As the country finds itself in increasing turmoil, Deputy Editor Nick Burke chats to the satirical reporter about the political battlefield and bringing in the laughs.
Snap elections. Trump. Brexit. One thing’s for sure: it’s a great time to be a satirist. Of the up-and-comers in the world of topical comedy, perhaps the keenest embodiment of the frustration and turmoil currently enveloping society is Tom Walker- A.K.A internet sensation Jonathan Pie.
For creator and actor Walker, Pie’s increased social standing has resulted in a surprising public response. “I’m aware of what my job is now, to hold a mirror up to what’s going on”, he says. “But I find it extraordinary that people take it at face value. Of course [Pie] gets it wrong sometimes, of course he oversimplifies. He uses ad hominem attacks, he contradicts himself week on week – we all do, because everyone’s political views are nuanced.”
This spectrum of political views is where Walker, and by extension Pie see the inflexibility of current political discussion to be a serious problem. “You’re either a liberal or a Nazi, there’s nothing in between according to the general consensus”, he laments. “It’s possible to be a pro-gun, Trump-voting feminist. But you’re not allowed to be, because if you’re a Trump supporter you’re a racist, you’re a misogynist and you’re fucking stupid.”
“It’s my job to hold up a mirror to what’s going on.”
Walker’s canny approach to recent high-profile political events is perhaps what has set him apart from other satirists. A video released in the wake of the American election garnered huge viewing figures with six full minutes of searing commentary and indiscriminate fury, confirming Walker’s ability to write his best material in the vital moments. More than anything, this has cemented his most recent wave of fame, capturing an energy that Walker has since channelled into his live show.
On stage, Pie is a whirlwind of comic drama, engaging the audience in a visceral one-act unravelling of a man who cares more about politics than his health or his failing marriage. This may seem like a surprisingly layered and deep performance for those expecting a feature-length rant about the Tories, but for Walker, that was always the plan. “Yeah, I had to start off by thinking ‘What do people think they’re going to see?’, and that’s pictures of David Cameron and me going ‘Look at that twat’”, he says. “So you have 10 minutes of it, in the first part of the show when [Pie’s] in control. He has a go at the left, he has a go at the right, and everyone in between. But after he’s taken a phone call from his wife, he’s not in control anymore. That’s his character flaw, that he can’t control himself.”
“Pie has a go at the left, the right, and everyone in between.”
Whether viewers choose to take his work as genuine political activism or simply as satire doesn’t concern Walker. To him, Pie is a character study, with the politics remaining secondary. “I’m aware that the politics thing has stuck, that’s made it go viral,” he says. “So that’s a massive part of what it is and who he is. Pie is so politically engaged that he can’t go to the pub and not talk about politics, and he can’t talk about politics without getting angry and judgmental.” Walker happily uses his predominantly left wing character to highlight the ineptitude of the entire political spectrum, too. “He reflects what I believe is wrong with the left, which is their lack of dialogue with people that they disagree with, and he falls into that all the time. He’s aping the ‘loony left’.”
Over the past year, Walker has been working closely with writing partner and comedian Andrew Doyle, and is grateful for the effect his co-writer has had upon Pie’s character. “It’s allowed Pie to become much more than just an anti-Tory shout piece and stick it to the left as well. It’s just good to have someone to bounce off.”
Together, the pair have recently concluded an extensive live tour, all the while sticking to a weekly schedule of a single Pie-fuelled rant.
While the creative process may sound straightforward, with a single three-minute video produced per week and a seemingly endless supply of topical material, Walker insists it can be trying. “It’s a constant battle”, he chuckles. “[The videos] are written to within an inch of their life, but they’re not learnt to within an inch of their life, so there’s an element of spontaneity. Normally when I’m tripping over my words I look like I’m making it up, whereas what I’m doing most of the time is thinking ‘What’s the next fucking line!’”
Walker goes on to describe the challenges of reliably producing content. “The worst bit of the process is thinking ‘What am I going to do this week?’. It’s always a struggle, and then something clicks and it’s easy, but it can be two days of staring at a blank piece of paper, banging your head against the wall.” Perhaps Pie’s success has added its own pressure, requiring consistent quality? “Sometimes I have to remember that it has to be funny”, he says. “I’ve just finished my live show, now I want to go on holiday.”
“It’s a constant battle.”
The success of Jonathan Pie: LIVE!, along with a recent collaboration with Comic Relief confirms Walker as an important name in topical comedy. With a snap election on the horizon and 1,355 more days of Trump leadership to contend with, he seems all but certain to remain a prominent and entertaining voice in political satire.
Tom Walker’s recent live show, Jonathan Pie: LIVE!, is now available for purchase on his website.