A well-known Kiwi comedian has been charged with committing a sexual offence against a four-year-old girl.
And because the man was granted name suppression, speculation over his identity has led to several iconic Kiwi comics being accused and often named as the charged man.
One comic, whose name has been bandied about in relation to the alleged crime, was requested on Wednesday to sign a waiver confirming he wasn't the accused before a client would employ him.
It is understood the alleged incident happened following a media Christmas party when the man, who has appeared on TV, left the event.
The man is believed to have told police he was drunk and that the alleged incident was a genuine mistake.
A friend of the accused told Sunday News the man had said to mates there was nothing to the incident and police were notified out of spite by someone who was "out to get him".
The friend said the accused was trying to distance himself from that person and that he claims he has evidence to back up his allegation that the complaint to police was malicious.
"He (the accused) is pretty pissed off," the friend said.
The man's lawyer, Marie Dyhrberg, refused to comment.
The accused entered no plea when he appeared in the Auckland District Court this week charged with having an unlawful sexual connection with a person under the age of 12. He is due to re-appear in the court early next month.
Name suppression is typical in cases like this in the early stages.
Comic Mike King said he had been repeatedly asked if he was the accused.
"I have had texts asking, 'Is it you?'," King said. "I have had other comedians ringing me and asking me if it is me. It is f***ked up bro. It is very frustrating. And when they go 'leading New Zealand comedian,' well there ain't many of us. Mike King says he can guarantee it is not him."
Ewen Gilmour, who has also been accused of being the charged man, added: "It wasn't me. I think it is bloody wrong. It puts us all in a bad light.
"I am pissed off. Most comedians have jokes that are inappropriate for any situation and so it could easily be that some people think that it is us."
Oscar Kightley, of Naked Samoans, Bro'Town and Sione's Wedding fame, has also been wrongly named on internet message boards. He said it was "stink" when innocent people were incorrectly linked to alleged crimes.
"It is unfortunate speculation. I understand the name suppression laws and the reasons for them, but I do think it is an unfortunate byproduct of them – wild gossip and speculation – especially on the web," he said.
"Your average Facebook user doesn't understand libel laws. It is a bit stink if names are flying around. But how do you avoid it?"
Michelle A'Court, senior member and former president of the New Zealand Comedy Guild, said the fact a guild member was asked to sign a contract confirming he wasn't the accused showed how damaging it was to keep the accused's name secret. She refused to name the comedian who signed the waiver.
"It was an ongoing job with a profile. He is one of the persons who has been mentioned on the Trade Me blogs as a possible [alleged offender]. And I would imagine it is because his name was mentioned on the Trade Me blog that his client said, `We want to be really sure that it is not you'. It was a job for a corporate client.
"People who employ us are obviously taking it very seriously.
"They don't want to be associated with somebody who is going to be, sometime in the future, revealed as this person.
"We are all freelancers, none of us have jobs. We all live job, to job, to job and reputation is everything."
The guild wrote to TV3 director of news and current affairs Mark Jennings asking the network not to refer to the accused as a "well-known comedian". "When people make a list in their heads of a well-known comedian, it is a really small group of people and this person would not be on this list," A'Court said.
"Being charged with the sexual abuse of a child is as appalling as it comes. I feel very sad when I hear people outside of our group saying, `Oh, do you think it might be blah, blah'. I am really convinced that if his name becomes public, everyone will go, `Really, I wouldn't call him a comedian'."
Award-winning Kiwi comedian and TV regular Te Radar, also wrongly named on the internet as the charged man, said while it might offend some to be mentioned in the case, comedians had to be thick-skinned.
He said if they were prepared to dish it out to others while on stage, they had to be prepared to cop some flak even if it was misdirected.
"The public are entitled to comment. And probably things that people say are no worse than what we would say about people on stage from time to time," he said.
"We can be pretty vicious about things, with innuendo and snide remarks about people, so if we can't handle it maybe we shouldn't dish it out on stage."
Te Radar said suppression orders always sparked debate over the identity of the accused, whether it was "around a dinner table or on a message board". "Everyone wants to know. Gossip and tittle tattle will keep people going.
"And in some ways if your name is not bandied about, does that mean that you are not a well-known comedian? And if your name doesn't turn up in the list of celebrity comedians perhaps you should reconsider your position in the hierarchy of comedian," he said.
It isn't just ordinary Kiwis who are keen to find out the accused's identity.
In his Twitter postings, The Edge radio DJ Dominic Harvey asked: "So who is the sick f**k NZ comedian charged with fiddling an under 12yr-old? Having a wild guess is not breaching surpression [sic] laws. Is it?"
- © Fairfax NZ News
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