Secret Policeman’s Ball: Stand-Up for Human Rights


Knock knock.

Who’s there?

An activist.

An activist who?

An activist coming to a comedy club near you!

Political activism is a testing business. Days are spent campaigning, lobbying, and shouting out, often for efforts to be ignored by those who matter. It takes stoicism and passion. Even hardened protesters need the opportunity to lighten up sometimes. It is easy to see why many campaigns are now turning to comedy to get their point across. People laugh, people listen, and campaigns reach new audiences.

Self-confessed Glasgow fan Josie Long is a somewhat of a hero in this field. Starting out as a stand-up, her left-wing ethos has since seen her work with UK Uncut, the Occupy movement and her own charity, Arts Emergency. She is respected in comedy, arts and political circles. Targeting a wide demographic through many mediums, her mission is clear.

Nadia Kamil took her feminist agenda to last year’s Edinburgh festival, incorporating a burlesque act into an educational show about complex theoretical terms such as “kyriarchy”.

Pro-independence activist and author Alan Bissett also had a go at making feminism funny in his show about Andrea Dworkin, “Ban this Filth!”. Even Pussy Riot’s anti-Putin anarchism has an element of humour, with trademark colourful attire and irreverent lyrics.

The power of comedy reaches out to a different level of reception from the public. Militant activism is disarming when we choose to pay attention, but shock tactics can be tiring and overwhelming. Instead of estranging the onlooker, comedy invites them in to engage with issues in a relatable way. After all, we do like to be entertained.

Bringing this concept to campus, on 22nd will be taking over the QMU with its sixth annual Secret Policeman’s Ball, plus an after-party hosted by Philanthrobeats. If you are picturing Qudos full of special officers in evening dress then think again – the SPB is a fundraising night of stand-up and comic performance.

Amnesty International’s most light-hearted institution was founded in 1976. The benefit was championed by John Cleese, Bob Geldof and Eric Clapton in its early days. It has since become a key tool in raising awareness of Amnesty’s work. A British incarnation, it crossed the pond to the USA in 2012. According to Channel 4, which covers the star-studded event every year, The Secret Policeman’s Ball “uses anarchic humour to throw a spotlight on human rights abuses and celebrates the right to free speech through comedy and music.”

Organiser and Vice President of GUAI, Debbie White, explains the buzz surrounding the night:

“It is the biggest event we do at GU Amnesty, and it’s one of the most successful student-run events in the Amnesty calendar. Being a comedy night, it helps us engage with people who would never normally come to our meetings, and they get to hear about our work and take part in campaign actions that they never normally would. It’s a very exciting way for us to be able to reach out beyond our usual audience into the wider student community.”

From our own Ball you can expect entertainment from compere and co-organiser Billy Kirkwood. He will play host to his friends from The Geek Comedy Night, and the ukulele-sporting Eleanor Morton. The Glasgow Laughter and Sketch Society will represent the student body’s funny bone. There will be a raffle in which you can win those luxuries that you cannot quite afford. Petitions and information about GUAI’s campaigns will be circulated, including the Conflict Free Campus Initiative and the call to close Guantanamo Bay. Later Philanthrobeats will invite you upstairs to Jim’s Bar to dance, drink and bask in the glow of standing up for human rights.

Amnesty International meetings can leave members feeling seventy per cent dejected about the state of the world and thirty per cent exhilarated by the people trying to change it. This may sum up the experiences of activists universally. The Secret Policeman’s Ball is a night for focussing on the positive side; to spread the word about the great work done on campus, raise barrels of money for the nationwide organisation, and be cheered up by people making fools of themselves onstage.

To finish:

Q. Why did the qmunicate reader cross the road?

A. To get to the Secret Policeman’s Ball!

(Sorry.)

[Ellen MacAskill]

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