Opinion: Should Reviewers Steer Clear Of Social Media?

As a reviewer I think one should try to judge a gig on what you see in front of you. But as hard as you try there is always a risk that the back story and knowledge of the performer’s offstage life might get in the way. Sometimes this doesn’t matter, a performance is just that, a performance, and it can be reviewed on that basis. But I have a feeling this is getting increasingly difficult for a number of reasons, but mainly due to social media.

Maybe I’ve just ended up with a group of friends who have a habit of oversharing but here’s a hypothetical scenario. What do you do when you are due to review a show and you’ve recently seen via FB that the performer is suffering from depression?

Not just that they are oversensitive, but full-blown, don’t see-the-point-of-living depression. And you go to see the show and it’s a stinker. Might this hypothetical critic pull their punches for fear of driving the person in question over the edge? I consider myself to be professional about my job, writing fairly and frankly about shows, but I feel it may become more of a challenge in the future. 

I recently compared my FB timeline with my partner’s FB timeline. While hers was mostly holiday snaps and pictures of babies mine was largely comedians grieving for dead pets, sad about sick relatives, going through a painful divorce, blubbing about being broke or simply despairing at the state of the world. I’ve got total respect and sympathy for everything they are going through and they are welcome to share it. It just seems to back up anecdotal evidence that comedians feel things more acutely than others.

It is not just the emotional issues though. What if you’ve seen political pronouncements from a talented comedian that you disagree with strongly? Long before Brexit there were stories doing the online rounds about a comedian who was sympathetic to UKIP. I’d always found him funny but maybe this would cast his latest material in a different light even if it wasn’t particularly political. Or have a bearing on my feelings about him. This seems to be a particular problem for stand-up. I don't think I'd have many issues reviewing an actor in a movie if he had voted for Trump.

I’ve always steered clear from socialising with comedians in case knowing too much about them made me uncomfortable about writing about them (to put it bluntly, how can you slag off a mate? I remember another reviewer covering a show and to be fair to readers declaring at the outset that the performer was a friend – before going on to say it was his best set yet). It is a difficult balance to strike. As an interviewer as well as a critic, the more I know about my subject’s inner life the better the piece will be, as a critic the less I know about my subject’s irrelevent – as far as the gig is concerned – tribulations the better.

It was a problem in the pre-online past but not such a big one. I remember seeing a rising star who I rated and was told in a bar one night by another comic that she had issues, which I took to be a drug problem. She seemed to disappear from the circuit soon after. 

These days I try to avoid comedians socially. Someone who has a London run coming up recently contacted me to suggested having dinner before their show. I haven’t replied yet, but the idea of sharing a bottle of wine and a pizza with an act and then writing about them just doesn’t sit right with me (I assume they were offering to pay – if they weren't I'm definitely not doing it).

But back to the online issue. I guess there are a couple of options. Either I can come off Facebook, which means missing out on all sorts of interesting chats and discussions. Or maybe comedians who feel they want to unburden themselves emotionally on a regular basis on social media but also want me to review their next show should unfriend me. Feel free, I probably won’t be upset. And if I am I won’t write about being upset on Facebook. 


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