Jonathan Pie, Comedy, TotalNtertainment, Tour, York

An interview with Jonathan Pie

“Pie is all about debate, but I have never courted controversy. Not for one moment.” Tom Walker take some time to chat about his current ‘Fake News’ Tour

The Fake News Tour’ is Jonathan Pie’s newest live show, which you will tour around the UK from October – December 2019. What can audiences expect? With such a rapidly changing political climate, do you have to keep re-writing the show while out 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% of the show. I almost had a nervous breakdown.

Last year’s show ‘Back To The Studio’ show 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 tele! 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.

You’ve now had two sell out tours as Jonathan Pie, including sell out dates at London’s Eventim Apollo. Do you feel the public now view Pie as much as a live act as an online star? How have audiences across the past two tours responded to Pie’s transition from 3-minute online videos to hour-long live show?

Pie is still thought of as a YouTube annoyance. But the weekly rants are disposable content. 3 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.

Do you 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 people do seem to be trusting news sources less and less. Where do you find your news and how do you try to differentiate between what is ‘Fake News’ and not?

I read a different newspaper each day. The Guardian one day, The Times the next etc. 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)

You took your last show overseas, performing in 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!

Will you be taking this new tour around the world again? Do you 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.

Whilst touring out in the US last year, you filmed a BBC3 documentary called ’Jonathan Pie’s American Pie’. What subjects did you tackle in the documentary? Did you have to approach writing a documentary differently to an hour-long live show?

The BBC really put a lot of trust in Pie and it was an incredible experience. I wanted to go to America and talk to as many Trump voters as possible. I wanted to try not to pre-judge their motives for voting the way that they did. So, we started with what we all think a typical Trump voter would be like and interviewed a Far-Right White Supremacist. It was an interesting but not particularly pleasant experience, however, I really wanted to allow him to speak, because as soon as people like him start talking, you realise how ridiculous they sound. It was uncomfortable to shoot, and I hope uncomfortable to watch. After that, we spoke to other Trump voters, which allowed us to demonstrate that not all of his supporters have extreme or sinister beliefs…That’s not to say that I don’t think they made a dreadful error of judgement in voting a sociopathic cheese Wotsit into the White House. The big difference between a documentary format and a live format is that the live shows are made on the page. The documentary format is made in the edit room. 

Your online videos regularly spark a lot of debate and discussion across social media. Had that always been part of your intention when creating the character? Has it changed the way you write for the character at all?

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? Do people ever try and provoke a political debate with you when you’re 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.

Have you thought about interviewing more people as Jonathan Pie? If so, who would Pie’s dream interviewee be?

Very early on I made the decision that Pie would be relatively good at his job. Its only after the camera cuts that he lets loose with his true opinions. So, when I have interviewed anyone as Jonathan Pie, I try to make it a decent interview with a humorous twist. In ‘Jonathan Pie’s American Pie’ I interviewed BBC White House Correspondent Jon Sopel. It was a great interview, Jon was in on the gag & we pretended that there was a professional rivalry between us. He was such a good sport and it’s one of the funniest moments in the whole show. Pie isn’t Ali G. I always make sure anyone I’m working with is in on the joke. I’m not brave enough to do what Baron-Cohen does.   

What else does 2019 have in store for Tom Walker and Jonathan Pie?

Well, Brexit appears to be actually happening, so I’m hoping to do something significant about that. Fingers crossed. I want this third live show to be the best yet, so no time like the present to start testing some new material.

Tom Walker is currently on his ‘Fake News’ tour and you can find tickets to all his shows here.