Talkers

Comedian turns down gig when asked not to cause offense

Asked to sign 'behavioral agreement form'

(CNN) - A comedian has pulled out of a charity performance at a British university after he was asked to sign a "no tolerance" policy to ensure his jokes would not cause offense.

Russian-born Konstantin Kisin had been invited to appear in January at an unpaid event arranged by Unicef on Campus at SOAS, which is part of the University of London.

But before the event, organizers contacted him to ask that he agree to sign a "behavioral agreement form" to ensure the event would be a "safe place" where "joy, love and acceptance is reciprocated by all."

It stated: "By signing this contract, you are agreeing to our no-tolerance policy with regards to racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia or anti-religion or anti-atheism."

The 35-year-old was so taken aback by the request, that he declined the invitation and posted the request on Twitter, writing: "I just received an invitation to perform *comedy* at a university... The title of this 'contract' nearly made me puke."

He declined the invite with the following response to organizers: "Comedy isn't about being 'kind' and 'respectful' and the only people who get to decide what comedians talk about on stage are... comedians.

"Comedy is supposed to push boundaries and challenge people and comedians should be free to mock religion, atheism and a whole load of other things."

Kisin's tweet garnered thousands of likes and comments and has made headlines in Britain. It comes just days after US comedian Nimesh Patel was ejected from the stage at Columbia University after his material was deemed too offensive.

Kisin, who is the creator and co-host of the TRIGGERnometry YouTube show which focuses on free speech and open discussion of controversial topics, told CNN he "couldn't believe it" when he saw the agreement.

"I was born in the Soviet Union and it made me feel right at home," he said.

The 35-year-old came to Britain as a teenager and has been performing stand-up comedy for three years.

"I didn't decline the invite because my material is super offensive but on principle, because if you set out these hard rules on comedy they are very much open to interpretation.

"It doesn't work -- comedy relies on free speech."

Kisin, who was recently named "Jewish comedian of the year," described his material as "pretty mainstream." A typical set, he told CNN, pokes fun at Russians, Britons and Americans.

"Some people sometimes might be offended but most people who come to comedy clubs to see a comedy show understand that some things are going to be on the edge -- and in fact that's why many of them go."

A statement from the SOAS Students' Union said it was not consulted about the event or the agreement, but that it does lay out guidelines for societies hosting outside speakers.

Nevertheless, the Unicef on Campus society "were over-zealous in their interpretation of the guidance," the statement said.

"SOAS Students' Union believes fully in freedom of speech and the freedom to try to make people laugh."

Meanwhile a spokesman for the Unicef on Campus society stressed that while it does not represent the children's charity, the comedy event has been planned to raise funds for the charity.

He said: "Given that UNICEF is a children's charity, we wanted to make sure it was an appropriate event for the cause. We would never wish to impose that guests would have to agree to anything they do not believe in. We apologize for the misunderstanding and misrepresentation."


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