Feb 21, 2018

Defamation? It was only a joke...

Comedian Louise Beaumont (known as Louise Reay on stage) is being sued by Thomas Reay, her ex-husband, for defamation and breach of privacy and data protection.

Mr Reay alleges that in her show "Hard Mode" his ex-wife has made defamatory statements by implying that their marriage was abusive, and that it casts negative aspersions on his character. His lawyers claim that the show identifies him explicitly, and makes "serious and inflammatory allegations of wrongdoing" against their client.

Before the litigation even began Ms Beaumont had offered to remove from her performances any references to Mr Reay, but the proceedings were commenced anyway, seeking £30,000 in damages.

Historically the defence of "just joking" was accepted by juries in defamation cases. Since the abolition of juries for defamation cases there has not been a case to test the judicial position (and sense of humour). And while judges may be caricatured as stuffy and humourless the reality is quite different, and relying on the trial judge to accept the humour defence could be a legitimate litigation decision in this case.

If the jokes themselves don't raise a judicial smile, then perhaps the irony might: Hard Mode is a show predominantly about freedom of speech, censorship, and surveillance.

The litigation will be cause for concern for comedians globally, especially those who have used past relationships as sources of successful material. Sarah Millican made her name with material about her ex-husband and divorce, and Sara Pascoe and John Robins performed consecutive shows about their then-recent break up at the Edinburgh Fringe last year.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or legal@mcdanielslaw.com.

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