Comedy club furious at ‘damage’ done by Government mistake on vaccine passports

Alex Diggins
·3-min read
Paul Smith, the resident compere, performing at the Club - Hot Water Comedy Club 
Paul Smith, the resident compere, performing at the Club - Hot Water Comedy Club

Liverpool’s Hot Water Comedy Club, which is to trial the UK’s first non-socially distanced live event on April 16, has complained of receiving a “crazy” deluge of online abuse, after the Government erroneously suggested they would be using “vaccine passports”.

The venue is one of four cultural institutions in the city that will take part in the Events Research Programme (ERP), which will use before-and-after lateral flow tests to test the feasibility of mass audience events, ahead of the country's wider June 21 reopening.

Hot Water will host an audience of 300 at the M&S Bank Arena in 11 days’ time, with no social distancing or masks – the first time such an event has been legally held in a year. The ERP will also use data from other events in the city in April and early May – two club nights, three outdoor cinema screenings and a business conference – to inform the reopening roadmap.

But after a Government press release, sent out on Friday, included the comedy event among those that would trial vaccine passports – which the Government calls “certification” – the small family-run outfit has been overrun with “thousands” of negative messages online.

“The Events Recovery Programme is the complete opposite of any vaccine passport scheme,” says co-founder Paul Blair. “The whole purpose is to prove that events like ours are safe without certification.”

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The mistake appears to have come from a Government press release sent out on Friday evening. After its contents were reported widely, emails, social media messages and one-star TripAdvisor reviews flooded into Hot Water’s inbox and accounts.

Blair explains: “We had no input into any of this. Usually we get to sign off on a press release before the embargo lifts, but the first I heard of it was when a journalist from the Daily Mirror phoned me up asking why we were taking part in a vaccine passport trial.

“Even the DCMS [Department of Culture, Media and Sport] didn’t seem to know where it had come from – they suggested it had been sent directly by Downing Street.”

Several of the messages referenced “medical apartheid”, and one told Blair and his co-founder (and brother) Binty to “catch Covid and die”.

“We had 600-700 emails a day,” Blair says. “But it’s not just conspiracy theorists – we had a large social-media following, and people have already asked for refunds.”

An example of the online abuse the Hot Water Club has been receiving  - Hot Water Comedy Club
An example of the online abuse the Hot Water Club has been receiving - Hot Water Comedy Club

The Hot Water Comedy Club was founded in 2010, and has been a fixture on the national stand-up circuit since. But despite its sizable reputation, the organisation remains in the hands of Blair and his brother.

He notes: “We’re not a big corporate entity, so this [exposure] has been crazy. It’s caused a lot of damage.”

A spokesman for Liverpool City Council said on Sunday: “The line which was briefed out yesterday by the Government about Liverpool’s events being included in the vaccine passports trials is incorrect – none of our events in Liverpool will involve them."

Blair plans to speak to solicitors this week about the reputational impact which the mistake may have caused. He says he is also worried about the damage done to the Events Recovery Programme more broadly – a key step in exiting lockdown and restoring Britain’s cultural life.

“The sole purpose of our night was to prove events are safe. We spent £30,000 last year on making our venue Covid-secure and not a single case was traced back to us.

“We’re doing this for the right reasons. But the damage has been done.”

The DCMS has been contacted for comment.