Compère trio provoke controversy at charity fashion show

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Durham University Charity Fashion Show raised £150,000 for the Environmental Justice Foundation, with their efforts culminating in three fashion shows last week.

However, the three nights of fundraising were host to some controversy as the compères for the event have been accused of making ‘vulgar’ comments and jokes, that some in attendance have interpreted as sexist, racist and body shaming.

2800 people attended the black-tie event over the three nights at Rainton Meadows Arena, watching from tables that cost a minimum of £55 towards the charity. The show, the UK’s most profitable student-run charity event, beat last years total of £106,000 raised for mental health charity Mind, in part due to an extra night being added.

After initial complaints of the content of the show, one student told Palatinate: “I’m all about provocative jokes and risque comedy but it really missed the mark. It really brought down the rest of the show and was vulgar, which the show itself wasn’t.”

In a public post made on Tuesday, DUCFS said: “We are aware that some members of the audience were not happy with some of the content they heard of the compères’ speeches. The show has been such an engaging and inclusive experience for all the models and exec, and we hope that this was the case for everyone there too.

“The £150,000 we have raised would not have been possible without the support of all the audience and so we would like to sincerely apologise to anyone who took offence. We would like to emphasise that this was categorically not the intention of any of the compères, nor the DUCFS team that worked alongside them, and we are very sorry if this detracted from anyone’s enjoyment of the evening.”

In particular, two of the comedy sketches proved controversial the compères and the organisation’s President was performed on stage, containing the line: “What do you mean women aren’t funny?…(On the phone to the President), that’s horrendous”. The trio joked: “If only we had a female compère, we could have made a tampon joke”.

DUCFS told Palatinate that the skit was “playing on the fact that all the compères this year were male, something they thought they ought to address, given it’s 2019. The irony of this joke comes through as the vast majority of the DUCFS organisers are female and that DUCFS has provided an empowering platform for all those involved.

“The singing exacerbated physical movements, and pretence of miscommunication, all made evident that this was a comedy sketch as part of the comperes’ speeches.“

However, the comedic skits were criticised by multiple students, including one woman who attempted to throw her drink on the compères on the Friday night.

One woman attempted to throw her drink on the compères on the Friday night

The student in question stated in an anonymous Durfess post: “The production of the event was amazing, so credits to the exec and the models. But regarding the sketch, I guarantee you that at least one person left feeling a little bit more shit about themselves. You had a platform to spread love and empower people.”

Another skit involved one of the compères appearing to forget the charity supported by the show and another entering the stage singing the Band Aid song ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, more specifically the line ‘feed the world’.

DUCFS maintain that they “immediately went on to say “in all seriousness, ladies and gentlemen” before describing the real charity (EJF) and emphasising the importance of their work.”

Another student present said: “While the DUCFS is an amazing cause and has raised a lot of money for the EJF, the compères were an embarrassment to the cause and the wider university. DUCFS has a massive platform, appearing in the likes of Tatler and achieving 2800 audience members, from the University and beyond.

“Students don’t go to DUCFS to be subjected to comments which are unacceptable in everyday forum. It’s bad taste. While I’d love to say I’d go to DUCFS again to support an amazing cause, I’m conflicted by the possibility I may support and help normalise an unacceptable and offensive culture at Durham.”

“I’m conflicted by the possibility I may support and help normalise an unacceptable and offensive culture at Durham.”

DUCFS defended descriptions of the models as “Durham’s tightest, lightest and brightest”, calling this “an innocent stereotype” and “wordplay that lightly mocks the models.”

One student told Palatinate: “The compère performance became more of a cue for a toilet-break than a gripping and exciting section of what was a brilliant fashion show, they really missed a trick. The compères were more laughable than any of their ill-placed attempts to make humour out of blatant sexism and racism.”

There were also initial complaints over comments such as “the most beautiful curve on your body must be your smile” and “hunky to hungry, from phwoar to prisoner of war”. However, DUCFS insist that these were made in the context of what the fashion industry expects from models and were ended with “but at DUCFS, that’s not at all what we’re about” and “at DUCFS all that matters is that you have either luscious long locks or a shaven head.”

In a comment to Palatinate, the compères said: “We are absolutely distraught and deeply sorry that some of our content caused offence. Our aim was first and foremost to entertain and certainly not polarise. If anyone would like any explanation for certain jokes that were perceived as offensive, we would be very happy to give one & send their exact wording. DUCFS is an inclusive, empowering event.

“DUCFS is an inclusive, empowering event.”

“As an integral part of the show, we are 100% in tune and aligned with everything it upholds and are hugely proud to have played a part in it.

“In a raucous room of over 900 people, we recognise that it was easy to miss large portions of the compères’ speeches. Unfortunately, certain jokes have subsequently been taken out of context, exaggerated and quoted without the ironic, performative tone that crucially differentiates satire from sincerity.”

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