Voices: The appalling slur that lays bare the dark heart of British comedy

‘A quick message to the Zionist comedian stalking my family’s page’, Dane Baptiste posted  (Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)
‘A quick message to the Zionist comedian stalking my family’s page’, Dane Baptiste posted (Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)

The author John Irving was determined to write a novel about the Vietnam War, but was advised by a friend to wait, as he was simply too angry in the immediate aftermath. In 1989, A Prayer for Owen Meany was published, a full 14 years after the conflict had ended. It is generally considered to be the author’s magnum opus.

Now, it might be no Vietnam, but I, too, am angry – and fully admit I lack Irving’s self-restraint, so these words are being written just a couple of weeks after the comedian Dane Baptiste sent a chilling death threat to a Jewish comedian on Instagram. It read as follows:

“A quick message to the Zionist comedian stalking my family’s page. I want you to sit down with your husband and kids and imagine what their lives will be without you, b/c north London is a quick trip to make and a Think Tank will have to be an actual tank to keep you safe from me. Ask about and comedians will tell you I will be at your literal doorstep. Your agent won’t keep you safe. And I’ll sit in prison while your family sit at the cemetery. First and last warning. Your act is dumb but don’t be a dumb woman. For your own safety.”

There is much to unpack here, not least since I know both the comedians involved (in so much as you can know anyone from following each other for a few years online).

“Ask about and comedians will tell you I will be at your literal doorstep” might not actually be the boast the comic considers it is. It emerges the “stalking” was little more than viewing a public Instagram story. A couple of options Baptiste might have considered before threatening murder could have been locking the account (or simply blocking the person involved), but then it’s so often the way that one realises the best course of action once it’s too late, isn’t it?

Some basic fact-checking wouldn’t have gone amiss, either. The victim does not even live in north London. That was just a lazy antisemitic stereotype in keeping with the kind of hackneyed material that wouldn’t look out of place at Jongleurs in the early 1990s (...which Baptiste resumed posting online, less than a week after the whole furore).

By way of contrast, the victim’s “dumb” act – which I’ve seen – is actually endlessly inventive. Baptiste made a grievous error: if he’d come for your correspondent, at least he would be dealing with someone who lives in Finchley and has a nose that could have been drawn by a caricaturist working for Der Stürmer.

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the whole affair is that it’s not as though Baptiste was “caught”, in any traditional sense. It wasn’t a direct or private message that was leaked, but a public Instagram story shared to thousands of followers without a hint of shame or remorse.

It remained in place for hours and the comedy community was largely silent. In the same week, Jerry Seinfeld made some tiresome remarks about political correctness and comedy, precisely the kind of stuff one might expect from a boomer billionaire. Everyone online had an opinion when it came to that particular Jewish comic, but the one on the receiving end of a death threat didn’t warrant a mention.

In his apology, which predictably asked for forgiveness from just about everyone bar the victim, Baptiste stated: “I made a point to say Zionist and not Jewish”, as though he deserved credit for the wording of a death threat towards a heavily pregnant woman with a young family. Well done mate, you’re a legend.

(Of course, his friends rallied round and claimed this was an isolated incident and entirely out of character.)

Unfortunately, the stand-up circuit can be a sort of lawless Wild West, filled with toxic men – and there is no easy recourse. No human resources department to contact.

Baptiste was able to gig on the very night of his transgression, despite the venue having been informed of his conduct. Indeed, he is even now plugging his tour dates, culminating in a night at the prestigious Leicester Square Theatre. Where’s cancel culture when you need it?

Perhaps the standout memory I’ll take away from this wholly unpleasant Baptiste situation is the person who contacted me online when I posted about his behaviour to inform me “I would never say any of this to his face”. Are they having a laugh? Obviously not, I’m a coward – and the Instagram post read like it came from a psychopath.

But hey, at least I’ve said something, long before the anger has subsided.