Comedian Louise Beaumont is being sued by her estranged husband over material contained in her Edinburgh Fringe stand-up show. Ms Beaumont, who uses the stage name Reay, is being sued by Thomas Reay in defamation, privacy and under the Data Protection Act. He is seeking damages and an injunction to prevent her publishing further statements about him.

Lawyers for Mr Reay have said the allegations made, which included an allegation that the relationship between the couple was an abusive one, are serious and false – as well as that the show breached Mr Reay’s privacy and personal data rights by using still and moving images of him and revealing private details of their relationship.

Ms Beaumont has said she only referred to her husband ‘a couple of times – perhaps 2 minutes’ worth of reference in a 50-minute show.’ She removed the material from the show – entitled ‘Hard Mode’ after receiving her husband’s complaint. The show was billed as being an immersive comedy about life in an ‘authoritarian regime’ but one critic described it as ‘at its core… about a very recent raw heartbreak’. Ms Beaumont has set up a crowd-funding page to fund her defence, on which she says the issue is one of free speech, and that she is facing censorship.

Mr Reay’s legal team deny that the case raises free speech issues or that it constitutes any form of censorship. They say Mr Reay was never asked for his consent in relation to the use of the material and that the references to him have caused him enormous distress.

Comedians often make provocative statements, and use their own lives as source material referring to partners, ex-partners and friends in their jokes and material. As the laws of defamation, privacy and data protection apply to comedians as they do to everyone else, often legal risk is managed by not providing identifying information about living individuals, changing names, or by seeking the explicit consent of the person being referred to. The latter course is often what needs to happen where partners or ex-partners are referred to, whether the stories are true or not, as even if they are not named, or false names are used, they are likely to be identifiable to at least some people. Where consent is sought and given, best practice is to record it in writing.

The last comedian before the libel courts was Frankie Boyle, but in contrast to the present case, Frankie Boyle was the claimant, winning damages in 2012 of over £50,000 from the Daily Mirror after it published an article describing him as ‘a racist comedian’. That case was also notable as being one of the last defamation cases to be heard before a jury, before the practice was effectively abolished in 2014. This case will be heard by a judge.

zoom-in will report further as the case progresses.