Is there anything funny about divorce? If you are a comedian then the answer is probably yes. John Cleese went on an “Alimony Tour” to fund his divorce settlement. “I am here, my friends, because frankly I need the money”. Groucho Marx, when asked why he continued to spend so much time with his former wife Eden replied “I like to be near my money”.
My favourite is the married couple in a restaurant, the husband keeps looking at a woman at another table drinking steadily from a bottle of whiskey, clearly very drunk. “Do you know her?” his wife asked. Rather forlornly, her husband says “yes, she happens to be my ex-wife, she took to drinking 10 years ago, immediately after the divorce and has not been sober since.” “Goodness” says his wife, “Who would have thought a person could have gone on celebrating for so long”.
Award winning comedian Louise Reay’s divorce also had unexpected consequences as she is presently involved in what has been described as a “test case” and being sued by her ex-husband for alleged defamation and breach of privacy for her show, ironically about censorship and authoritarianism. Louise explained “As a stand-up comedian, I believe it is 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”.
There is some history on this subject. In 2009 stand-up comedian Steven Grant was warned off by his ex-wife’s Solicitors from talking about their marriage in his routine. Steven explained “We were so in love and she seemed to love my sense of humour back then but she very quickly lost it in the divorce”. It was seen by him as a case of “Buyer Beware” as he explained “People who see me do stand-up know that I talk about stuff that goes on in my private life all the time… the whole divorce process she put me through was so ridiculous that you have to see the funny side of it. It makes great material”.
I spoke to our reputational management team, Gerard Cukier and Charlotte Harris about all this. The consensus seems to be that our libel laws are often considered a bit of a joke, a reputation that will not be improved by the courts being asked to make a decision regarding one particularly as previous attempts have failed. There will be a judge but no longer a jury who will look at issues such as truth or falsity and the reputational damage actually suffered. I wonder how many members of Louise Reay’s audience will have actually known Mr Reay and whether the additional publicity of a public court packed with journalists will make things worse for Mr Reay. Then there is the risk, the doomsday scenario, of Mr Reay waking to the headline “Laughed Out of Court”.
For the legal professionals involved the case will also be high risk as, already the subject of much humour, they will inevitably be in the firing line as “great material”….. A lawyer awoke from surgery and asked the nurse why the blinds in his room were closed to be told “there’s a fire across the street and we didn’t want you to think that you had died”. All good divorce lawyers, whether drafting settlements or nuptial agreements, might also like to remember the privacy acronym WRIT - never Write, Rap, Impersonate or Tweet about my client.