Question Time with Jo Brand

// 9 April 2009

Great interview with Jo Brand in the Guardian today, full of so many choice quotes that I want to copy and paste the whole damn thing, but here’s my favourites:

Do you think the majority of male comedians are sexist?

Yes. I don’t think that means you can’t be friendly with them or get on with them. I just have to distance myself from that side of their personality. The vast majority of men are like it; that doesn’t make them bad people. But with most male comics it’s an inbuilt thing that’s as natural as breathing. There is a bit of a new wave of misogyny going on in comedy.

I wonder whether she challenges this sexism? I imagine it would be a massive task to take on alone, and sometimes you do let things slip just so you can get on with your day without being permanently enraged. Either way, I like how she calmly acknowledges that sexism is the norm, but that this doesn’t necessarily mean all men are terrible: in many cases it’s just an inevitable result of growing up in a sexist world.

I think this is something we should always bear in mind; while there are of course out and out bastards, lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key types, if we position men as inherently bad – if men really are inherently bad – we have no hope of changing society. By recognising that sexist attitudes and the problems that stem from them are largely a product of socialisation we can began to tackle the root causes of women’s oppression and work towards a freer, fairer society. Doesn’t mean Jimmy Carr isn’t a twat (IMHO), or that misogyny in comedy is OK, but at least we know that things can change.

You did Trinny and Susannah a while ago; do you follow any of their advice today?

As you can see, I don’t. They told me not to wear black, so I’ve ignored that completely.


Even when I wasn’t overweight I was never one of those girls or women who wanted to look nice. I always thought it wasn’t important. I have a utilitarian approach to dressing; as long as I quite like it and it covers me up, I don’t care what it is. I wouldn’t say I have no style, because if I didn’t I’d just wear the same sack every day for the rest of my life, but I can’t be arsed to make the effort.

How refreshing to see a woman proclaiming her complete lack of interest in making an effort with clothes! Not to mention sticking two fingers up at style bullies Trinny and Susannah. Hurrah for Brand, I say.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Comments From You

Josie // Posted 9 April 2009 at 1:42 pm

LOVE HER!!! I read once that she was asked just a few years ago to do a stand up show in a student’s union and the ‘fee’ she demanded for her performance was a chocolate cake and donation to the local Rape Crisis Centre!

I find her approach to dealing with sexism and misogyny really inspiring – acknowledge it’s there, acknowledge it’s wrong, think about how to manage it while realising that it’s really hard to change people, very pragmatic. I would also like to know if she challenges sexism Laura – though of course this would be a mammoth task and would probably earn her the “humourless feminist” badge within split seconds! Something of a burden for a professional female comedian….

And loved her calm rational comments on the horror that is Trinny and Susannah. Go Jo!

Madeleine // Posted 9 April 2009 at 2:42 pm

I saw Jo Brand challenge sexism on QI. Stephen Fry and a couple of other men on the programme (can’t remember which ones) were going on about breasts, something really stupid and unfunny, and she interrupted to say ‘Can I go and have a lie down?!’ thereby neatly deflating them without risking the deadly ‘humourless feminazi’ accusation.

But yes, if you went about challenging sexism every day you’d have no room for anything else in your life and you’d probably die very young from some stress-related illness!

Akheloios // Posted 9 April 2009 at 4:00 pm

I didn’t like Jo Brand at one point, the chocolate eclair guzzling adverts for her TV series always struck a bad chord for me.

Since then, I’ve come to recognise her for what she is, a highly intelligent, deeply ethical and very successful woman. Even the odd adverts strike the right note now, she completely deconstructs the beauty myth, and demonstrates how utterly alien it is to real life.

Beth // Posted 9 April 2009 at 5:41 pm

I think humour can really help feminism – at the end of the day sexism really IS so transparent. We need people to make a joke about it, so we can all be relieved of feeling like an alien cos’ we’re faced with people who just have no clue apparently. Female comedians when lightly referring to sexism show us they have all too much ‘clue’ about what’s going on- so much it’s funny.

Humour helps us relate. Something I think could be key to feminism. An audience that has more than just despair to draw them to issues is a more responsive audience.

Oh and Sarah Haskins? She’s doing wonders for feminism! :D

Aimee // Posted 9 April 2009 at 9:19 pm

I think she’s got better and better over the years. I like how she’s mellowed. Jo Brand rules!

Jackie Bather // Posted 10 April 2009 at 10:27 am

Having read the article, I realise that one of the aspects of Jo which I especially endorse is her approach generally, to ‘doing as little as possible’ .Yes, this is part of her comedy style, but it does make the point that many women are expected to be work-horses throughout their lives-and she’s giving that idea the heave-ho…

Jenny // Posted 10 April 2009 at 11:05 am

I think Jo Brand is wonderful; she’s intelligent and incredibly funny. It frustrates me so much when I hear people making the “But women just aren’t funny” arguments that she touches on in that interview; and how often I see that being applied to Jo Brand herself. I can appreciate that not all forms of humour appeal to everybody, but I do think there are people who really just don’t want to give her the time of day.

She said some great stuff in that interview, though; it makes for good reading.

liz // Posted 10 April 2009 at 11:15 am

way to go Jo ! As someone who has done stand up a wee bit, and been in a uni comedy society I can testify to challenging sexism on your own being demoralising and difficult. In the group I felt like little miss censorship, and being on a stage with people who have just made rape jokes while you try to make feminism funny – and hearing people laugh a lot less at you then they did at the misogyny whilst trying to tell yourself it’s because they are thinking about what you are saying.

It’s not a feminist friendly scene, nope.

Alex T // Posted 10 April 2009 at 11:40 am

Love Jo Brand. Did anybody see the documentary she did on Vera Brittain? It was great to see one articulate, impassioned woman presenting a programme about another.

Anne Onne // Posted 10 April 2009 at 11:53 am

Women aren’t considerered funny because altogether the assumption is that comedy = breast joke blah blah my wife nags me blah blah ever been to the proctologist? blah blah the trouble with women blah blah erections blah blah I’m not gay blah blah use women for sex blah blah mars and venus blah blah fat women are ugly blah blah so are old women blah blah urinals blah blah manly bonding blah blah

So much of comedy revolves around disparaging minorities, and tired sexist tropes that of course women don’t stoop to the same kind of jokes as often. Jokes about male heterosexual sexuality, about stereotypically being male, about all the things that men are supposed to want to do, are seen as the standard.

Female comedians don’t fit this pattern of comedy. Yet if they talk about their own experience, their own bodies or sexuality, they get told they’re concentrating too much on women’s issues or being disgusting or alienating too much of the audience.

It’s not that female comedians aren’t funny, it’s that to a lot of people (in addition to sometimes assuming men = funny, women = nagging), comedy literally means jokes about being a man. Hey, most comedians have always been male, and people have taken their material in, and interpreted it as the standard which all comedy must ascribe to.

Ms. Brand is very funny, intelligent, talented and a breath of fresh air. She’s very self-deprecating, though, more so than most male comedians. I wonder what her comedic style might be like in a world where women can be fat, and older, and indeed, be women, and not have to apologise for it. She seems very strong and wry about it all, but it can’t have been easy to put up with what people are like.

Mark // Posted 10 April 2009 at 5:20 pm

I don’t think I saw the QI episode with the exchange about breasts. If Jo thought it unfunny, I’m tempted to believe it was, as I generally agree with what she says.

That said, however, I’m not sure I go along with the assertion that jokes about breasts cannot ever be funny. They may not be THAT funny for women, but certain jokes about willies may not be THAT funny for men, but hilarious for women. After all, just because some people don’t ‘get’ a particular joke, doesn’t mean it is a bad joke.

Breast and willy jokes aside, Jo Brand is one commedian/enne I will turn on the TV for.

Rob M // Posted 10 April 2009 at 8:32 pm

Jo Brand is startlingly sexist. Her appearances on QI might as well be accompanied with a counter so you can check how early she gets in a trad “men are like this, women are like this” joke. She is the reason that female comedians have to fight the impression they’re all just rubbish “Periods; Being fat; Men are shit” jokes, because that’s her entire act. She’s really lazy, lowest common denominator fare.

(Irritatingly for the purposes of making the point, that interview doesn’t actually have an example of this, but her supposedly anti-sexist comments on things like QI are usually followed by a cheap “men, c’uh!” play to a sexist audience.)

I’m not a fan.

Aimee // Posted 11 April 2009 at 9:03 am

Wheras all those hilarious men with their hilarious “women are rubbish… ha ha ha.. boobs!” jokes, they’re brilliant aren’t they? Because they’re current? Because they appeal to a wider audience.. by which you mean men, yes? Because we all know that men are the majority.

Michael Tajfel // Posted 11 April 2009 at 10:12 am


Some time ago, Jo Brand made a quip on a TV show about giving men ‘the Bobbitt trim’ (, but you probably know the story). This seems pretty offensive, but it was a good many years ago!


Kez // Posted 11 April 2009 at 1:21 pm

Aimee – to be fair to Rob M (I assume you were replying to his comment directly above yours?) he didn’t say he thought men who made sexist jokes were brilliant, or appealed to a wider audience, just that he didn’t like Jo Brand as a comedian.

It’s some years since I have watched Jo, but I must admit at that time I did think her act relied rather too heavily on jokes about cakes and being fat. However, as I say, this is quite some time ago (I hardly ever watch TV) so I may be judging her unfairly. I did think that Guardian interview was good.

Rob M // Posted 11 April 2009 at 7:08 pm

“Wheras all those hilarious men with their hilarious “women are rubbish… ha ha ha.. boobs!” jokes, they’re brilliant aren’t they?”

No. You seem to have missed my point about lazy sexist jokes being bad, and somehow inferred the opposite.

“Because they appeal to a wider audience.. by which you mean men, yes?”

For clarity: I was using “lazy, lowest common denominator fare” in a pejorative sense too.

Beth // Posted 12 April 2009 at 3:01 am

The wave of sexism in comedy AGAINST women is the obvious issue. Sorry if you’re wholly offended by periods and feel gobsmackingly alienated for a brief minute in the audience. Welcome to our world!

The F word isn’t actually about proving how sexist women totally are! That’s a derailing tactic we’re all used to and bored by.

Aimee // Posted 12 April 2009 at 10:30 am

A lot of male comics make sexist jokes. SOme more than others. EVen the ones I like make sexist jokes and i’m afraid if a woman is going to like ANY comic they’re going to have to put up with at least one or two sexist jokes, and that’s from the good, progressive ones. If think we can forgive Jo Brand ONE sexist comment, compared with the hundreds women have to put up with on a daily basis.

Liz // Posted 12 April 2009 at 1:45 pm

Re> Rob M’s comment.

Just want to nitpick somewhat. Jo brand isn’t the reason women comedians have to fight for credibility – even if she were the worst comedian ever, it’s pretty damn sexist to say that this justifies lumping all women comedains in as rubbish. I know this probably isn’t what you intended to say in your comment. Women have to fight for credibility because of how humour is structured within capitalist patriarchy etc etc. and that we get lumped into one giant group is part of the problem. Nobody points to Jim Davidson/Roy Chubby Brown/Bernard Manning and says look white male comedians are all rubbish. If you are female and a comedian you have this added pressure of feeling if you’re not funny, people will use that to say ‘women aren’t funny’. I know you probably didn’t mean to say that, but by saying ‘Jo brand is the reason women have to fight for credibility’ you just help lump us all into one group.

Also, lowest common denominator – I really really don’t like that term because it strikes me as being elitist/classist in a subtle kind of way.

Kate Bromwich-Alexandra // Posted 12 April 2009 at 4:08 pm

I first saw Jo Brand during the legendary Birmingham Womens Festival of ’89 where she appeared to an almost exclusively female and largely feminist audience. Her self image hating anti fat jokes were greeted with murmurs of disapproval and she resorted to anti child jokes, launching an astonishing attack on people who insist on taking their children out with them, (primarily aimed at a woman who had brought her small child to the gig.) Since then, she has learned to adjust her act more deftly to the responses of her audience. Her jokes may be sexist, in the same way that black comics jokes about white people are, by definition racist, or LGBT comics about straight people being heterophobic, but, I had hoped that we had evolved at least enough to recognise that comparing male comedian’s jokes about women, to female comedian’s jokes about men, is just not comparing like with like. Have we not yet recognised that we cannot ignore the relative positions of men and women in the world if we are to make any sense of human relationships? Try to watch Jo Brand objectively, on a show with male comedians, QI is a case in point, she has had to become the mistress of the one line put down otherwise, she will simply not get a word in edgeways. The male comedians contort themselves into a lather to beat each other to the punch line, Jo watches for a convenient pause for breath, and slots in her killer lines. I love female comedians because they speak to my sense of humour, the small, everyday things that inform my life, inform my humour, and sometimes the big things too. I enjoy some male comedians, Stephen K Lewis for instance, who constantly challenges white assumptions about black people, without being accused of racism, but for me, given the choice, I would watch women because I enjoy hearing an intelligent woman commenting amusingly on life as a woman in Britain today.

Beth // Posted 13 April 2009 at 1:15 am

Really good comment Kate, your insights on QI are spot on.

I just wanted to add, prompted by other comments, in no way is it ‘comparing like for like’ looking at sexist jokes by men and sexist jokes by women. Sexist jokes by men are predominantly the issue in this new wave of comedy misogyny, they’re reinforced by the patriarchy AND never challenged. Sexist jokes by women are so 90s and the rarity; the patriarchy works against women anyway, so there’s no real harm other than a threat to oppresser’s privilege. Finally women’s sexist jokes are much more likely to be challenged – Jo Brand has a ‘man- hater’ label and her career is somewhat tainted by this. I doubt she told the equivalent joke about rape though or killing prostitutes, and yet Jimmy Carr and Clarkson are still the same comedy geniuses they’ve always been, just with a cool sexist ‘edge’.

Anne Onne // Posted 13 April 2009 at 2:33 am

Kate Bromwich-Alexandra, that’s because women making nasty jokes about men aren’t sexist. Nasty, maybe, and arguably resentful of men. But the definitions of misogyny, racism and homophobia all mean that in order to truly be sexist, one has to be in a position of power, whereby one can use an oppressive system in place to oppress someone.

A woman comic making nasty jokes about men may not be funny, and may be problematic, but she cannot erase the thousands of years of male oppression of women, or the fact that society works against her, in the favour of men. In short, she may be a prejudiced asshole as an individual, but she cannot have the institutional power to be sexist. By definition.

If you’d like an explanation as to why she may be prejudiced, but not sexist, Feminism 101/a> has a good summmary.

I’m interested by the fact that most of the male commenters on this thread have pointed out that she can be dismissive of men, or offend them (which is not condoned here, by the way), yet ignored the point of the entire post, which is that misogyny in comedy is considered acceptable, and practised by many male comics. No matter how bad Jo brand’s jokes may be, how does she compete with this in terms of awfulness? How is something along the lines of ‘peh… men!’ or jokes about castration equivalent to literally thousands upon thousands of rape jokes, jokes about fat women, thin women, old women blonde women, white women, women of colour, who you’d fuck, who you wouldn’t, and actual sexual assaults on stage?

Even taking the Bobbit reference, a problematic rather pointless joke to make( as much comedy is…Who was it who said that a lot of comedy is based on mocking?) bearing in mind the frequency of rape jokes, and how much more common rape is than men having their penises forcibly removed against their will, her comment is a lot less offensive than much that passes for comedy and remains accepted. To ignore this when it’s the topic of the post, and focus on whether or not she says she dislikes men is to ignore the elephant in the room and focus on the mouse circling its feet.

Also, she’s not the reason for the ‘women aren’t funny’ assumption. No individual of a marginalised group is to blame for the harmful stereotypes that existed long before they were born. This is a lazy argument to avoid facing the awkward reality that people really do make assumptions on someone’s gender e.t.c. as to how capable they think a person is, whether consciously or subconsciously. Considering how many other women comics there are, would this assumption still stand if society didn’t want it to? And why should women comics be held to a stricter standard than male ones?

There are hundreds of painfully unfunny male comics, yet their presence doesn’t mean everyone assumes men aren’t funny. Some people assume women are not funny because they are sexist, and society is too. Anything else is justifying thousands of years of oppression by blaming an individual who, although certainly human, is not to blame for every wrong in the world. There’s a very real reason that she makes lots of tired ‘fat’ jokes and mars and venus type jokes because society punishes women for being too out there, too self confident, and yes, too feminist. Had she chosen to be unapologetic about her size, many people would be apalled. Fat women are taught to apologise for the space they take up, for being ‘ugly’ in other people’s eyes, for failing to be slim, failing to look like a supermodel. Having to have worked in a society which values looks, thinnness, sexiness and female subservience as a comedian can’t have been easy, and she’s evidently adapted to what society expects.

Some men can’t take a period joke (though women have had to put up with multiple penis jokes in the same routine, by many male comics), and the very idea that humour about some bodily experiences is A-OK and others off bounds exists because society expects EVERYTHING to centre around men. Apparently some of you fell for it, too, by equating period jokes with the idea that women can’t be funny. Because only the humour of those who will never menstruate matters. Now excuse me whilst I go and listen to some more heterosexually manly jokes about proctologists and urinal chats and dudely experiences.

It’s not even that feminists are against male-specific things being mentioned. It’s that the assumption that male = default, and that anything woman-specific is a waste of time, unfunny and uninteresting is harmful. It means that all jokes are experienced from a male perspective, and that the female body is only ever referred to from the male perspective. This is why boob jokes are annoying: many men argue we shouldn’t have a right to discuss or joke about our own bodies, yet they want to joke about ours,often in an outright derogatory way. This doesn’t compare to the wonky penis jokes by women. Why? Because for every one joke by a female comedian about male bodies and how imperfect they are, there are hundreds of jokes about the normalcy of the male body by male comedians. When there are equal numbers of female comedians to male, and when the experiences of female bodies by female persons are much greater than those by male ones, then I won’t have an issue. It would be equal, and most importantly, most references will be by those who own the bodies in question.

But until then, I’m not happy with the only mention of women’s bodies being by misogynists whose wisdom is ‘har har boobies!’. There are breasts EVERYWHERE, and I really think heterosexual men can survive without having to remind themselves they are attracted to women at every opportunity. Really.

Ms. Brand is imperfect. She’s not a feminist idol. She’s a comic, living in a misogynist society who has taken in some of that misogyny and some of the ‘battle of the sexes’ malarkey that society takes for granted.

There are comics who are a whole lot more feminist than her. That doesn’t mean she can’t talk about sexism in the comic industry,

That does not make her statements about misogyny less true, nor does it justify the bordering on off-topic nature of most of this thread.

This isn’t a defense of whatever she said practically before I was even born. Or whatever terrible thing she’s said that I have never heard of. Her humour is not unproblematic. This is a reminder that the point was originally that much of comedy is misogynist. And that it says a LOT that so many commenters focused on other factors rather than the main one at hand. Not only is any ‘mars and venus’ comment or ‘sexism’ against men she could possibly levy (past or present) nowhere near equal to what male comics and society chucks at women, it doesn’t nullify her comments about her colleagues being misogynistic, or the rise of misogyny in comedy.

However, as I say, this is quite some time ago (I hardly ever watch TV) so I may be judging her unfairly. That’s the thing: some comedians vary so greatly through the years and from show to show. Someone seems fine one minute and completely inappropriate the next time you watch them.

Aimee // Posted 13 April 2009 at 10:49 am

No, I understand that, but Rob’s implication is that jokes about periods can’t possible be funny… Why? Because men don’t have them? It seems odd that men are allowed to direct their comedy almost exclusively at men, and that’s seen as being ‘mainstream’ ie. appealing to everyone, but when a woman makes a joke about something that appeals to women, it’s niche… it’s not funny. It implies that women’s issues are for a minority and men’s issues are for everyone.

Rob M // Posted 14 April 2009 at 2:23 am

“Ms. Brand is imperfect. She’s not a feminist idol. She’s a comic, living in a misogynist society who has taken in some of that misogyny and some of the ‘battle of the sexes’ malarkey that society takes for granted.

There are comics who are a whole lot more feminist than her. That doesn’t mean she can’t talk about sexism in the comic industry.”


There’s a hell of a lot of dubious inferences been taken here, so hoping for further clarity: What she says in that interview is grand. Obviously. It’s really well put. I didn’t think I’d have to massively state the obvious before adding a comment of caveat, that her comedy is part of the problem (not exclusively or totally, natch, but many of her jokes are sexist – and not in that she’s damaging men as a some sort of unilateral cultural juggernaut or something (I mean, what?), but in that every “men are like this” joke she makes, she is, as consequence, boxing women in with the “women are like this” flipside, whether vocalised or not,) in reaction to the preceding Brand praise.

Liz: your nitpick’s entirely fair. I stated it bluntly, but I didn’t mean to say that she was the cause for female comedians being lumped together, nor that she was the reason for being considered the example. What I meant was that, unfortunately she’s pretty much the only female comedian at that level of fame today (not her fault) and she is (wrongly) taken as proof by misogynistic generalising idiots for saying that women aren’t funny… It’s not her fault, and it’s not right that female comedians are seen by many as being Jo Brand. But it is her fault that she’s crap.

And good Christ Almighty, I’m not even slightly offended by the concept of jokes about periods (or for that matter jokes about being fat, or jokes about men being shit.) A joke about anything has the potential to be funny if it’s done cleverly. However, if you are so astronomically shit as to make your entire joke, “I am fat – it’s funny because, as you can see, I am fat,” you fail. Whether you’re Jo Brand, or Dawn French, or Phil Jupitus, or the-fat-one-out-of-Horne-and-bloody-Cordon. See also: any other subject dealt with in a similarly lazy fashion.

CMK // Posted 14 April 2009 at 8:19 am

Jo Brand is a talented but lazy comedian, when she makes the effort she is very funny but she often resorts to the ‘men….peh’ type comments which can be funny but after a while just get repetitive.

Comedy that is directed at men is generally thought of as mainstream as women often find it funny too (albeit not necessarily as funny). Comedy directed at women is generally not found to be all that funny by men. I’ve always taken this as being because ‘women’s comedy tends to be a bit a more subtle and less crude than men’s and is not as accessible by men.

“But the definitions of misogyny, racism and homophobia all mean that in order to truly be sexist, one has to be in a position of power, whereby one can use an oppressive system in place to oppress someone.”

I read the article and still don’t get this. For someone to be sexist they have to have power? Why? Maybe I am being dim…it’s still a bit early.

Beth: Who ever said clarkson was a comedy genius!! Blokes a moron.

Rachel // Posted 14 April 2009 at 8:52 pm

“Comedy that is directed at men is generally thought of as mainstream as women often find it funny too (albeit not necessarily as funny). Comedy directed at women is generally not found to be all that funny by men.”

Based on what evidence exactly?

“I’ve always taken this as being because ‘women’s comedy tends to be a bit a more subtle and less crude than men’s and is not as accessible by men.”

I know a lot of men who would find that assertion really offensive. Men only find unsubtle, crude humour funny? They don’t ‘get’ subtle humour?

Anne Onne // Posted 15 April 2009 at 12:36 am

CMK, you’re not dim. What it means is that a woman can on an individual level be nasty, but she is not privileged over men as a whole. In this case the jokes against men aren’t backed up by years of oppression, of being denied rights. At the end of the day, whatever she says, men are the majority in government, they get paid more, they have their views aired and are favoured by society. Men still hold a position of privilege that one nasty woman on an individual level can’t erase.

Whereas jokes against women contribute to thousands of years of systematic oppression. When there are still people seriously insisting women shouldn’t have the right to vote and shouldn’t be educated, shouldn’t work outside the home, and are irrational and over-emotional and incapable, jokes about getting back to the kitchen or nagging or women being vain or stupid or emotional add to these problematic narratives. Women still need to prove they are capable and are still judged more harshly than men.

Privilege gives extra power to oppress, and sexism is an institutional problem. It means using one’s power and privilege against those of another gender who have less power than oneself. As society stands, this means against women.

Individuals of minorities may, like anyone else, be prejudiced, just like individuals of the privileged groups. But only the individuals in the privileged groups have the power to use thousands of years worth of insults and silencing tactics (‘you’re ugly!’ ‘You lesbian!’ ‘shut up, you don’t know anything’ ‘you’re not funny’ ‘stop being so emotional and hormonal and hysterical’) and benefit from a society that privileges them over others.

We say that women can’t be sexist not because they can’t be nasty, but to point out that prejudice is worse when wielded by those with power, and to highlight the fact that women don’t have this power to wield.

Giving the same name to men using all the thousands of years worth of privileges as to women saying ‘I hate men’ is comparing the incomparable. Women can’t use thousands of years of privileges they didn’t have and still don’t have to oppress men.

Brand may say all the ‘peh, men!’ jokes she likes, she can’t erase the thousands of male comedians saying that and much worse about women, and contributing to more problematic social narratives (eg rape) as a whole.

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