Jonny and the Baptists stick it to the capitalist pigs, sort of
How many houses do you own?
This seemingly simple question to David Cameron, and how he became horribly unstuck with it, provided the genesis of comedy musical duo Jonny and The Baptists’ latest show.
Last time out with The End is Nigh, they looked at global warming and looming environmental disaster. This time they turn their attention to the wealth gap in Eat The Poor.
As Jonny Donahoe explains to The Guide: ‘We discovered a news article from 2009, where David Cameron was interviewed by The Times, before he was prime minister, and they asked how many houses do you own? And he said, two, no three, no four. No, I don’t know, then he sent an aide off to go research it.’
It was the disconnect from most people’s reality that got he and Paddy Gervers, thinking.
‘I don’t want to knock Conservatives unduly and say it’s all their fault – obviously David Cameron is hilarious and it’s impossible to avoid him when you’re writing something like this, but Blair and Brown were leaders of “the people’s party” but left the country more unequal than when they found it, and did nothing for the Labour strongholds of the north and Scotland.
‘You can see why, as soon as people got the chance to vote to kick the establishment, they really did.
‘It’s essentially about why 90 per cent of the wealth is controlled by less than 10 per cent of the people.’
It’s a show of two halves – the first is a dash through the rise of free market economics and how our society got to this point, which Jonny promises is funny, and ‘not a dry economics lecture’.
The second half tells a story set in the future, where Jonny takes a job with Andrew Lloyd Webber and becomes rich, while Paddy ends up destitute.
Jonny says: ‘It is obviously a joy to mock Andrew Lloyd Webber – partly because he wrote Cats, partly because he looks like a toad, but also because he is a multimillionaire who has voted about three times in the House of Lords, ever, so he barely does his job, but then he took the time to fly home from New York just to vote in favour of cuts in tax credits for the working poor – we had this multimillionaire making this huge effort to make sure that poor people get poorer!
‘And then you have to wonder why people voted against remaining in the EU, when it’s supported by all those people.’
Devil’s advocate time – would Jonny take the money and run if he was offered?
‘You know, I don’t think I would because I’m 33 and I started trying to be a comic writer and actor when I left school, it’s what I wanted to do.
‘There was a good 10-12 years where I worked in bars and cafes and I had other jobs in the day and now I’ve got to the point where I’ve got a successful career, I’ve toured all over the world, my one-man show toured the US recently and was recorded for HBO. Jonny and the Baptists, we sell a lot of tickets, so we’re doing really well. I make the kind of money that you would say is good for a recent graduate, but not for someone who is after a lot of money. Money has never really interested me. The luxury and the freedom of doing what you want to do and enjoying that so outweigh it.’
It would appear that this show is close to Jonny’s heart – as it highlights his personal philosophy and attitudes towards modern materialism.
‘The only thing you need to make a lot of money is an absolute desire to make a lot of money – if you put that ahead of your relationships, your friends and family, and your desire to be a moral person – it’s easy, you can definitely do that.
‘For some people that makes them incredibly happy, and I’m trying not to be judgemental here, but making money isn’t difficult, you just need to want it more than you want anything else,’ and he laughs, ‘almost to a slightly psychopathic level - just look at Donald Trump!’
‘I’ve studied some basic economics for this – we have this assumption that capitalism is going to exist for ever and never be succeeded by anything else, which is strange because it’s only been around for about 150 years. It will eventually go and be replaced by something else. But capitalism is inherently unkind and selfish and unfair – it’s not a good way to make a good society, but it’s the best way so far to have a fair and open and democratic society that allows freedom.
‘Everything else we’ve ever had loved strict rules controlling people and ended in bloody tyrannies, so that’s the plus-side, but the downside is that the rich get so rich it becomes out of control and there’s no way of stopping it.
‘I am a socialist and a bit of a natural anti-capitalist, I don’t really own things, I’ve lived mostly on the road for six years and most of my possessions are in storage. I don’t even have my own flat.
‘I have no houses and no car and I am very happy. I travel everywhere by train and I only have basic things.’
But he points out that this doesn’t shut him off from enjoying the finer things in life – quite the contrary.
‘I don’t live a monastic lifestyle by any stretch – if I have money I spend it very quickly in very good restaurants. I just don’t care for the accumulation of things, which is very popular now.
‘Alexei Sayle said a brilliant things, that the success of capitalism is built around the idea that the next thing you bought would be the thing that made you happy.
‘I don’t really care about things – I like people and I like food.
‘I nearly took a job for a lot of money in a big pantomime a couple of years ago, and I didn’t take it because I realised I would hate it.
‘There’s nothing wrong with panto, it’s just not for me.’
And he laughs: ‘No doubt tomorrow I’ll get a phone call with some big offer and I’ll be like: “Screw it, see you later Paddy! I’m off to LA...”
The Spring Arts Centre, Havant
Friday, April 7