Did you hear the one about the comedian who wrote a column for The Independent? It turns out he wasn’t a comedian at all.
But what had been a “misunderstanding” between Liam Evans and the Independent’s comment desk led to claims he might be an alt-right hoaxer out to stir up trouble for “liberal comedians”.
“I would go so far as to argue that some of the jokes I have heard on the comedy circuit of late constitute actual hate speech,” Evans wrote for Indy Voices, calling out big-name comedians such as Ricky Gervais and Dave Chapelle over nearly 900 words.
The piece was headlined: “As a new comedian working the circuit, I’m appalled at disgusting ‘jokes’ creeping back into the industry,” and published last week.
Evans concluded: “In a country poised on the brink of a far-right resurgence, is a cheap laugh really worth the risk? The kind of jokes that reinforce negative stereotypes and normalise bigotry should no longer be tolerated in our society. This really isn’t too much to ask.”
The column prompted well-known TV stand-up Stewart Lee to write in to the Independent’s managing editor Will Gore to ask if he was sure Evans was “a real person”.
In his email, reported by comedy website Chortle, Lee asked: “I think you have been hoaxed by the alt-right trying to give the impression that all liberal comedians are humourless self-righteous killjoys.
“There is no evidence of him ever having done a gig anywhere.
“We need to be extra vigilant in this era of fake news, as Liam’s piece was received on Twitter in such a way as to stoke the usual high profile alt-right commentators’ sense of grievance. I would be interested in what background checks you did on his identity and who he is really.”
Evans’ Twitter profile – his handle is included in his byline – has 29 followers and the following bio: “writer, reformed rugby lad and gender equality activist,” but makes no mention of comedy except for a retweet of a Guardian article about young comics reassessing Bill Hicks.
It might not be much of a punchline, but an Independent spokesperson told Press Gazette the article had run “under an erroneous headline – the consequence of a misunderstanding during the pre-publication stage”.
They added the headline had “now been amended better to reflect the content of the article and the position of the writer”, who they understood to have done some student comedy but not professionally.
Instead of “new comedian” Evans is now described as a “comedy aficionado”.
A correction beneath the article, dated 4 March, reads: “Update: The headline to this article has been amended, to no longer refer to the author as a comedian ‘working the circuit’.”