In Depth

Comedian Louise Reay sued by ex-husband for talking about him in Edinburgh Fringe show

Performer says she faces bankruptcy if she loses case that could boil down to judge’s sense of humour

A stand-up comedian is being sued for defamation and breach of privacy over references to her estranged husband in an Edinburgh fringe show.

Louise Beamont (stage name Reay) is facing a demand for £30,000 damages - plus huge legal costs - for speaking about her break-up with Thomas Reay in her 2017 Edinburgh Fringe show Hard Mode. Ironically, “its main theme was censorship and free speech,” says the comedy website Chortle.

Beamont told the website: “He has a lot more money than me and he says that I accused him of abusing me in my show. And so he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me.”

“As stand-up comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues. So this has become a free speech issue - and free speech means everything to me.”

And speaking about being served with defamation, privacy and data protection proceedings, Beamont said: “I cannot tell you how oppressive that feels.”

The 2015 Alternative New Comedian of the Year, said she would be bankrupted if she loses the case and has launched a crowdfunding page to raise money for her defence.

On the page she wrote: “[Hard Mode] was a 50-minute show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese government.”

“During that show, I referred to my husband a couple of times – perhaps 2 minutes’ worth of reference in a 50-minute show. The main gist of those references was to tell the audience how sad I was that my marriage had broken down recently.”

Thomas Reay’s solicitors told The Guardian the show identified him, revealed private information and “made very serious and inflammatory allegations of wrongdoing against him” – causing enormous distress.

“These allegations included the entirely false suggestion that our client’s relationship with [Reay] was an abusive one.”

Mark Stephens, a libel lawyer at Howard Kennedy, told The Guardian defamation law had been beefed up to strengthen defences for the likes of comedians, academics and scientists in the UK but ultimately the case could rest on the judge’s sense of humour.

“It’s going to be a test of whether the British judiciary understands a joke,” libel expert Mark Stephens told The Guardian. “I mean that seriously.”

“Judges have traditionally had something of a humourless side,” he added.

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