In a world where humans increasingly curate their own echo chamber – on and off social media – to harmonise with their own world view, it’s a jolly good thing off-the-hook television reporter, Jonathan Pie, is ready to lambaste you and your kind for being a part – if not the cause – of the very problems you rail against.
Jonathan Pie is the creation of British actor Tom Walker who will tour Australia in early 2020 with his live show, ‘Fake News’.
In a little over four years Walker’s trajectory has risen meteorically following the creation of Pie on YouTube and selling out venues such as the Hammersmith Apollo and the London Palladium. His response to the election of Donald Trump was viewed more than 150 million times on social media.
While Walker is a proud and old-school leftist (with socialist ideals) who talks candidly about his 15-odd years of being an out-of-work actor doing “the crap jobs to pay the rent”, he (and Pie) is a staunch champion of open, free speech in matters political.
And millions love them for it. Except perhaps ‘The Guardian readers’. Walker spoke with scenestr a few hours after Pie’s YouTube commentary following Boris Johnson’s barnstorming UK election win.
When was the Pie incubation and birth? “Pie is just over four years old. I’d had this character in my head for quite some time and one day I decided to do something about it. I did a [YouTube] video a week and one went ballistic and I kinda knew that was a massive opportunity. If you'd told me at the time I'd be doing it four years later I wouldn’t have believed you.
“I’d been out of work for the best part of 15 years, really. It was quite a learning curve. In the space of a year I was suddenly a stand-up comedian playing huge houses: something that I hadn’t planned for. It was actually only recently in the last year or so that I have felt comfortable. It's taken me a while to get used to the idea . . . That people think of me as a political commentator and a stand-up comedian because that was never part of the plan."
Have there been any character development missteps? People the character should have upset and didn’t, or people he upset but shouldn’t? "I think the character has the capability to upset people because politics is so divisive, especially these days. If I do something anti-Trump then Trump lovers are going to hate it. But of course the minute I do something . . . The first thing I did about Trump was the day he got elected and I thought it'd be interesting to have a go at left-wingers for having allowed him to get into The White House. That [my video] kind of upset everyone, really.
"I never courted controversy. . . I don’t think of him [Trump] as a controversial character although many people probably disagree with that.
"I talk quite a lot about free speech. What has been quite amazing to me is how that’s a controversial issue. That some left-leaning people think free speech is somehow a controversial stance to take. To me that’s quite bizarre really. . . I would have thought it’s the cornerstone of any democracy; free speech.
"If you’re pro-free speech you’re labelled . . . You know I've been called horrible things. I’ve been called a racist apologist or a Nazi apologist just because I stand up for people’s right to express opinions you might not necessarily agree with.
"I’ve probably made mistakes along the way. . . And of course Pie doesn’t always get everything right. He thinks he’s always right. He’s like your mate down the pub who continually pontificates about politics and won’t shut up about his own opinion."
I have a theory that when you rip your right-wing audience they rather warm to it but when you rip left-wingers they tend to get a bit squirty. "Broadly that’s true; right-wingers are far more used to – and are happy to have – the Mickey taken out of them. Left-wingers seem to have quite a sense of humour die-cast.
"Satire, generally, is a left-leaning pursuit of attacking the right. Left-wingers are much more likely to get on their high horse. . . Much more willing to attack – even people who broadly agree with them: ‘You either agree with me wholeheartedly or not at all’ seems to be the nature of a lot of the left."
Left-wingers are much more likely to get on their high horse . . . much more willing to attack – even people who broadly agree with them.
So tell us about the 'Fake News' Tour. "It’s a live tour [so Walker, not necessarily Pie]. We have a go at Donald Trump at calling out anything he doesn’t like as 'fake news' but we all do it. We all consume the news we agree with. . . Only read the newspaper which agrees with us. You see something online it doesn’t matter whether it's true or not. If you don’t like it, it’s fake. If you do like it, it’s real. We’re all just as bad as Trump, really.
“Not only is [news] about presenting facts, it’s [now] more about presenting opinions. If facts upset you . . . one should still have the right to express an opinion even if it’s demonstrably wrong. We give fact and opinion the same weight these days which I think is dangerous. Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right. People who say they were offended by a joke doesn’t mean the joke was offensive."
Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right.
Boris won on Friday (Australia time). We’re talking now on the following Monday. You’re on the eve of a national Australia tour. Is there going to be much of a re-write? "I can’t talk about Westminster politics; the main things to rewrite are the nuances. . . The English-isms. If I have a joke about Marmite I have to find the equivalent which is Vegemite. What are the little nuances that will land the same?. . . We’ll have a bit of ScoMo and see what he’s up to. There’s quite a big section in the show about the environment which I’m going to adapt for you guys because you're in Sydney in the middle of the smog."
Do you spend time thinking about career post-Pie? "I would like to be able to see if I could balance Jonathan Pie with other acting work which would be great. Once this tour is over I might give him a rest for six months. We have another US election coming up this year and we’ve got Boris Johnson in Number 10 and he’s worthy of satire. I’m not thinking of retiring him at all: that’s not on the cards. But it might be nice to take two or three months off to see if there are other opportunities out there, you know."
If you weren’t an actor what would you be doing, first in real life – and secondly if you could script your fantasy job? "In reality I would be doing the jobs I did. . . Because no one would give me any work so I’d be doing crap, low-paid jobs just to pay the rent. My fantasy job is being a satirist. I’ve always wanted to be an actor, you know. Fantasy acting role? Who doesn’t want to be Dr Who? I’d be a Time Lord, that’s what I’d do."
Thank you Tom. Looking forward to catching your show.
Tom Walker Jonathan Pie Tour Dates
Friday 21 February Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne Monday 24 February Royalty Theatre, Adelaide Wednesday 26 February Astor Theatre, Perth Friday 28 February Brisbane Powerhouse Saturday 29 February Enmore Theatre, Sydney