged for me involving being in a car with someone I’ve never met, where I’m checking in with other comedians to check they’re OK.
Another narrative asks why the victims didn’t simply go to the police. You only need a quick Google search to educate yourself on that, in terms of the heavy burden of proof needed to get charges. Just look at how even those women who win legally end up losing in other ways, as their lives are put on trial as much as the accused. Some red flags can’t even be reported to the police – behaviour that is a problematic red flag but not (yet) criminal. Daniel Sloss touches upon it in his show X, about how men need to look to prevent abuse, rather than waiting to step in and punish it.
Sloss has been rightly praised for stepping up, the only male comedian prepared to put their name to Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, and for addressing the deep-rooted problems both in the comedy industry and outside of it. His clip that implores men to talk to their friends about their problematic behaviour has had more than one viral moment, and while it is vital that men like Daniel speak out, it’s a low bar to herald him as some kind of hero for doing so.
It serves more as a depressing indictment of how, despite all the talk about time being up, a lot of people didn’t want to believe women – particularly when they’re accusing people they admire – and only started listening when a man spoke about it. The risk for Daniel Sloss is a lot lower than the women who came forward on Channel 4, and for the incredible female journalists who worked doggedly to get this piece over the line.
It is a horrible time to be a woman in comedy at the moment, and the depressing part is that when the furore over this specific incident has died down, we know that very little will have changed.