Comedian refused to sign 'behavioural agreement' before gig

Stand-up comedian Konstantin KisinImage source, Alina Kisina

A comedian has turned down a gig at a university after being asked to sign a "behavioural agreement" first.

Konstantin Kisin was warned about a "no tolerance policy" on topics including racism, sexism and transphobia.

He was asked to perform at a gig at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London, organised by university society Unicef on Campus.

The group has since apologised and the Students' Union says it "believes fully in freedom of speech".

Konstantin told Radio 1 Newsbeat the experience reflects a growing trend of free speech becoming stifled on university campuses across the UK.

He shared the "behavioural agreement form" online, saying the title "nearly made me puke".

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"I just think it reflects an attitude among a group of people, people at university particularly, where it seems that they have become places of indoctrination rather than learning," he said.

"Students are being taught to prevent offence rather than to seek truth and pursue experiences.

"Universities used to be all about that, but now it seems they're places where students are being taught to be woke. I think it reflects a broader issue, where increasingly there are people who value safety, or what they perceive to be safety."

The full list of topics listed by the organisers were "racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia or anti-religion or anti-atheism".

The contract said: "It does not mean that these topics cannot be discussed. But it must be done in a respectful and non-abusive way."

Image source, Alina Kisina

Konstantin, who was born in the Soviet Union, says that he's since referenced the experience on stage.

"I was performing at Comedy Unleashed. It's a comedy night specifically focused on ensuring that comedians have a place where they don't self-censor," he explains.

"I read [Unicef on Campus]'s letter and it got a lot of groans and frustrated responses from the audience."

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Unicef on Campus told Newsbeat: "Given that Unicef is a children's charity, we wanted to make sure it was an appropriate event for the cause. We would never wish to impose that guests would have to agree to anything they do not believe in.

"We apologise for the misunderstanding."

A spokesperson for SOAS Students' Union said it "does not require speakers to sign any form of contract or behavioural agreement".

Konstantin also hosts Triggernometry, a YouTube show that focuses on issues such as the gender pay gap, which Konstantin describes as "the kind of thing that you might not be able to talk about".

"We are trying to create a space where these discussions can be had in a nuanced, long-form way, so we interview people for an hour and we don't interrupt them very much - we try and let them speak," he explains.

But he also insists that he's never been out to deliberately cause offence - he's simply offering a fresh take on his 20 years in the UK as a Russian immigrant.

"I'm from Russia, I joke about Novichok and I joke about the fact that I'm Russian and my wife is Ukrainian - that's a whole big issue right now," he says.

"I make fun of British people and that's a kind of 'Hey I'm a foreigner and that's what I've noticed about you guys'."

Still, he's certain that offence can be found in almost any comedian's set.

"If you choose to find offence then there's plenty of room to do so," he says.

"I didn't turn down this gig because I'm some racist, homophobic, xenophobic, ableist comedian. I turned down this gig because if you sign a contract like that, you're exposing yourself to someone's bad interpretation.

"If someone writes a contract like that, the chances are that they will be hypersensitive, vigilant and trying to catch you out. I'm just not interested in that."

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