SCOTLAND’S comedians believe the nation’s new hate crime legislation could encourage the use of offensive material – but many feel fears have been overblown.

The law was passed in 2021 but only came into effect last week. It makes it an offence to stir up hatred related to protected characteristics including age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Concerns that the act could be used to stifle comedic expression were raised in the media after police training material was revealed showing that the offence of “stirring up hatred” could be communicated “through public performance of a play”.

Police Scotland released a statement assuring that it was not issuing instructions for officers to target comedians.

John Carruthers has been a stand-up comedian for more than 11 years, and in addition to performing, he now promotes gigs in and around Glasgow.

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“I don’t necessarily see it in the negative way that some of my comedian colleagues might,” he says.

“But generally I think that there’s an unwritten rule in comedy that you don’t punch down anyway. If there’s anybody who’s still going on stage and making racist or homophobic or transphobic jokes then I don’t think they belong in the scene anyway, that’s just my opinion.

“I think we’ll probably get the odd person complaining, and I think there’ll be the odd comedian almost purposefully going out of their way to skate as close to the wind as they can.

“I think that the biggest problem is that when you put a bit of legislation like this in, you’ll get a kind of hardline people – you know, the natural contrarians that will go out their way to possibly antagonise and skate closer to the line – so you might actually find that something comes of it.

“I think you’re more likely to get someone almost go out of their way now to cause offence as a consequence of this.”

The National: Louis Alcada performs hosting duties in Dundee.

That concern is echoed by Dundee-based comedian and promoter Luis Alcada (above).

“It just seems to be encouraging people to be offensive more than anything, cause now you can almost use being convicted for notoriety, which is probably going to have the opposite effect of what’s intended,” he explains.

Paisley-based comedian Liam Farrelly hopes the courts will take account of the potential for people to try to use the law for self-promotion: “I don’t think any comedian should be particularly worried about getting prosecuted under this because pretty much all that’s guaranteeing is that you’ll have an audience.

“Did you see what happened to the Count Dankula guy? He just got an audience out of that, he got so much media attention. I doubt the Scottish legal system is going to make the same mistake again.”

Mark Meechan, or “Count Dankula”, inset, was found guilty in March 2018 of charges under the Communications Act after he posted a “grossly offensive” video of a dog performing a Nazi salute. He has since amassed more than one million subscribers on YouTube.

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Alcada, meanwhile, believes that the comedy community does a good job of regulating material already: “Comedy clubs are much better than the government at policing each other. If somebody said something that’s really inappropriate, they just won’t get booked.

“Anyone who runs a comedy club knows that if you’re upsetting a good chunk of your audience, they’re not going to come back. There aren’t really any comedians being racist or saying anything horrible, if anything, there’s more politicians.”

Farrelly adds: “A club’s not going to put you on stage if you’re committing hate crimes – the industry’s pretty good at self-policing. The clubs and the other comedians probably say that they don’t need a hate crime law in place to do that. You won’t get very far in this industry if you’re just going up and saying stuff that you really shouldn’t be saying.”