Irish comedians have banded together to create Comedy Safety Standards (CSS), a new organisation campaigning to create a safer and more inclusive comedy scene in Ireland. We caught up with comedian Alison Spittle to find out more.
In June 2020, Twitter feeds around Ireland were set alight with debates, allegations, and revelations surrounding sexual misconduct* within the Irish comedy circuit.
As women shared their stories of gaslighting, sexism, and abuse, many comics used their own personal platforms to offer words of solidarity, but the incident ultimately highlighted the lack of formal guidance and support available to victims.
"There's no HR department in comedy," Alison agrees, speaking over the phone. "There's basically a whisper network which, unfortunately, didn't reach enough people nor did it protect people."
Irish comedy needs a purge, lads. I stand behind anyone that's telling their story. I'm so sorry you've been let down.— Alison Spittle (@AlisonSpittle) June 19, 2020
It's a disgrace.
Following the allegations, Spittle and a number of Irish comics banded together to found Comedy Safety Standards (CSS) as a way of providing training for clubs, promoters, agents and venue managers surrounding the various challenges that both new and existing performers may encounter.
"Calling out stuff individually hurts people's careers," the Nowhere Fast star explains, "but if you're in a group, it's not about calling people out, it's about offering positive solutions to sexual assault within comedy."
"We're going to launch a website with lots of resources for people working in comedy, and we're working with Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) to customise a course for people working within comedy who want to help the industry as a whole."
6/9 To all who say that people shouldn't speak out on social media, that #MeToo has gone too far, we ask: where are the good, accessible non-blaming mechanisms that don’t treat the survivor as the problem? We’re a long way from those yet.— Noeline Blackwell (@Noeline_B) June 23, 2020
According to Alison, the DRCC have been an invaluable resource to those coming to terms with sexual assault and abuse over the last year, especially during the various lockdowns caused by COVID-19.
"Time in lockdown has given people a lot of time for reflection," she muses. "A big part of people being silent in the past was a fear of not getting gigs, but now all gigs are gone so I think that's why there was a big thing in June. People have had time to reflect and call out stuff."
"I hope comedy doesn't get back to normal when COVID is done," she adds. "I hope it doesn't go back to the way it was before because it's just not feasible."
Despite the serious nature of CSS, the Westmeath woman insists that her experience with the performer-led organisation has been "wonderful" and that, ultimately, she hopes the comedy scene grows to become a more welcoming and diverse industry.
"I just want to encourage more and more people to do comedy. I don't want to always be talking about the bad parts of comedy, it changed my life so much for the better. I owe comedy so much and I love comedy so much, and I want to see that for other people."
Speaking of the good side of comedy, CSS are gearing up to host an all-star online fundraiser on Friday, April 23rd, with all proceeds going to the DRCC.
Aptly named The Big Laugh-In for DRCC, the Zoom-based show will include performances from big names including Maeve Higgins, Jarlath Regan, Eleanor Tiernan, Gearóid Farrelly, Catherine Bohart, Alison Spittle, as well as international guests Fern Brady and Sikisa.
Ticket prices for the show start at a donation of €12 and are available online here.
*If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can find suitable helplines here.