There are growing calls for The Project to be cancelled with co-host Sarah Harris singled out for criticism after a crude Jesus sex joke went to air this week, sparking widespread outrage.
The incident occurred during Tuesday night’s show, when queer comic Reuben Kaye – who was speaking about the hate he receives for his sexuality and for dressing up in drag, particularly from the Christian community – made an X-rated remark.
“I love Jesus, I love any man who can get nailed for three days straight and come back for more,” Kaye quipped.
Harris and other members of the panel burst into laughter, while Waleed Aly appeared stunned at the joke.
On Wednesday night’s episode, Harris and Aly both apologised to viewers, but it wasn’t enough to stop the backlash, with some members of Australia’s Christian and Muslim communities planning to protest at Channel 10’s office over the scandal.
The program’s social media posts have also been inundated by the hashtags #CancelTheProject and #BoycottTheProject, and Channel 9 star Omar Slaimankhel, who won The Block 2022 alongside his mate Ozman ‘Oz’ Abu Malik, has emerged as one of the highest-profile critics.
Taking to social media, Slaimankhel slammed the show, and Harris in particular, accusing her of hypocrisy after laughing at the joke at the time, and later apologising.
The Block’s Omar Slaimankhel has laid into The Project and co-host Sarah Harris over the joke. Picture: Channel 10The crude joke went to air on Tuesday night. Picture: Channel 10
He shared a screenshot of Harris and Aly’s apology on Instagram with the caption: “She was p*ssing herself laughing and now wants to apologise”, and a second screenshot of Kaye on the program with the words “Trash TV. Trash show”.
Entertainment commentator Peter Ford, who is heard on radio around Australia, told news.com.au he was “of two minds” about whether the joke was actually that offensive, but said the furore came at a critical time when The Project was already copping a great deal of hate.
“I’m of two minds to be honest – I don’t think the joke was incredibly offensive in my own personal view, but it seems that other people do think it was, and now it has become a big thing on social media, mainly on Twitter,” he said.
“At the moment the show really has a target on its back – people really want to go for it and jump on anything they can to somehow try and bring the show down.
“I suspect they’re spooked by all the sharks circling wanting to come after them and bring them down.”
Mr Ford pointed out that while the panel was clearly seen laughing at the joke on air at the time, it was a natural reaction given the pressurised environment of live TV.
“It’s particularly a problem because they were seen to be laughing at the joke at the time, so you can’t then say the next night, ‘it was terrible, we’re so shocked’. But I understand that sometimes on air you hear a joke and think you have to laugh, otherwise you’re not doing your job, without having fully processed what was said,” he explained.
However, Mr Ford said there were far greater problems facing the troubled program than the latest backlash, which comes just months after a mass exodus of big-name stars including Lisa Wilkinson, Carrie Bickmore and Peter Heliar as well as comedian Tommy Little.
Late last year, it was announced that comics Sam Taunton and Michael Hing would join the official cast alongside presenters Waleed Aly, Sarah Harris, Hamish Macdonald and Georgie Tunny in 2023 – but Mr Ford said that so far, the program had failed to take advantage of the shake up and was instead sticking to the same stale formula that was failing to win over viewers.
The Block’s Omar Slaimankhel has laid into The Project and co-host Sarah Harris after a crude joke about Jesus went to air. Picture: Channel 10
“One of the criticisms I have with the show is that it just seems to be so predictable and scripted and over-produced. There’s nothing loose about it, so from that point of view, to suddenly have [a joke] that was presumably unscripted and unplanned go live to air – they do that, and suddenly they get blow back for it, but they need more moments of outrage,” he said.
“At the moment people aren’t tuning in and the reason is its blandness and predictability – that’s what haunts The Project, and it hasn’t changed this year, after that supposedly big shake-up with people leaving, whether by choice or not.
“With Sarah coming in, I thought it would be different, but essentially they have the exact same mindset – it hasn’t changed at all, and it was the perfect opportunity to change and really shake things up. But while they changed a few front people, the structure and mindset hasn’t changed at all.
“The first few weeks it was back on air I wanted to give it a go, and I suspect a lot of people did – I really rate Sarah, I think she’s excellent, but she’s being held on a very tight leash and is having to conform to what they seem to believe the show must be, which I suspect is quite frustrating for her.”
The Block’s Omar Slaimhankhel has almmed The Project. Picture: Facebook
Mr Ford said he didn’t believe I should have apologised for the joke, adding that it would only take a few hours before the public found something else to be outraged about.
“Honestly, I don’t know how many people who were watching it on air at that time were shocked and offended … I think it’s unfortunate to have the hosts apologise on air, particularly if it’s not necessary to have done it – it seems there was no suggestion of advertisers pulling out, and no serious repercussions,” he said.
“If they have these kneejerk reactions whenever people get angry on Twitter, it’s going to be taking up a lot of time every night, because people will always find something – people love to get angry.
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“I’m inclined to think if they’d not apologised, it may have worked in their favour to have something controversial, unplanned and potentially even offensive. Maybe that’s what people need to start thinking, ‘maybe I’d better start watching The Project again’.
“They create a rod for their own back when they start to do apologies, unless it’s really vital, or they are truly sincere.”