They steal my jokes, says phone-smashing comic

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The Independent Online

Stand-up comic Lee Hurst today launched a tirade against "thieves" stealing his material after pleading guilty to smashing an audience member's mobile phone at one of his gigs.

The bald-headed comedian grabbed the handset and threw it to the floor after believing it was being used to film part of his performance at the Stoke Pub in Guildford, Surrey.

He told Guildford Magistrates' Court that he did it out of anger, claiming that footage of his gigs end up on websites such as YouTube.

The 46-year-old also accused writers of recording his material so they could copy his jokes and sell them to television shows.

The former star of TV quiz They Think It's All Over was fined £60, and ordered to pay compensation of £80 and £87 costs after admitting a charge of criminal damage.

The court heard that Hurst was performing at the pub on 3 September last year when he believed someone was filming him.

Liz Highams, prosecuting, said he walked into the audience and grabbed the £80 Motorola K1 handset belonging to Gareth Hughes while being abusive.

He then returned to the stage and threw it to the ground, breaking it, before storming off.

Hurst, from Narrow Street, Limehouse, east London, represented himself in court and told the magistrates he had been asked to perform for 30 minutes at the pub.

He said he was coming towards the end of his act when he noticed someone standing at the back holding up their mobile with the "light shining towards me".

He added: "I moved to the right and the light followed me. I moved back to the centre and the light followed me again.

"I realised he was filming me. This is a situation that happens from time to time unfortunately."

Hurst, who told the court he was speaking on behalf of all stand-up comics, said that although there were supposed to be rules against people using phones during gigs - when it happened there was nothing the performer could do "but suffer it".

He said: "If people film you they don't have permission to do so. A lot of this stuff ends up on YouTube.

"TV programmes have writers writing for the performers and they go around to gigs and take the material and sell it to the BBC and ITV and that material is gone.

"You are then accused of stealing your own material. It has happened to me with material shown on national TV that I had already done.

"There are thieves amongst the circuit sadly and amongst the writing community. Nobody will protect us, we have to protect ourselves."

Hurst told the court although the audience member claimed they were only texting, he saw the light and was sure they were filming.

He said he had no knowledge of how to delete the footage from a phone so, in anger, he smashed it.

The chairman of the bench Jon Curtis told him: "Although we have some sympathy with the situation you found yourself in it is clearly not an excuse to cause damage."

Hurst was originally supposed to stand trial today claiming in his defence that he "wasn't there" after the prosecution had put the wrong date on the charge.

But magistrates granted an application for the indictment to be amended and Hurst subsequently entered his guilty plea.

Speaking outside court, Hurst called for comedians to be given the same copyright protection that is given to films being shown in cinemas.

He said: "The same rules should apply to live performances so people don't have to resort to taking the law into their own hands.

"It is awful. You are accused of stealing your own material.

"I don't regret what I did because the police wouldn't turn up to defend me, would they?

"It was in anger but it is like having your tools stolen if your material is taken.

"We just need the same protection that is afforded to the cinema on copyright theft."

He added: "Ban YouTube - it is the biggest piece of c*** ever."