Last week, comedian Nick Giannopoulos, best known for the 90s comedy TV show ‘Acropolis Now’ and the films ‘The Wog Boy’, told the Herald Sun “My lawyers have been hired by me to protect my trademark”.
What he was referring to was the trademarks he was awarded in the 90s for the words ‘wogs’ and ‘wogboys’ within the ‘Entertainment’ class. General Manager Trade Marks and Designs, Paula Adamson, at IP Australia told me this class is “a broad term which covers anything that could be described as entertainment. This includes arranging and presenting stage shows, films and concerts”.
Comedian Gabriel Rossi, from the show ‘A Very Woggy Xmas’ told Neil Mitchell on radio 3AW that legal letters were sent to promoters and that comedians received a “blanket order” to change the names of their shows. After eighteen years his show is now called “A Very Ethnic Christmas”. His lawyers advised him that “variations of the word” may not be enough to keep him “safe”.
Since then, the issue has blown up, with Giannopoulos posting on his Facebook page “I have never sent Mr Rossi a legal letter. I have never asked him to change the name of his ‘Woggy’ show. I am not currently suing anyone.”
But on A Current Affair this week comedian George Kapaniaris declared “the war of the ethnics has started” before producing a legal letter from Giannopoulos’s lawyers demanding he immediately stop selling tickets to his show “Born to be wogs” and destroy all promotional materials. Giannopoulos vows that that’s the only legal letter he’s sent, because he claims it plagiarised a song of the same title from his show “Star Wogs”.
Who is telling the truth? I’m not sure. It seems a bit far-fetched that all these comedians are changing their shows just for fun. Do I care? I have two films called ‘Wog’ and ‘Love according to wogs’.
But my care factor is related more to my annoyance at being so tired of wog male voices.
For example, as a female writer, I need to be able to make art that references the stereotyped art that portrays women as people without brains. The trademark ‘wogs’ should never have been granted.
A petition is circulating to have it retracted. You can’t trademark identity, especially when the word was used to racially vilify marginalised groups. These groups, trudged through their pain and discrimination, and turned the word around to wear it like a badge of honour. Giannopoulos trademarking it is like ripping the badge off every wog in Australia. When I explained my concerns to Adamson at IP Australia, she explained that before a trademark is approved it is advertised for opposition purposes.
“No oppositions were filed in this case and the trade mark application proceeded to registration. Over a period of 20 years it is likely that a trade mark owner will have used their trade mark commercially to such an extent that it has developed a reputation through that use. The Registrar of Trade Marks is not in a position to cancel a trade mark registration that has been on the register for 20+ years. This can only be done through an action before the courts”.
This trademark staying in place feels like silencing. Silencing wogs. Silencing females. Because, where are all the female voices? Where is the wog chick comedy? A Current Affair had no women in their discussion on this issue, even though I emailed the show when I found out it was happening, and I even alerted Rossi of my willingness to participate. I class my art as black comedy, a stream of ethnic comedy where women have brains (mind boggling, right!?). When I asked A Current Affair if they found it problematic that no women were part of the show, they declined to comment. At the end of the segment, host Martin King asked ‘Why are you not all in this together?’ to which comedian James Liotta agreed they need to work on that, and then King said ‘The brotherhood’, to which Liotta agreed, ‘The brotherhood, the wog brotherhood’. Umm, hello, are you not missing an entire gender there?
But it isn’t just the way in which mainstream Anglo culture perceive ethnic comedy. It’s within our cultures too. For example, The English section of our national Greek Newspaper Neos Kosmos, has since published two opinion articles on the topic, both by men, and three letters to the editor, two by men and one by a woman.
I have watched a lot of ethnic comedy in my lifetime and most of it is written by men. The only example I know of is Mary Coustas and her character Effie Stefeanidis from Acropolis Now. Men also write their female characters and play them. Women are often portrayed as bimbos or put in very traditional roles, for example Sooshi Mango’s ‘Shit Ethnic Mothers Say’. While it may be funny, this skit makes fun of the struggle of the migrant woman and her repression – that’s why they shout! This kind of comedy not only keeps patriarchal structures within these communities alive and kicking, but it acts as a block for other ethnic female acts to progress to the mainstream. With no feminist wog chick comedy available to act as a point of difference, it keeps the power with men, kicking women while they are down.
One should not underestimate the presence of wog comedy. Australian migrant culture loves to cling to the past and it still hasn’t let go. These shows pack out huge venues and sell out show after show. On commissioning the ABC comedy series Superwog after brothers Nathan and Theo Saidden’s You Tube channel had accumulated 180 million views, Rick Kalowski told The Sydney Morning Herald “My suspicion is that this style of comedy has not been adequately tapped for broadcast or streaming markets”. That’s great, but where are the women, Rick? The article was written by Michael Lallo, titled “Australia’s new wave of ‘wog humour’ is about class just as much as it is race” had not one mention of a woman. It may be about class, but currently, it’s also all about men. This is despite Screen Australia’s Gender Matters initiative reporting in 2019 that it had exceeded their long-term goals (Screen Australia has since created new targets for 2022).
The excuse that there aren’t any women around doesn’t fly with me. We are around. All you have to do is dig a little. If you want to. If men want to let go of their power. I am glad to see the commissioning of the Hijab Girls by the ABC, but there are plenty of other wog chick cultures out there who are who still waiting to be heard.
Photo credit: Nathan Little.