You’ve got to love this story from the Daily Telegraph about the intellectual property rights to laugh about the divorce. A stand-up comedian, Stephen Grant, was asked by his ex-wife’s lawyers to give an undertaking that the divorce would not form part of his act. It’s not quite clear from the story what happened, because the request was made in April 2009 and seems to have been immediately rejected (rightly, in my view), but Mr Grant seems to say that he has only now felt free to use the material in his act, which tends to suggest that the dispute went on for a bit. Practitioners will certainly recognise the sentiment, “She seemed to love my sense of humour back then but she very quickly lost it in the divorce”. A sense of humour, along with a sense of proportion, is one of those assets that lawyers can’t get back for you once they’re gone, but it should be treated as valuable all the same.
This story is a sad little sign of the times. I’ve come across quite a few attempts myself recently to gag departing partners from talking about the break-up. The long shadow of Facebook and other types of social networking is getting cast over more and more partings these days, and more people now have the capability of airing their grievances to the world at large, even if they’re not stand-up comedians. And, as we know, the danger is that once the information is out there, it will be out there forever. (I’m not totally convinced about this, actually, there are storage limits on blogs and social networking and eventually items will be deleted just out of sheer apathy, but I agree that your past will certainly hang around for longer than it once did.) Even the man or woman on the Clapham omnibus has a “public profile” these days, and wants to protect it.
Anyway, I strongly suspect that Mr Grant had better be very, very funny if he wants to avoid further wrath from his ex.