The News At Kate: Leftie Cock Womble

Kate Smurthwaite

This review was first published in Exeunt magazine. You can read it here.

After appearing on Question Time at the start of the year – talking about the 50p tax rate, among other things – comedian and activist Kate Smurthwaite was trending on Twitter. It says much about Smurthwaite – and her style of comedy – that the title of her latest show is drawn from one particular hashtag: #leftiecockwomble. Smurthwaite isn’t sure what a Cock Womble is (Is it one word, or two? Does it have anything to do with those furry fictional characters of children’s literature?), but it’s clearly not a phrase born of praise or admiration.

Smurthwaite says her main focus will be language, free speech and the importance of words, and the picking apart and appropriation of this derogatory hashtag is a good introduction to the show, which is entertaining, intelligent and powerful.

Smurthwaite’s brand of political comedy is always going to arouse strong, personal responses, especially when Smurthwaite describes herself as ‘a radical, cunt-wielding, patriarchy smasher’. This isn’t a show composed of a series of anecdotes that will have you in stitches for an hour, rather a show born out of anger and frustration at the ineffectiveness of our government, the intolerance of the religious right and everyday injustices, particularly those suffered by women. And that’s just in the UK.

This isn’t to say that Smurthwaite’s show is not funny. There are some particularly good jokes – sexual innuendo being forever reliable – arising from photographs of former editors of lads mags, and Smurthwaite has a good line in an obituary (RIP Nuts). Her analysis – and systematic picking apart – of the Daily Mail (and one journalist in particular) is also both incredibly funny and serious, a balance she successfully maintains throughout the show.

Abortion, the politics of body hair and body image, and the purpose of the royal family are other contentious topics Smurthwaite isn’t afraid to discuss, and to get us to think about while laughing. Comedy can be a powerful linguistic tool; shared laughter brings us together and fosters a sense of community; seeing the funny side in something serious can encourage us to think about it in a different way.

Yet even a comedian as outspoken as Smurthwaite has self-censored in the past, refraining from telling jokes about certain topics (notably those relating to women’s bodies) for fear of criticism or reprisals. As Smurthwaite notes, not without a heavy dose of irony, the development of free speech hasn’t proceeded on an equal basis for men and women, nor without a significant backlash and the frequent misrepresentation of facts in the media.

Smurthwaite wants us to have a conversation, not just throw words around in the name of ‘free speech’ without really thinking about what they mean or the impact they might have. Smurthwaite ensures there is much to laugh about, from longer stories to witty one-liners; it’s a great hour of entertainment. But, as a musing on the current state of free speech in our society, the hierarchy of language, its intricacies and efficacy, this is a very clever show.

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Categories: Comedy

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