Another week, another Edinburgh Festival story about deplatforming, cancellation and all that jazz. Or, if you like, about opinions and beliefs deemed reasonable, offensive or acceptably contrarian, depending on where you stand.

I’m sure somewhere in the capital there is someone doing a perfectly blameless Hamlet in full Elizabethan rig, entirely untroubled by protests either physical or digital. But that isn’t the question on anybody’s lips right now.

What we are talking about is Comedy Unleashed, a London-based comedy night which has decamped to Edinburgh for August. Specifically the inclusion in its line-up of Graham Linehan and the subsequent cancellation of his show at the capital’s Leith Arches venue after complaints from what the Arches said in an Instagram post were “outraged members of our community.”

Outraged because of where Mr Linehan stands on the subject of gender and trans rights, on their several associated tributaries, and for the regular (and often intemperate) social media spats in which he becomes embroiled.

Dublin-born Mr Linehan is a feted comedy writer. Creator or co-creator of Father Ted, Black Books, The IT Crowd and Motherland, he was also a major contributor to The Day Today, Brass Eye and Jam, Chris Morris’s groundbreaking portfolio of dark satires on media and politics.

He even appeared in a 1997 episode of I’m Alan Partridge playing an Irish TV producer who remains supremely unruffled by the mixture of ignorance, prejudice and indelicacy Alan brings to any mention of Ireland and its social and political history. Example: “I mean, if it was just the potatoes that were affected, at the end of the day you will pay the price if you’re a fussy eater.”

Make that once feted. In fact the role Alan Partridge plays in that scene – a man desperately trying to land a TV commission and resurrect his career while further wrecking it with every word he speaks – has a touch of irony to it, given the position in which Mr Linehan now finds himself.

Last year his views caused the plug to be pulled on Pope Ted, a musical based on Father Ted. “I’ve been thoroughly cancelled,” he said on the BBC’s Nolan Live at the time. “I’ll tell you how cancelled I am – there were two programmes called Cancelled and I wasn’t on either of them.”

By the time he was interviewed earlier this year, Mr Linehan was described as “a showbusiness exile”, one who is “too toxic” to work in what is generally regarded as a liberal industry. He is treated, he believes, like a latter-day David Icke.

That’s harsh.

As a result, the place he stood most recently was on a coffee table on the pavement outside the Scottish Parliament, where he did an impromptu gig on Thursday to a small crowd of mostly elderly onlookers and a fair few journalists. He joked about animal cruelty, Netflix, and having testicular cancer.

“It is important to make a stand,” he told BBC Scotland News after the Holyrood stunt. “It is important to at least stand in front of a microphone, even if it’s just for a second, and show that these people don’t get to push the rest of us around.”

The Herald: Graham Linehan on the mike outside the Scottish ParliamentGraham Linehan on the mike outside the Scottish Parliament (Image: Newsquest)

These people? He means those trans activists and supporters of trans rights who object to his saying the same stuff which caused Twitter to suspend him in 2020 for “repeated violations of our rules against hateful conduct” (he was re-admitted following Elon Musk’s takeover). Mr Linehan has also previously framed his beliefs in terms of those who opposed Nazism – always a red rag to a bull – and in 2018 was given a verbal police warning over a Twitter row with a trans activist.

Then again the Nazi paradigm cuts both ways. There’s a video game on gaming platform Steam which employs Nazi-style imagery for a “first-person shooter” about “escaping a gender-fascist concentration camp.” It’s called Terfenstein. The TERF acronym, by the way, stands for ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist’ and is used a slur. “Unleash your pent-up fury upon the gender-critical tyrants with an arsenal of deadly weapons and tactics in cathartic bliss,” runs the game’s not-altogether-enticing tagline.

Being a straight, middle-aged man, you can question how much skin Mr Linehan has in a game that’s about trans rights and how you define a woman. He would say he has skin enough: a daughter, an ex-wife (his marriage broke up as a result of the stress brought on by litigation), a set of beliefs and a compulsion to make them heard. At the expense of his career he is certainly making them heard – in front of a paying audience, when he can find a venue willing to host him, or for those at home grazing on TV shows such as Talk TV’s Piers Morgan-fronted Uncensored, the very beast he once satirised.

On Wednesday night he debated on that programme with gay rights activist Peter Tatchell. You had to be there – literally: the interview wasn’t repeated and isn’t now available to view online. Trans broadcaster India Willoughby called it “a car crash”, and from the few clips which are available it was certainly combative.

Of course Mr Linehan has his supporters too. Toxic to the liberal media establishment he may be, but he has over half a million followers on social media platform X (Twitter as was). Audio of his Comedy Unleashed gig from February has him remarking that “it’s about 70 per cent TERFs in here”, to a rousing cheer from what sound like mostly female voices.


And Comedy Unleashed? Well, they’ve done rather well out of the rammy, having gone from relative anonymity to headline news in the space of a Fringe run.

Their mission statement is to serve up “free-thinking comedians who leave their self-censorship button at the door” and offer acts who step outside the “groupthink bubble”, an antidote to the “safe, tramline orthodoxy” which produces standups who “simply follow the news and add a few punchlines.”

Imagine, if you will, that famous World War One recruiting poster of a walrus-moustached Lord Kitchener pointing directly at the viewer – only in place of old Herbert is Comedy Unleashed, and the You they want are audiences happy to pay money to see “contrarians” who aren’t afraid of “exploring prejudices” and “hidden thoughts”. There are likely to be many more such punters now than there were previously. If he can hone his act, Mr Linehan may have found his audience.

One Comedy Unleashed regular is Mary Bourke, currently performing her show 200% Irish at the Stand Comedy Club.

“The comic’s job is to say the things you want to say, the things you were thinking or maybe didn’t think you wanted to say until they said it for you,” she has said. “I don’t believe comedy should be a soft play area. If you are offended by thoughts and ideas that are different from your own, then maybe you should stay at home and listen to a podcast while hiding under a duvet and knitting.”

It’s the old snowflake theory, but there’s truth in it. By that yardstick Mr Linehan should certainly be heard if he wants to try to turn his beliefs and experiences into something chuckle worthy. Earlier in the week he said he was considering legal action against Leith Arches for unlawful discrimination. At least one legal expert has said he might have a case.

All I know is this gag still has years left to run – but it’s hard to see anyone having the last laugh.

Roll on next year’s Fringe.