Following a sell-out UK tour of his 2018 live show Back To The Studio, the frustrated news reporter Jonathan Pie is back with a new show for autumn 2019: The Fake News Tour.
Tom Walker, the creator and actor responsible for Jonathan Pie, discusses Pie’s highlights so far and what he’s got in store for his creation.
So what can audiences expect from the new show, and with such a rapidly changing political climate, does he have to keep rewriting it while on the road to keep the material fresh?
‘They can expect first and foremost to have a laugh. Probably at Pie’s expense. Pie’s first live show back in 2016 was a nightmare. It was all about David Cameron and George Osborne. Brexit was a foregone conclusion and Trump was still just a joke candidate. By the end of that run we’d voted leave, Cameron and Osborne were gone and Trump had won The White House.
‘From the first show in the tour to the last show of the tour we rewrote probably 60 per cent of the show. I almost had a nervous breakdown.
‘Last year’s show, Back To The Studio, was much more about universal themes. Our culture of offence and how Twitter can ruin careers. By the end of that show Pie’s career is in tatters. But for me that show was a career highlight and ended up on the telly! You can watch it on iPlayer still.
‘This new show is going to be a similar combination of up to date politics, but with a more dramatic arc.’
From his origin in three-minute clips online to two sell out tours as Jonathan Pie, does Tom feel the public now view Pie as much as a live act as an online star?
‘Pie is still thought of as a YouTube annoyance. But the weekly rants are disposable content. Three minutes of anger, usually directed at either the Tories, Trump or the excesses of PC culture. In the live shows you can go on much more of a journey and deal with more complex issues whilst trying to make it the funniest it can be.
‘I am much more comfortable as a stage performer than I am a YouTube presence. And the audiences have always been fantastic…and appear to be coming back for more which is encouraging.’
Does he ever have trouble working out what Pie would think about a certain subject?
‘Ultimately, Pie is a character, so I can make him say or think anything I want. He can be right. He can be wrong. He can be articulate, and he can be crass.
‘He can agree with a pro-remain argument one week and agree with a pro-leave argument the next. Which means Pie has the unique ability of annoying absolutely everybody. But he’s a complex character politically. He’s left wing but is often found to be berating the excesses of the liberal elite. He hates Trump but understands his supporters’ reasons for voting the way they did. And ultimately, I think he is confused about Brexit.’
‘Fake News’ is a term many people of course associate with Donald Trump, but with people seeming to trust news sources less and less, how does Tom get his news fix?
‘I read a different newspaper each day. The Guardian one day, The Times the next, and so on. News is now a commodity. We consume it. And if you have too much of the same thing it becomes like junk food.
‘I think a varied diet is much healthier when it comes to the news. And consuming a varied news diet means consuming varying opinions and making your own mind up! I milked that diet metaphor for a bit too long there...’
The last show saw Pie head overseas for the first time, to the US, Australia. How did Pie’s satirical approach to politics translate overseas?
‘They loved it, it was interesting, the US and Oz audiences are far less easily offended and much more open to having their opinions challenged. It was my first ever visit to New York and there I was doing a gig! And Washington is amazing.’
Did he enjoy brushing up on and tackling the politics of other countries for those international audiences?
‘I had to rewrite the show quite extensively for Australia and then again for America. But it’s the little details that are the toughest challenge. Who is their equivalent of Fiona Bruce? What’s their equivalent of The Daily Mail? I had a real nightmare rewriting a joke where the punchline was “A cheese and onion pasty from Greggs”. That took forever to get that one right.’
The online videos regularly spark a lot of debate and discussion across social media. Had that always been part of the intention when creating the character?
‘Pie is all about debate, but I have never courted controversy. Not for one moment. Unfortunately debate and Twitter are rarely easy bedfellows. No one could ever really be prepared for how vicious social media can be and Pie is on the receiving end of a lot of abuse by virtue of the fact that not everyone is going to agree with everything.
‘Twitter is a cesspool of ad-hominem attacks and bullying if you dare to say anything that challenges the prescribed liberal view. So, I do find myself being more cautious these days on social media. Which is why in the live shows I can really let loose!
Do people ever struggle to recognise Jonathan Pie as a character? Or do people ever try and provoke a political debate with Tom when he’s out and about?
‘Most sensible people can tell the difference between a satirical character and an actual human being. But of course, the lines are blurred. Let’s be honest, we look and sound the same. So, it’s cool.
‘The main difference between me and Pie is that I am not a politico. If I’m down the pub the last thing I want to talk about is Brexit or the importance of free speech. That’s the day job.’
Jonathan Pie: The Fake News Tour is at O2 Guildhall, Southampton, on Saturday, October 19, doors 7pm. Tickets £29.50. Go to academymusicgroup.com.