UK comedian Ava Vidal is running late. She has recently landed in Melbourne after a long-haul flight to make her debut appearance at this month’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival with her show The Hardest Word.

It takes Vidal no time to shake the jetlag, however, to discuss her long-running feud with UK gay journalist Johann Hari about the extent of homophobia in the heavily Muslim-populated East London.

“Johann Hari wrote this sanctimonious, ridiculous, rubbish article saying one of the Gallup polls said that nought percent of Muslims accept gay people,” Vidal told the Star Observer.

“Firstly, that’s faulty straight away. When you see it, you realise that.

“I know a lot of gay Muslims and it’s got to be a fault.”

Hari claimed Muslim homophobia is rife in London’s East End, citing a 2009 Gallup poll which indicated British Muslims surveyed have almost zero tolerance of homosexuality.

“We have allowed a fanatically intolerant attitude towards gay people to incubate there, in the name of ‘tolerance’, ” he wrote in an article published in UK gay magazine Attitude earlier this year.

What resulted was a war of words between the two. Vidal said the survey is fundamentally flawed and that Hari is exaggerating the level of intolerance, playing on anti-Muslim sentiment in the community.

Hari was forced to make a correction to his original piece after claiming reported homophobic violence had gone up in the East End — it has in fact dropped in the last two years.

“There is a big gay community there,” Vidal said.

“He’s saying, ‘Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, let’s talk about Muslim homophobia’, but Muslim homophobia’s not the elephant in the room, it’s the same [as] every religion’s had.

“There are lots of people in the Muslim community who are quite angry about it, especially gay Muslims.”

Vidal is certainly not backward in speaking out against unjust causes. Taking a critical look at racism is a big part of her act on stage.

Her sharp comedic style has won fans in Britain and she says she will keep talking about it as it’s part of her life.

“When I was in Australia last time I did Good News Week and the make-up artist was very funny,” she said.

“She didn’t mean to be. I was sitting there and she just sort of yelled across me, ‘Where’s the Indigenous bag?’, and I’m like, ‘What?’ ”

Her no-holds-barred approach has also won her many gay fans.

“I play a lot of gay clubs, nights with gay audiences, and I find gay guys like my humour a lot.”
Vidal said she finds lesbian audiences harder work.

“I was trying to work on some material about it, a lesbian audience is harder than a male gay audience, I don’t know if it’s because they’ve got the sexism layer to deal with.”

“Oh, gay men, aren’t they fun — which is patronising in itself; but gay women, aren’t they mean, aren’t they cows, so I suppose if you had to deal with that you’re going to be extra prickly about certain things.

“If I start talking about Muslims and people don’t know where I’m going with it and there are Muslims in the audience they’re going to be a bit funny — I understand that.”

info: Ava Vidal performs The Hardest Word at Chapel Off Chapel until April 23. Shows 9pm. Tickets $25 full, $17.50 concession. 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran.

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