17.01.2018 / words: Rich Lee
It’s a New Year, so what do you predict will get Pie in a rage in 2018?
He’s the viral political phenomenon that has taken social media by storm in the Age of Brexit and Trump. We spoke to Tom Walker, the creator of the livid newsman Jonathan Pie, on the eve of his second major UK tour, ‘Back to the Studio’…
Well there’s Trump, but you never know, he might not last the year, in which case that would make Pie very happy. But then his replacement would mostly likely be (Vice President) Mike Pence, which would make him deeply unhappy. Either way, America’s not looking good. And Theresa May might resign, but who would replace her? You’ve got Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove or Boris Johnson. Pie would be very annoyed about all of them.
And then there’s Brexit. I can’t imagine Brexit turning around this year and we’ll say, ‘actually it might all be alright?’ Same old shit really: the Tories, Brexit, Trump. I imagine Pie will be getting angry about exactly the same things, if I’m honest.
Weren’t you close to giving up acting and comedy before you came up with the character of Jonathan Pie?
Well, I was never really a comedian – I’d attempted standup, very badly, a couple of times - but I suppose your twenties are there to fail, to be poor and struggle. Then I found myself in my late thirties and felt it was time to give it up, because I was stuck, poor and p*ssed off that I wasn’t an actor. But the minute you decide to give up, none of that matters anymore; the risks have gone so why not stand on College Green and shout down a camera, because you’ve got this ‘idea’?
So that’s what I did and within a couple of weeks all these doors started opening because a couple of videos had gone viral. And then I suddenly had a million views and I was on news programs talking about satire, so I recognised early on that it was an extraordinary stroke of luck and I needed to grab it by the horns.
“I still can’t believe Trump is President. It’s like a bad dream”
The landscape of Brexit and Trump seems tailor-made for a character like Pie. Did it give birth to him or was it just miraculous timing?
When I started, David Cameron had just won his election, but I think it’s difficult to remember just how shocking his majority victory was – because so much has happened since (laughs), and Jeremy Corbyn on the leadership of the Labour party, so that was a bit of a phenomena at the time: ‘My god, a left-wing leader in charge of a left-wing party!'. So everyone was going a little bit mad. There will always be politics and news, so I think Pie would have been successful anyway.
And he did become successful before Brexit, before Trump. But I think when Brexit happened it really took off because people wanted an explanation for why it happened, and they also wanted to vent their anger at the result. And exactly the same thing happened with Trump’s election – I put out a video within 24 hours and it was the first real satirical comment to appear, so it went absolutely barmy. A lot of people, including me, were absolutely mortified. I still can’t believe Trump is president, it still feels like bad dream. So Pie puts into poetic, sweary language what many people are thinking.
It’s said that Jonathan Pie represents a resurgence of British satire. Why is it relevant again when it seemed so absent during the Bush/Blair years?
Well, my demographic is across the board: from sixteen to sixty. So, the sixteen-year olds look at what I do and say: “My God, this is so new, this is so original, I’ve never seen anything like this!” and of course I’m not going to tell them differently (laughs.) But the sixty-year olds will say: “Oh, I remember this, this ‘shouting-at-the-Tories’ satire!”
Now although Bush was ripe for satire at the time, unfortunately Blair and New Labour weren’t because satire normally comes from a left angle, traditionally, and I think lefties were embarrassed. Because despite the Iraq War and all that other stuff, they had socially progressive policies which we quite liked, so we were a little bit coy about hammering them, and satire became a little less sharp as a result. We still have Have I Got News For You, and it’s great, but it’s kind of part of our national identity now, like Songs of Praise. A lot of satire on TV these days takes the form of ‘aren’t Brexit voters stupid?’ – I mean, that’s the only joke! So, satire lost its teeth a bit, but I think it’s coming back.
Although the character resonates most strongly with the left, he’s nonetheless very popular among the right. What explains his bipartisan appeal?
When it comes to Brexit, I piss off Remainers more than I do Leavers because Pie is a reluctant Remainer, unlike most Remainers. What I’ve managed to do with the writing is understand why people voted to leave. And the reason is that the EU is f*cking grim! It’s a corporate bloc, not some wonderful, socialist idea full of pixies and all races and creeds holding hands. I can still be pissed off about leaving it but let’s not pretend it’s a utopia. Remainers and Leavers can watch Pie and both find things they agree with and, more importantly, things that challenge their view. Pie is a bit more balanced than people think. He’s not balanced though…
How do we encounter Pie in your new live show, ‘Back to the Studio’?
“Pie puts into poetic, sweary language what many people are thinking”
This time around he’s testing out a new concept, the ‘Jonathan Pie Political Roadshow’. But if there’s a theme, it’s really about social media, echo chambers, the tweeter-in-chief, and it’s about the way we consume our news through social media and how that affects how the news directs its output. When does real news start and fake news stop?
Have you given any thought to life after Pie? Any other characters waiting in the wings to go viral?
I have not. I’ve always thought of myself as an actor first, so I’m just riding the wave of this and seeing where it takes me, until either the fans are bored of this, or I am, and just see what happens. If it were to all end tomorrow, I’d just ring up my agent and ask, “have you got any auditions?”
Jonathan Pie: Back to the Studio 2018 UK Tour comes to G Live, Guildford on Friday 2nd March.
Visit glive.co.uk for tickets and follow Pie at www.jonathanpie.com